Health notes: Broccoli, measuring medicine

Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Fight air pollution with broccoli

If you live in a region with lots of air pollution, you might not always breathe easy. So it might help to sit back, relax and enjoy a helping or two of broccoli.

Better yet, have a stiff cup of broccoli-sprout tea.

It might not be the advice you expect to protect yourself from pollution.

But a study that Thomas Kensler and his team began at Johns Hopkins University and completed at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that a molecule generated during broccoli consumption, and with higher concentrations found in broccoli-sprout tea, helps purge the body of air-pollution toxins, including carcinogenic benzene. The molecule works rapidly and with staying power.

And neither a broccoli-laden diet nor a gallon of tea is necessary.

A daily cup of the sprout tea or two small helpings totaling 150 grams of broccoli can help rid toxic pollutants from the body, the study found. The vegetable from the cabbage family, often described as a superfood, provides fiber, vitamins K and C and other nutrients, such as the one that eliminates toxins from the body. That’s what makes it a widely recommended addition to any diet.

Benzene is a known human carcinogen and lung irritant, according to the study published online recently in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. The study focuses on the molecule glucoraphanin in broccoli that, when chewed or crushed, produces sulforaphane, which is known to help prevent cancer. Glucoraphanin levels are significantly higher in broccoli stems and seeds than in the mature vegetable itself.

“Dr. Kensler is a superb scientist and he has strong evidence that broccoli’s constituents can help detoxify carcinogens and toxins and enhance their elimination from the body,” said Gary Stoner, a professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin whose research focus includes cancer prevention. “This is excellent science.”


What’s in a ‘spoonful’?

The song says a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but a study says that kind of imprecise measurement can lead to potentially dangerous dosing mistakes.

The results, published online Monday in Pediatrics, underscore recommendations that droppers and syringes that measure in milliliters be used for liquid medicines — not spoons.

The study involved nearly 300 parents, mostly Hispanics, with children younger than 9 years old. The youngsters were treated for various illnesses at two New York City emergency rooms and sent home with prescriptions for liquid medicines, mostly antibiotics.

Parents were contacted afterward and asked by phone how they had measured the prescribed doses. They also brought their measuring devices to the researchers’ offices to demonstrate doses they’d given their kids.

Parents who used spoonfuls “were 50 percent more likely to give their children incorrect doses than those who measured in more precise milliliter units,” said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a co-author and associate professor at New York University’s medical school.

Incorrect doses included giving too much and too little, which can both be dangerous, he said. Underdosing may not adequately treat an illness and can lead to medication-resistant infections, while overdoses may cause illness or side effects that can be life-threatening. The study doesn’t include information on any ill effects from dosing mistakes.

Almost one-third of the parents gave the wrong dose and 1 in 6 used a kitchen spoon rather than a device like an oral syringe or dropper that lists doses in milliliters.

Less than half the prescriptions specified doses in milliliters. But even when they did, the medicine bottle label often listed doses in teaspoons. Parents often assume that means any similar-sized kitchen spoon, the authors said.

“Outreach to pharmacists and other health professionals is needed to promote the consistent use of milliliter units between prescriptions and bottle labels,” the authors said.