Isothiocyanates and their naturally occurring glucosinolate precursors are widely consumed as part of a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables. When plant cells are damaged, glucosinolates are released and converted to isothiocyanates by the enzyme myrosinase. Many isothiocyanates inhibit the neoplastic effects of various carcinogens at a number of organ sites. Consequently, these agents are attracting attention as potential chemoprotectors against cancer. As a prerequisite to understanding the mechanism of the protective effects of these compounds, which is thought to involve the modulation of carcinogen metabolism by the induction of phase 2 detoxication enzymes and the inhibition of phase 1 carcinogen-activating enzymes, we examined the fate of ingested isothiocyanates and glucosinolates in humans. Recently developed novel methods for quantifying isothiocyanates (and glucosinolates after their quantitative conversion to isothiocyanates by purified myrosinase) and their urinary metabolites (largely dithiocarbamates) have made possible a detailed examination of the fates of isothiocyanates and glucosinolates of dietary crucifers. In a series of studies in normal volunteers, we made these findings. First, in nonsmokers, urinary dithiocarbamates were detected only after the consumption of cruciferous vegetables and condiments rich in isothiocyanates and/or glucosinolates. In sharp contrast, the consumption of noncrucifers (corn, tomatoes, green beans, and carrots) did not lead to the excretion of dithiocarbamates. Moreover, the quantities of dithiocarbamates excreted were related to the glucosinolate/isothiocyanate profiles of the cruciferous vegetables administered (kale, broccoli, green cabbage, and turnip roots). Second, eating prepared horseradish containing graded doses of isothiocyanates (12.3-74 micromol; mostly allyl isothiocyanate) led to a rapid excretion of proportionate amounts (42-44%) of urinary dithiocarbamates with first-order kinetics. The ingestion of broccoli in which myrosinase had been heat-inactivated also led to proportionate but low (10-20%) recoveries of urinary dithiocarbamates. Broccoli samples subsequently treated with myrosinase to produce the cognate isothiocyanates were much more completely (47%) converted to dithiocarbamates. Finally, when bowel microflora were reduced by mechanical cleansing and antibiotics, the conversion of glucosinolates became negligible. These results establish that humans convert substantial amounts of isothiocyanates and glucosinolates to urinary dithiocarbamates that can be easily quantified, thus paving the way for meaningful studies of phase 2 enzyme induction in humans.