Broccoli drink helps body fight air pollutants

A clinical trial involving nearly 300 men and women in one of China’s most polluted regions has found that daily consumption of a broccoli beverage helped excretion of benzene, a known carcinogen, and acrolein, a lung irritant

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, working with colleagues at several US and Chinese institutions, used a broccoli sprout beverage to provide sulforaphane, a plant compound already demonstrated to have cancer preventive properties in animal studies.

“Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem,” said John Groopman, professor of environmental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg 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.”

Air pollution, an increasing global problem, causes as many as seven million deaths a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation, 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 (PM) 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.

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Broccoli sprouts are a source of glucoraphanin, a compound that generates sulforaphane when the plant is chewed or the beverage swallowed. It acts to increase enzymes that enhance the body’s capacity to expunge these types of the pollutants.

The 12-week trial included 291 participants who live in a rural farming community in Jiangsu Province, China, approximately 50 miles north of Shanghai, one of China’s more heavily industrialised regions.

Participants in the control group drank a beverage made of sterilised water, pineapple and lime juice while the beverage for the treatment group additionally contained a dissolved freeze-dried powder made from broccoli sprouts that contained glucoraphanin and sulforaphane.

Sixty-two men (21%) and 229 women (79%) with a median age of 53 (ranging from 21 to 65) were enrolled in the study. Urine and blood samples were taken over the course of the trial to measure the fate of the inhaled air pollutants.

The research team found that among participants receiving the broccoli sprout beverage, the rate of excretion of the carcinogen benzene increased 61% beginning the first day and continuing throughout the 12-week period. In addition, the rate of excretion of the irritant acrolein increased by 23% during the 12-week trial.

Thomas Kensler, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School and one of the study’s co-authors, said: “This study points to a frugal, simple and safe means that can be taken by individuals to possibly reduce some of the long-term health risks associated with air pollution.”

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