Here is another reason to eat your broccoli – it could help your immune system function better.

Compounds found in cruciferous vegetables regulate the number and activity a protein known as aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).

This in turn regulates the number of intra-epithelial lymphocytes (IELs) that help the immune system function properly.

IELs are found beneath the epithelial cells that cover the inner and outer body surfaces, such as the gut and skin. They play an important role in wound repair and maintaining our immune defenses.

In one study where the mice were fed a vegetable-poor but otherwise healthy diet for two to three weeks there was a 70% to 80% reduction in the number of IELs. When researchers damaged the intestinal surface of mice that did not have normal AhR activity, it took longer for the mice to repair the damage.

Some of the characteristics seen in the mice with damaged intestines were consistent with people who have inflammatory bowel disease. “It is tempting to extrapolate to humans,” co-author Marc Veldhoen from The Babraham Institute in Cambridge told Medical News Today. “But there are many other factors that might play a role.”