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Promise and Progress - Broccoli Sprouts Detoxify Dirty Air

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Broccoli Sprouts Detoxify Dirty Air

Date: January 15, 2015


Cancer Prevention Research, June 9, 2014

A half cup of a broccoli sprout beverage a day could keep carcinogens and irritating pollutants at bay, based on findings from a clinical trial involving nearly 300 Chinese men and women living in one of the country’s most polluted regions.  Drinking the sulforaphane-rich beverage produced rapid, significant, and sustained excretion of benzene—a known human carcinogen, and acrolein, a lung irritant.

The participants were from the Jiangsu Province in China, about 50 miles from Shanghai, one of China’s most industrialized regions.  They were followed for 12 weeks using urine and blood samples to measure the fate of inhaled pollutants.

Sulforaphane is a natural, plant-based compound found in high concentrations in broccoli sprouts which Johns Hopkins research has shown to have cancer prevention properties.  Additional analysis of the Chinese participants revealed that the sulforaphane activated a cancer-protective gene pathway known as NRF2 that helps cells adapt to and survive a broad range of environmental toxins.

“Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem,” says John Groopman, Ph.D., the Anna M. Baetjer Professor of Environmental Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  “To address this problem comprehensively, we need to translate our basic science into strategies, like this one, that protect individuals from this exposure.”

The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution causes as many as 7 million deaths worldwide each year.  Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified air pollution and particulate matter (solid and liquid particles in the air, such as soot, dirt, and smoke) from air pollution as human carcinogens.

“This study points to a frugal, simple, and safe means individuals can use to possibly reduce some of the long-term health risks associated with air pollution,” says Thomas Kensler, Ph.D., a school of public health researcher and study co-author.  Trials to evaluate optimal dosage and frequency of the broccoli sprouts beverage are ongoing.

The trial was supported by the National Institutes of Health (P01 ES006052 and P30 S003819) and Safeway Inc.

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