Get Your Greens: How Broccoli Fights Air Pollution Effects
China has a pollution problem and it is undeniable. According to estimates, China burns as much coal as the rest of the world does, cumulatively. Last year, China’s air pollution reached record levels, with Beijing having a 755 on an index that measures particulates of matter in the air. For a frame of reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that a daily level no higher than 20 and a level of 300 is deemed to be dangerous.
Aside from the toll pollution takes on the environment, it has an adverse effect on human health. First and foremost, individuals with heart disease, lung disease, outdoor workers, and pregnant workers are extremely susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution. But aside from that, scientists have found that pollution impairs the respiratory system causing chest pain, coughing, nausea, and pulmonary congestion. The WHO even notes that lower levels of air pollution is correlated with better cardiovascular and respiratory health.
Two chemicals that enters the human body courtesy of air pollution are benzene, a known human carcinogen, and acrolein, a lung irritant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, benzene causes cells in our body to not work correctly and symptoms of benzene exposure include: drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, tremors, confusion, unconsciousness and, at very high levels, death. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause anemia, immune system problems, and excessive bleeding. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency warns that acrolein can be a threat to humans as animal studies have found it causes general respiratory congestion and eye, nose, and throat irritation.
A new study, published in journal Cancer Prevention Research, has found that consuming broccoli sprouts (specifically, broccoli beverages) daily can eliminate both pollutants from the body. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health took close to 300 Chinese subjects from one of China’s most polluted regions to see if broccoli sprouts have cancer preventative properties, and their findings are significant.
“Air pollution is a complex and pervasive public health problem,” explains John Groopman, PhD, Anna M. Baetjer Professor of Environmental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the study’s co-authors in a news release. “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.”
Over the course of 12 weeks, the subjects from the Jiangsu Province in China were split into two beverage-consuming groups: the control group (which drank a sterilized water cocktail) and the treatment group (which consumed a broccoli sprouts drink.) The findings, which were determined by blood and urine samples, were clear: those who drank the broccoli sprout beverage excreted the carcinogen benzene by 61 percent and excreted acrolein by 23 percent than those who did not.
“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,” notes Thomas Kensler, PhD, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School and one of the study’s co-authors. “This while government leaders and policy makers define and implement more effective regulatory policies to improve air quality.”
What makes broccoli sprouts juice special? It is rich in glucoraphanin, a plant compound that creates sulforaphane when chewed or swallowed. Sulforaphane increases the production of enzymes in the body that increase the body’s ability to eliminate pollutants like benzene and acrolein.
The findings of this study are significant considering China’s pollution problem — a 2013 study found that those living in northern China (with more pollution) live an average of 5.5 years less than their southern Chinese counterparts. Considering the devastating effects pollution has on the human body, consuming broccoli sprouts juice is a small sacrifice to make and possibly a temporary solution to combating the adverse effects of air pollution.
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