So many health foods nowadays are labelled as "detoxifying" that it makes one wonder how many of them actually work and how many are simply looking for a promotional edge. Thanks to a new study, at least now we can confidently identify broccoli sprouts as being "the real deal."

In a new study, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, a team of researchers have discovered that tiny little broccoli sprouts, are actually “extremely efficient at eliminating common environmental toxicantsk,” The Huffington Post reported. These tiny green veggies play an important role in helping to expel harmful pollutants from our body, all while providing us with an excellent source of vitamin K.

How It Works

For the study researchers recruited 291 participants living in a highly-polluted area in China. The participants were asked to drink either a half-cup of the specially blended “broccoli sprout-derived beverage” or a placebo drink made of pineapple and lime juice every day for 12 weeks. They found that the participants who drank the broccoli sprout actually showed significant increases in the levels of detoxication in urine samples. There were no changes found in the placebo participants.

Pollutant Elimination

The particular pollutant that the broccoli sprout drink was able to eliminate from the body was benzene. We most probably breathe benzene every day without even realizing it. It is produced in cigarette smoke, car smog, glue, paint, and detergent, The Huffington Post reports. Although it does not cause serious harm in small doses, overexposure to the pollutant can make your cells stop working correctly, often leading to cancer. The drink was also able to increase the rate of excretion of the irritant acrolein by 23 percent, according to Time. Acrolein exposure can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation. The researchers did note that the broccoli sprout drink was not able to eliminate the pollutant crotonaldehye, another chemical measured in the study.

Do Less Carcinogens Mean Less Cancer?

Although this may be exciting for you and me, it could potentially be life changing for individuals who live in areas of particularly high pollution, such as those in China. “The situation is that people throughout China are breathing dirty air, and the exposure is largely unavoidable,” said study author Tom Kensler, as reported by Time. It is hoped that a beverage of broccoli sprouts would prove to be a cost-efficient and effective way to lower cancer rates in highly polluted areas. It’s not proven that having fewer pollutants in your body is a guaranteed way to avoid cancer, but according to Kensler, “the assumption is that if there's less carcinogen in the body, there's less risk.” The study’s author feels that broccoli consumption shouldn’t just be limited to those living in polluted areas like China, or Los Angeles in the United States, but that it should be “extended across all people.”

Source: Egner PA, Chen GJ, Zarth AT, et al. Rapid and Sustainable Detoxication of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprouts Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China. Cancer Prevention Research. 2014.