Benefits to health from a high consumption of fruits and vegetables are well established and have been attributed to bioactive secondary metabolites present in edible plants. However, the effects of specific health-related phytochemicals within a complex food matrix are difficult to assess. In an attempt to address this problem, we have used elicitation to improve the nutraceutical content of seedlings of Brassica oleracea grown under controlled conditions. Analysis, by LC-MS, of the glucosinolate, isothiocyanate and phenolic compound content of juices obtained from sprouts indicated that elicitation induces an enrichment of several phenolics, particularly of the anthocyanin fraction. To test the biological activity of basal and enriched juices we took advantage of a recently developed in vitro model of inflamed human intestinal epithelium. Both sprouts' juices protected intestinal barrier integrity in Caco-2 cells exposed to tumor necrosis factor α under marginal zinc deprivation, with the enriched juice showing higher protection. Multivariate regression analysis indicated that the extent of rescue from stress-induced epithelial dysfunction correlated with the composition in bioactive molecules of the juices and, in particular, with a group of phenolic compounds, including several anthocyanins, quercetin-3-Glc, cryptochlorogenic, neochlorogenic and cinnamic acids.
Keywords: Caco-2; anthocyanins; bioactive molecules; broccoli sprouts; functional food; inflammatory response; intestinal permeability; phenolic compounds; sulforafane.