40 years ago, on a Sicilian hillside...
The Story Of SmarterNaturally
Scientists have known about the power of glucoraphanin for decades, and almost everyone agrees that this natural molecule could play an important role in improving our health in a wide variety of ways. So what’s been holding us back?
The challenge with glucoraphanin is that, despite being readily available in cruciferous plants as part of a healthy diet, getting enough of it through a normal diet to impact our health would challenge even the most ardent veggie lover.
And, until relatively recently, while scientists agreed that it worked for all kinds of health conditions, no one really understood how it worked, or why it seemed to benefit our health in so many different ways.
That’s where SmarterNaturally comes in. We’re a little different: our products aren’t just backed by science, they are the direct result of scientific research that was done to try and answer both of these questions.
So while we now mostly talk about the health impacts of glucoraphanin, we’re proud to have grown out of the discovery and development of a glucoraphanin-rich strain of broccoli and the studies that have shed new light on the ways this micronutrient works to repair and maintain our metabolism, with significant benefits to our general health and wellbeing.
Join us on a journey that starts 40 years ago, on a sunny Mediterranean island…
1983: A New Discovery
Whilst collecting rare plants in Sicily as part of his PhD, our Lead Scientist Professor Richard Mithen discovered a new variety of broccoli growing in the wild. It was bitter and inedible, but contained an unusually high amount of glucoraphanin.
Scientists already believed that sulforaphane (the active form of glucoraphanin) had health-promoting properties, such as helping to reduce inflammation and slowing the growth of early-stage cancers. Prof. Mithen and his team were keen to investigate further and explore the potential benefits of their new discovery.
1990: Creating Something Special
Working with two of the UK’s world-leading biological science research institutes (The Quadram Institute and the John Innes Centre), Prof. Mithen began a publicly-funded research programme centred around this broccoli.
This research programme had two main goals:
- Develop an edible broccoli with extremely high levels of glucoraphanin
- Explore and better understand how glucoraphanin could boost human health
Working in a greenhouse using traditional methods, he cross-bred the wild Sicilian broccoli with a standard broccoli variety over and over again, carefully selecting the tastiest and highest glucoraphanin strains each time.
After a decade of hard work, he had a hybrid variety that looked and tasted like the standard broccoli we’re all used to, but had much higher levels of glucoraphanin like the wild strain he’d found in Sicily. He had achieved his first goal!
1993-2000: Searching For Answers
During the 90s there were already a wide range of observational studies showing that people who ate diets including more glucoraphanin-rich vegetables (such as broccoli) seemed to have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases. But no-one understood why.
Prof. Mithen’s early research showed that when the new glucoraphanin-rich broccoli entered the gut, the glucoraphanin was converted into high levels of its active form (called sulforaphane), which was then absorbed by the body and entered the bloodstream. This was the first step on his journey towards explaining why broccoli (and his new high-glucoraphanin broccoli in particular) seemed to be so good for our health.
2002-2008: Understanding Why
By 2002, Prof. Mithen and his team had built up a strong portfolio of evidence to show that eating their new broccoli did indeed bring health benefits – and they were starting to understand how it had such a broad and powerful effect on our bodies.
Their research indicated that sulforaphane switches on our body’s natural antioxidant defences. This ‘re-tunes’ our metabolism, helping to reverse the harmful effects of ageing, stress and damage that are an inevitable part of life.
The discovery of this effect helped explain why eating a glucoraphanin-rich diet seems to boost so many areas of our health – from helping reduce high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, to lowering our risk of some of the most common cancers, to slowing the progression of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzhimers.
2008-2010: Human Trials
With the mountain of positive evidence growing by the day, Prof. Mithen and his team decided to undertake the world’s first human studies exploring the potential health benefits of eating high-glucoraphanin broccoli.
In 2008 they ran a study in collaboration with Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on men with early-stage prostate cancer. They found that men who ate glucoraphanin-rich broccoli regularly showed biochemical changes suggesting a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. They also saw some indications that eating glucoraphanin-rich broccoli regularly might help slow the growth of existing prostate cancers.
This was just the first interventional human trial using a glucoraphanin-rich broccoli. Scientists are obsessed with glucoraphanin – fast forward to today, and there are now over 3,000 papers on glucoraphanin and its associated health benefits!
2011-2018: From Beneforté To GRextra
In 2011, Prof. Mithen helped launch his new glucoraphanin-rich broccoli in major UK supermarkets under the name Beneforté.
Beneforté contained 2-3 times more glucoraphanin than standard broccoli varieties – but as a fresh vegetable, it was impacted by growing conditions and environmental factors. This meant it was impossible to be sure exactly how much glucoraphanin was in each head of broccoli.
The other problem was the cooking process. Not many people enjoy eating broccoli raw – but most methods of cooking broccoli inactivate the glucoraphanin inside. This meant that cooking Beneforté stripped it of its impressive health benefits.
In an effort to solve these problems, Prof. Mithen and his team continued their work and created a broccoli with even higher levels of glucoraphanin. This new strain contained twice as much glucoraphanin as Beneforté – about 5 times that of standard varieties. They named this new strain GRextra.
The team also realised that by grinding their GRextra broccoli into a powder, they could ensure a consistent dose of glucoraphanin was included in each serving, and remove the need for cooking. And so our SuperSoup was born.
2019: Bigger And Better Studies
In 2019, Prof. Mithen and his research team followed up their previous research looking at prostate cancer with a larger and more thorough study using their new glucoraphanin-rich broccoli soup.
Their results supported their previous study, finding that men who ate one bowl of high-glucoraphanin broccoli soup a week for a year had healthier prostates and less cancer progression and growth compared with those who didn’t.
They also noticed that participants eating the high-glucoraphanin broccoli soup saw a notable reduction in their blood sugar levels over 3-6 months, which was then maintained for the rest of the year. This incidental finding highlighted that glucoraphanin-rich soup could not only support men with prostate cancer, but could also support those at risk of developing Type II Diabetes (T2D) by helping to reduce elevated blood glucose down to healthier levels.
2020: Say Hello To SmarterNaturally
Once it had become clear that a glucoraphanin-rich broccoli could offer people long-term health benefits, we created SmarterNaturally to bring those benefits to the people who needed them.
We spent a year creating and refining our SuperSoup to ensure it was tasty and convenient and delivered maximum health benefits in a consistent way. We then launched it for sale to UK customers in 2022, and we’re delighted to see our community of Soup-er subscribers growing every month.
We’re proud of the long history and strong evidence base that supports our soup. But our journey isn’t over!
Now, And The Future
Science is at our core, so we know that more evidence is always a good thing. That’s why we’re already planning more clinical and community trials to confirm and expand on the data we have for GRextra’s effect on blood sugar, cholesterol and cancer.
But we’re not stopping there. The potential of GRextra to support healthier ageing is enormous, so we’re also contributing to the growing research across an even broader set of benefits – such as recent findings around glucoraphanin’s impact on neurodegenerative diseases (like Parkinson’s and Alzhimers) and arthritis.
It’s not just older people who might benefit from GRextra. We’re looking closely at research into PCOS, endometriosis, fertility and pregnancy that suggests glucoraphanin-rich broccoli could support women’s health across their whole lives. And studies indicate athletes could see improved performance, faster muscle growth and quicker recovery through adding glucoraphanin-rich broccoli into their nutrition plans.