U is for ulcers and vitamin U does just that: it helps with ulcers. Or at least that’s why it was coined ‘vitamin U’ as early as the 1940s when extensive research at the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that it rapidly reduces pain and healing time for individuals with peptic ulcers. Since then, we have learned that vitamin U does much more. This vitamin may not have appeared in your nutrition textbook and there is very little consensus regarding its actual classification. Nonetheless, it does seem to play some important roles in health and especially, that of the gastrointestinal tract.
Vitamin U is also known as methylmethionine sulfonium, or S-methylmethionine. It is a derivative of the amino acid methionine, and is found in large quantities in raw cabbage juice. The use of raw cabbage juice has been studied extensively, particularly in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union for its beneficial role in aiding damaged and eroded intestinal mucosa; hence, its use for peptic ulcers. Studies have shown methylmethionine sulfonium helps increase the amount and immunoreactivity of surface mucus cell-derived mucin, an important process for healing damaged gastric mucosa and guarding against the formation of peptic ulcers.
More recently, studies have been focusing on the potent antioxidant activity of vitamin U, which acts to protect the liver and kidneys from oxidative stress. After using valproic acid to induce liver damage and raise liver enzymes in a group of test rats, researchers found that the coinciding application of vitamin U decreased liver aspartate and alanine transaminases, alkaline phosphatase, lactate dehydrogenase, myeloperoxidase, sorbitol dehydrogenase, glutamate dehydrogenase and xanthine oxidase activities, lipid peroxidation levels, paraoxonase activity and glutathione levels. The results of this study revealed vitamin U’s ability to provide significant protection against hepatotoxicity.
A similar study was conducted on valproic acid-induced renal damage. Here, vitamin U not only proved to be a potent antioxidant by decreasing oxidative enzymes, it also expressed anti-inflammatory activity, evidenced by a reduction in tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1β, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 levels, and adenosine deaminase activity, and anti-fibrotic properties seen in decreased levels of transforming growth factor-β, collagen-1 levels, and arginase activity. Clearly, vitamin U shows potential for protecting two of our most important detoxification organs: the kidneys and liver.
Many of us are concerned about the modern obesity epidemic and it appears vitamin U may be beneficial for this challenge as well. When applied to adipocytes, vitamin U inhibited adipocyte differentiation by down-regulating several adipogenic factors. It decreased triglycerides and G3PDH, as well as inhibited the mRNA expression of several enzymes involved in adipogenesis. Vitamin U also activated AMPK, which blocks anabolic pathways.
So how can we best utilize this healthful vitamin-like compound? Raw cabbage juice is certainly a rich source, but not a common household food item. Methylmethionine sulfonium is found in many cruciferous vegetables including turnips, but it also resides in celery, asparagus, barley, and soybeans. It is a precursor for the potent odorant dimethyl sulfide, which produces the cabbage-like odor that emanates from many cooked foods or the “off-flavor” of beer and fruit juices. Nearly all flowering plants contain some quantity of vitamin U, but clearly, raw cabbage is the largest source and if you intend to use this vitamin for therapeutic purposes, it may be worthwhile to invest in a good juicer or find it in supplement form.
Vitamin U has plenty of accolades; it’s a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic, anti-ulcer, and anti-obesogenic agent, and it protects our mucosal barriers and vital detoxification organs. Surely, vitamin U deserves more attention than it currently receives among the world of nutraceuticals.