Your mom might have been right when she told you that eating your veggies will put color in your cheeks. A surprising new study found that downing a drink made of broccoli sprouts cleaned the lungs of some 300 Chinese citizens. Even if broccoli isn't your favorite vegetable, knowing this will certainly help it go down easier.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recruited 300 men and women in China—a country known for its terrible air pollution—to drink a concoction of sterilized water, pineapple, lime juice, and dissolved freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder. The control group's cocktail didn't have the sprout mixture. The researchers then tested all the subjects' urine and blood, finding that the people who drank the broccoli beverage upped their excretion of the carcinogen benzene by 61 percent and of the irritant acrolein by 23 percent. And the results have the medical community abuzz.
"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."
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Benzene—one of the chemicals studied—is the worst of the worst. Not only does it cause cancer, but it reacts with other more benign chemicals in the air, making them toxic too. The fact that the broccoli sprouts increased benzene excretion so dramatically could potentially benefit millions of people living in polluted areas around the world.
How does it work? Your lungs play a large part in detoxing by helping your liver excrete toxins when we exhale them in our breath. It works the other way as well: Toxins inhaled into the lungs cross small capillary beds and pass quickly into the blood. That's where the broccoli sprouts come in. Glucoraphanin, which is found naturally in broccoli, interfaces with the benzene in the capillary beds and makes it soluble, thereby helping your body to expel it more quickly, according to Fuller.
The best part, Fuller says, is how clean and elegant this solution is. "It's broccoli! It can't hurt. It seems to help. There are no downsides, so why not?" Bottoms up!