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Sulforaphane promotes the production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that facilitates the body’s excretion of toxic substances. When glutathione binds with benzene, a known carcinogen present in air pollution, the two form mercapturic acids, which can be excreted and measured in urine. Findings from a 2019 study demonstrated that sulforaphane provided in a broccoli sprout beverage promoted excretion of benzene, as reflected in urinary mercapturic acid levels.

The intervention study involved 170 healthy adult participants between the ages of 21 and 65 years living in Qidong, China, an area known for its high levels of air pollution. The participants drank a placebo or a broccoli-sprout beverage containing one of three doses of sulforaphane – “high,” “medium,” or “low" – twice a day for a period of 10 days. After drinking the beverage, the participants provided a urine sample, which was assessed for benzene metabolites.

The authors of the study found that the high dose of sulforaphane markedly increased the production of several urinary metabolites. In particular, excretion of mercapturic acids increased by more than 63 percent in those taking the high dose. Mercapturic acid excretion in those who received the medium and low dose, however, was not significantly different from those who took the placebo.

These findings demonstrated that a broccoli sprout beverage containing sulforaphane enhanced the detoxication of benzene, an important airborne pollutant, and suggest that population-based strategies that employ a dietary approach are viable options for improving healthspan in humans.

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