Jul 02, 2014 3:00 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Salt Lake County residents may want to add more broccoli to their diets.

The veggie many of us love to hate gets a bad rap for its assertive taste, but new research suggests broccoli can help our bodies remove some of the chemicals inhaled from polluted air. This has implications for Utah residents, since Salt Lake County earned an “F” grade in a recent air-quality ranking by the American Lung Association.

In a study involving 291 residents of a township in rural China with heavy air pollution, those who drank a daily “tea” made of broccoli sprouts had higher concentrations of the chemicals benzene and acrolein in their urine than a control group. The study appears in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

Getting these two chemicals out of our systems is a good thing. Benzene, in particular, is dangerous because it can cause cancer and other major health problems. And local residents are likely to be exposed to it, says Kerry E. Kelly, a research associate with the University of Utah Department of Chemical Engineering and an associate director of the University of Utah Program for Air Quality, Health and Society. “Benzene is a common pollutant, and generally, in an urban area, you will find some benzene,” Kelly says.

The American Cancer Society lists benzene among the 20 most widely used chemicals in the United States. “Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil and gasoline (and therefore motor vehicle exhaust), as well as cigarette smoke,” its website says.

Acrolein, a lung irritant, is associated with burning fossil fuels and cigarette smoke, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“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,” Thomas Kensler, the lead researcher and a Johns Hopkins University professor, said in a statement.

“Clearly, lowering emissions and controlling pollution is a really important strategy, but while we’re working on it, managing the health effects is another strategy,” Kelly says. “I think pollution episodes are going to be with us for a while, although we need to continue to be smart about reduction strategies.”

Fortunately for people who can’t stand broccoli, its benefits are found in other cruciferous vegetables, including the trendiest vegetable on the planet right now, kale. But broccoli appears to pack the biggest detox punch, Kensler told The Wall Street Journal. “The more bitter your broccoli, perhaps the better,” he said. 

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