Glucosinolate Breakdown May Be The Cause of Flatulence After Eating Cruciferous Vegetables

By Urbanaveed
9 Min Read

Glucosinolate, a chemistry compound, belongs to the group of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are those chemicals that plants synthesize on their own. The word “Phyto” refers to plants and thus explains its origins. High Glucosinolate content in cruciferous vegetables make them a silver bullet in for consumption. Phytochemicals such as glucosinolates have jolting health effects. Although many other vegetables or fruits may contain glucosinolates, cruciferous vegetables provide the whopping quantities of phytochemicals.

Who are Cruciferous Vegetables?

Cruciferous vegetables get their name from the Latin word “Crux”. The word “Crux” literally means Cross. Cruciferous vegetables get this specific identity due to their distinctive feature of four-petaled flowers in the shape of a cross. Vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc belong to the Brassicaceae family. The Brassicaceae family, also known as the mustard family or the crucifer family, contains a large number of vegetables, including cruciferous vegetables. Read the complete list of cruciferous vegetables.

Nutrient Profile of Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous Vegetables are high in vitamin C, vitamin K, B vitamins, potassium, manganese, and minerals. Vitamin C supports the body’s defense system by promoting collagen formation, white blood cell production, and cell differentiation into immune cells. Vitamin K is an important factor in the blood clotting process. For it potassium content, the heart strongly needs potassium for its rhythmic activity. Hypokalemia can trigger arrhythmias and have serious implications. Cruciferous vegetables are high in dietary fibers which make them a good staple for gut motility. They are rich in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble.

Dietary fiber gives mass to the ingested food and aids in the movement of chewed food through the gut. Insoluble dietary fiber eases bowel movement and overall improves digestive functionality. High fiber content helps with the feeling of fullness, making a person healthy and full.

Glucosinolates are the main component of cruciferous vegetables which we are concerning in this blog. When cruciferous vegetables are cooked, baked, or chewed, raw glucosinolates are broken down into bioactive compounds such as isothiocyanates, indoles, and epithonitriles. They are bioactive compounds that have profound benefits that we’ll discuss later. First, let’s see how glucosinolates are broken down into these compounds.

How Glucosinolate Breakdown is Associated with Flatulence?

Glucosinolate breakdown results in the production of sulfur-containing compounds. Vacuoles inside plant cells contain the enzyme myrosinase. Myrosinase catalyzes the hydrolysis of glucosinolates into bioactive compounds. First, glucosinolates are broken down into glucose and aglucone. Aglucone further decomposes into bioactive compounds, particularly Isothiocyanates (ITC). Besides isothiocyanates, other bioactive compounds such as indoles and epithonitriles are also produced from glucosinolate breakdown. They have different paths for their production. Isothiocyanates are most well-known for their anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Scientific information about indoles and epithonitriles is scarce and still under study.

Glucosinolate Breakdown
Simplified process of Glucosinolate Breakdown.

Isothiocyanates, thiocyanates, and epithonitriles are sulfur-containing compounds that may induce flatulence. Sulfur dioxide is produced as a byproduct of glucosinolate breakdown. It imparts a characteristic smell to the flatulence. But, remember every individual is not prone to flatulence after eating cruciferous vegetables. It depends upon the quality of enzymatic reactions that can neutralize the flatulence, associated with glucosinolates. Moreover, flatulence is the most commonly occurring phenomenon in individuals who do not have the habit of digesting cruciferous vegetables. Their gut is not adapted to decompose sulfur-containing compounds.

FODMAPs are fermentable carbohydrates that resist their digestion in the small intestine and reach the colon like dietary fibers. Colon microbiota ferments FODMAPs and generates sulfur-containing gases and compounds that may elicit bloating and flatulence. Cruciferous vegetables are notable in containing FODMAPs, dietary fibers, and glucosinolates. All of these constituents contribute to flatulence and gas production.

FODMAPs -the fermentable carbohydrates are the cause of gas production, leading to flatulence.
Fermentable carbohydrates- FODMAPs pass through small intestine undigested and accumulate in the colon. Fermentation by microbiota produces gases involving sulfur-containing gases, that leads to flatulence.

How do Glucosinolates help Fighting Cancer?

Although glucosinolate breakdown is the factor in inducing flatulence, it has many upsides.

Glucosinolates such as isothiocyanates (ITCs) are anti-cancerous. They deteriorate cancerous growth by promoting apoptosis. Apoptosis is the intentional death of cells, particularly cancerous cells. ITCs inhibit cell proliferation and angiogenesis. By limiting cell proliferation, they play a major role in controlling the growth of harmful or suspicious cells. They do so by specific signal transduction processes. ITCs identify cancerous or unfamiliar growths within the body through gene expressions and modulations. They inhibit the cell division of these suspicious masses.

Another factor in ITCs’ anti-cancerous role is their anti-angiogenic property. Angiogenesis is the formation of blood vessels that can support the growing mass of cells. By anti-angiogenesis, ITCs restrain the production of blood vessels to support suspicious cell mass. In such ways, ITCs are known for their anti-cancerous features.

Glucosinolates and Detoxification Abilities

Detoxification is the removal of harmful organisms such as toxins from the body. Detoxification occurs in phase 1 and phase 2. Phase 2 detoxification further removes any unwanted substance that has not neutralized during phase 1 detoxification. Xenobiotics are foreign substances that have gained entry into the body and may or may not be beneficial to the body. The body takes them as harmful foreign particles and tries to expel them from the body which is called detoxification.

Xenobiotics include drugs, pollens, and many other foreign entities including carcinogens. Carcinogens are substances that are capable of inducing cancerous growth. Some people confuse carcinogens with teratogens. They are entirely different entities. Learn more about teratogens and their harmful impacts. ITCs help activate the enzymes that play a pivotal role in phase 2 detoxification. Phase 2 detoxification is significant in removing carcinogens from the body and ITCs help this process.

Glucosinolates Help in Combating GI Cancer

A study published in Pharmaceutics 2002 shows the role of glucosinolates in preventing cancer in gastrointestinal cells. Gastrointestinal cancer has high mortality rate and this findings of scientists can give a hop to use natural edibles such as cruciferous vegetables to combat cancer of gut. You can read the complete study here.

ITCs are anti-inflammatory in nature. Severe inflammation is a trigger for the proliferation of cancerous cells. ITCs control cancerous growth by reducing inflammation. They are also anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants neutralize free radicals or other reactive species that can induce inflammation and in turn cell proliferation. So, all of this is somewhat of a chain reaction. ITCs limit cancerous growth in multiple ways. They do so by acting as anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidizing, and anti-cancerous which are interconnected. Anti-oxidants stabilize the reactive oxygen species and sustain a secure environment for cellular activities.


In conclusion, glucosinolate breakdown results in the production of sulfur-containing compounds, such as isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates can cause flatulence but not in all individuals. But they can limit cancerous growth in all individuals. So, consuming cruciferous vegetables has more pros than cons.

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Student of BSc MLT at NUMS, and Content Writer in Health, Medicine, and Wellness. Finding soothe in writing and spreading knowledge.
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