Isothiocyanates: Translating the Power of Plants to People

Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018 Sep;62(18):e1700965. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201700965. Epub 2018 Mar 26.


Isothiocyanates from cruciferous vegetables have been studied extensively in cells and in animals for their disease preventive and therapeutic effects. However, translating their utility to human populations has been both limited and challenging. Herein, clinical trials employing two isothiocyanates, sulforaphane (SFN; 1-isothiocyanato-4-(methylsulfinyl) butane) and phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC; 2-isothiocyanatoethylbenzene) that are isolated principally from broccoli and watercress, respectively, are summarized and discussed. Both of these compounds have been used in small human clinical trials, either within food matrices or as single agents, against a variety of diseases ranging from cancer to autism. Results suggest an opportunity to incorporate them, or more likely preparations derived from their source plants, into larger human disease mitigation efforts. The context for the applications of these compounds and plants in evidence-based food and nutritional policy is also evaluated.

Keywords: broccoli; clinical trials; isothiocyanate; phenethyl isothiocyanate; sulforaphane; watercress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brassica / chemistry
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Isothiocyanates / chemistry*
  • Isothiocyanates / pharmacology*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Skin Diseases / drug therapy
  • Sulfoxides
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vegetables / chemistry


  • Isothiocyanates
  • Sulfoxides
  • phenethyl isothiocyanate
  • sulforaphane