Scientists have come up with another reason to eat your greens: the humble broccoli could prevent or slow osteoarthritis, the most common form of the bone condition arthritis, says a new study.

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More than 8.5m people in the UK have osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease affecting the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees.

But researchers from the University of East Anglia have found that sulforaphane - a compound found mainly in broccoli but also in sprouts and cabbage - helps to slow down the deterioration of cartilage in bone joints.

The team of researchers have so far only tested their findings in the lab, but they are hoping that human trials will prove successful. As part of the study, half of the 40 people involved will be given a "super broccoli", bred to be high in sulforaphane, to eat for two weeks to see the effects.

"The results from this study are very promising," said Ian Clark, professor of musculoskeletal biology at the Norwich university.

"We have shown that this works in the three laboratory models we have tried, in cartilage cells, tissue and mice. We now want to show this works in humans. It would be very powerful if we could.

"As well as treating those who already have the condition, you need to be able to tell healthy people how to protect their joints into the future."

Impact of diet

Aging and obesity are the most common contributors to osteoarthritis and it is predicted the number of people seeking treatment will rise sharply by 2035.

Alan Silman, Arthritis Research UK's medical director, said that exercise and keeping to a healthy weight were already proven to improve symptoms, and the study showed promise of showing how diet can play a part.

"Until now research has failed to show that food or diet can play any part in reducing the progression of osteoarthritis, so if these findings can be replicated in humans, it would be quite a breakthrough," he said.

The study was funded by medical research charity Arthritis Research UK, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's Diet and Health Research Industry Club and The Dunhill Medical Trust.

Previous research has suggested that sulforaphane has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, but this is the first major study into its effects on joint health.

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