Researchers are exploring the possibilities of plant steroids.
Mustard greens and cabbage could very well be back-up plants for Popeye’s spinach when it comes to building muscles and increasing physical performance. Recent studies show that brassinosteroids present in mustard and other Brassica
plants such as cabbage or broccoli trigger a physiological response in rats that is similar to anabolic steroids. Researchers hope that these substances in plants can be used to provide effective, natural, and safe alternatives for age- and disease-associated muscle loss, or be used to improve endurance and physical performance.
Dr. Debora Esposito, a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers University, Dr. Slavko Komarnytsky, a metabolic biologist and assistant professor at the Plants for Human Health Institute, and Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers studied rat skeletal muscle cells, exposing them to different amounts of homobrassinolide, a plant steroid. They then measured protein turnover and found that muscle cells respond to brassinosteroids by increasing protein synthesis and decreasing protein degradation in cell culture. The result was a significant increase in net muscle protein. The next step was to feed healthy rats a homobrassinolide daily for 24 days. The researchers measured changes in body weight, food consumption and body composition. The rats that were fed the plant steroid showed an increase in lean body mass over those that were not fed the substance. Results from the study also showed an increase in the number and size of muscle fibers crucial for increased physical performance.
According to the researchers, the findings suggest that therapies using brassinosteroids could represent a viable future approach for repairing damaged muscle.
“It’s exciting to see that plants we eat contain these compounds,” said Dr. Esposito. “In the future, we may be able to breed plants for higher brassinosteroid content and produce functional foods that can treat or prevent diseases and increase physical performance."