According to the World Health Organization (WHO), outdoor air pollution may be the 9th leading cause of death and disability in the world. Hearing that around 3 million people die from contaminated air worldwide each year makes me want to gasp (or actually avoid gasping). Science clearly links air pollution to many diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, asthma, and liver disease. It even has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes. Since avoiding air is not an option for more than a minute or so, how can you help yourself remain healthy in a polluted world?
Let’s assume you are like most people and find that moving to the uncharted wilderness may be a bit out of reach. Since air pollution is and will likely remain a part of life, your only hope is to make sure that if garbage goes in, it must come out (as much as possible) . In other words, you need to have a good detoxification process functioning inside your body.
What’s in the air? The WHO points to key air pollutants that science has found to pose health risks. They are: particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.
Particulate matter is the most prevalent of all harmful pollutants. It consists of all of the solid and liquid particles that are floating around in the air. The list includes, to name a few: dust, soot, smoke, chemical liquids, pollen, sulfates, ammonia, and nitrates.
The ozone that is referenced is not the same as what is seen in the upper atmosphere. The pollutant ozone occurs at ground level and is part of smog formed when sunlight reacts to pollutants from vehicle and industry emissions.
Nitrogen dioxide is a product of combustion (heating, power generation, and engines in vehicles and ships).
Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas with a strong odor that is produced from burning coal and oil and smelting minerals that contain sulfur.
Now that you are acquainted with some of the foul players in the air, let me introduce you to the central garbage processing center of your body: the liver. Among this complex organ’s many functions is the removal of toxins that have entered your body, in two steps.
The first step (phase 1) converts a toxin into a less harmful substance through various chemical reactions. This process if vital for detoxification, but in turn can create damaging free radicals (highly reactive atoms or groups of atoms that can have negative effects in the body, including liver damage). It is important that your body takes in an adequate supply of antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables) to clean up the free radicals.
The second step (phase 2, called “the conjugation pathway”) occurs when the liver cells add another substance to a toxic chemical making it water-soluble. Once complete, the combination can be excreted from the body through your urine or bowel.
In a nutshell, the first phase breaks toxins down and the second phase packages them up and ships them out. This vital process runs effectively 24/7, but comes at a price. Raw materials must be regularly replenished through your diet. An inadequate supply chain can cause the detoxification in your liver to slow. Toxins will accumulate and your health will deteriorate with potentially fatal consequences. The rest of this article will focus on food sources that not only provide your liver with materials it needs to function, but also a key ingredient that helps turn your liver into a detoxification super star!
Sulforaphane is the most potent, natural, phase 2 enzyme inducer. It is also a powerful cancer fighter. The best source for this powerhouse is broccoli and broccoli sprouts (which have the highest sulforaphane levels). Other delicious sources of sulforaphane are kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cabbage, mustard greens and cauliflower.
It is important that you consume broccoli (and the other veggies) following a few specific rules. The broccoli must be eaten raw, or chopped or blended and allowed to sit for 40 minutes prior to cooking. Both methods allow for an important reaction to occur after mixing two precursors of sulforaphane (the enzyme myrosinase and the compound glucoraphanin). Heat from cooking destroys the myrosinase before it can perform its sulforaphane-producing magic.
If you are short on time or forgot to chop your broccoli or other veggie of choice and let it sit, you have another option. Just sprinkle about ½ teaspoon of mustard powder (rich in myrosinase) on the food after it cools and before serving.
Pollution is a sad reality of our world. Just pondering its magnitude can be a suffocating experience. Adding broccoli to your meal plan along with other sulforaphane-rich foods can not only help you fill your life with healthier days, but fill your lungs with less worry about the air you breathe.