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Air pollution is associated with a long list of health problems including cardio-respiratory deaths, pulmonary disease, and chronic respiratory conditions. And the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recently classified air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.
But a new clinical trial finds that tiny broccoli sprouts can help neutralize this very big problem.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and several other institutions in the U.S. and China tested the power of broccoli sprouts to protect people from air pollutants.[i]
They conducted a 12-week randomized, placebo-controlled study of 291 Chinese adults in the Jiangsu province of China. The province has very high levels of air pollution. China itself is the world's largest emitter of air pollution.
In the study half of the participants were asked to consume about half a cup of a broccoli sprout drink every day. The control group drank pineapple and lime juice.
The results were published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. They found that throughout the 12-week period the participants taking the broccoli sprout drink increased their rate of excretion of benzene by 61%.
Benzene is a known carcinogen. In the U.S. benzene exposure comes predominantly from car and truck exhaust, emissions from coal and oil combustion, evaporation from industrial sites, and gas stations. Smoking is another source of benzene exposure.
In addition, the study participants taking the broccoli sprout drink increased their excretion of acrolein by 23%. Smoking and second hand smoke is also a source of acrolein. Burning fuel like gasoline and oil is another source. Acrolein is toxic to humans and inhalation exposure may result in upper respiratory tract irritation and congestion.
How do broccoli sprouts defeat these toxins?
Science has known for some time that cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts contain a compound called glucoraphanin.
Animal studies show when glucoraphanin is chewed or swallowed it produces a cancer-protective compound called sulphoraphane. Sulphoraphane activates enzymes that take up the pollutants and flush them out in the urine.
In this study, the researchers were pleasantly surprised at the rapid rate sulphoraphane cleared toxins from the body. They also noted the effects of the broccoli sprouts did not wane. They retained their high level of effectiveness throughout the 12 weeks.
The researchers concluded that broccoli sprouts enhance detoxification of some airborne pollutants and "may provide a frugal means to attenuate their associated long-term health risks."
They also indicated that sulphoraphane works best on toxins you've been recently exposed to. They don't know if their results hold for toxins that have already been stored in fat cells like pesticides, DDT, or dioxin.
Vegetables like broccoli are known to fight cancer. The sulphoraphane improves the liver's ability to detoxify carcinogens. In fact, broccoli has been shown to kill the stem cells that make cancer immortal.
But broccoli sprouts are much more powerful. At 5 to 6 days old, the sprouts contain over one hundred times more sulphoraphane per gram than the mature plant.
The drink used in the China study was made with broccoli sprouts developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. They are sold under the brand name BroccoSprouts. They are widely available in supermarkets or you can sprout your own from seeds.
Broccoli sprouts can be eaten raw. They are great on sandwiches, in wraps or as a salad topping. You can also add some to smoothies.
And try serving them with broccoli. Studies show combining the two makes the anti-cancer effect almost twice as powerful.
[i] Egner PA et al, "Rapid and sustainable detoxication of airborne pollutants by broccoli sprout beverage: results of a randomized clinical trial in china." Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2014 Aug;7(8):813-23.