A study found that downing a drink made of broccoli sprout powder cleaned the lungs of some 300 Chinese citizens.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recruited 300 men and women residing in one of China’s most polluted regions —a country known for its terrible air pollution—to drink a daily mixture of sterilized water, pineapple, lime juice, and freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder. The control group’s cocktail didn’t have the sprout mixture.
The researchers collected urine and blood samples for 12 weeks to measure levels of the pollutants.
Beginning on the first day and continuing through the study period, researchers noticed that participants consuming the beverage with the broccoli sprout powder experienced an uptick in pollutant excretion rates—increases of 61% and 23% of the human carcinogen benzene (known to cause cancer) and of the lung irritant acrolein respectively.
What does this mean?
When broccoli sprouts are chewed or swallowed, a compound called glucoraphanin produces sulforaphane, which enhances the body’s capacity to remove these types of pollutants. It’s the protective actions of sulforaphane that activates a signaling molecule, NRF2, which increases cells’ ability to adapt to and to survive a range of environmental toxins.
Sulforaphane is a plant compound that already demonstrated to have cancer preventive properties in animal studies.
“This strategy may also be effective for some contaminants in water and food,” the study concludes.
“Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem,” said John Groopman, professor of environmental health at the School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-authors. “To address this problem comprehensively, in addition to the engineering solutions to reduce regional pollution emissions, we need to translate our basic science into strategies to protect individuals from these exposures. This study supports the development of food-based strategies as part of this overall prevention effort.”
China’s Air Pollution Problem
Air pollution, an increasing global problem, causes as many as 7 million deaths a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and has in recent years reached perilous levels in many parts of China. Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified air pollution and particulate matter from air pollution as carcinogenic to humans.
Diets rich in cruciferous vegetables—of which broccoli is one—have been found to reduce risk of chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer. Broccoli sprouts are a source of glucoraphanin, a compound that generates sulforaphane when the plant is chewed or the beverage swallowed. It increases enzymes that enhance the body’s capacity to rid itself of these types of the pollutants.
“Breathing polluted air is basically like smoking, except you can never quit,” says Clark Fuller, M.D., director of thoracic surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California. “While this study has a small sample size, it is very exciting.
I’ve seen a lot of fad ‘detox’ diets, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a food having a measurable detoxifying effect like this.”
Let’s take a closer look at Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli Sprouts Contain a Number of Health-Promoting Compounds
Broccoli Sprouts are FAR more potent than whole broccoli, allowing you to eat far less in terms of quantity. For example, previous tests have revealed that three-day old broccoli sprouts consistently contain anywhere from 10-100 times the amount of glucoraphanin—a chemoprotective compound—found in mature broccoli.
As noted in the featured study, the compound called glucoraphanin appears to have a protective effect against toxic pollutants by improving your body’s ability to eliminate or excrete them. Glucoraphanin has also been shown to protect against cancer. Other health-promoting compounds found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts (and mature broccoli) include:
- Glucosinolate glucoraphanin, which helps improve blood pressure and kidney function. It also boosts cell enzymes that protect against molecular damage from cancer-causing chemicals.
- Sulforaphane, a metabolite of the glucosinolate glucoraphanin, has been shown to normalize DNA methylation — a crucial part of normal cell function that allows cells to “remember who they are and where they have been.”
It’s also important for regulating gene expression, and this compound has been found to play a role in activating more than 200 different genes.
Sulforaphane also has anti-diabetic and antimicrobial properties, and kills cancer stem cells, which slows tumor growth.
- Isothiocyanate, a specific sulforaphane compound, has very strong cancer-protective benefits, sparking hundreds of beneficial gene changes. This compound activates some genes that fight cancer, and switch off other genes whose job it is to aid in tumor growth.
One 2008 study found that just four extra servings (equating to about 10 spears) of broccoli per week could protect men from prostate cancer, largely because of the anti-cancer activity of this compound.
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