Based on results by researchers at Southampton University in England, scientists believe that a daily portion of watercress may help combat breast cancer. This is not a recent revelation, as five years ago Irish scientists found that a daily intake of watercress reduced DNA damage to blood cells. DNA damage is considered a cancer trigger.
The peppery taste of watercress is due to the compound phenethyl isothiocyanate, which blocks the action of a protein that helps cancerous tumors grow. Scientists also found that watercress turns off signals sent out by cancer cells for more oxygen and blood, and increases the ability of healthy cells to resist free radical damage (which is also thought to be a precursor to cancer).
Although the headlines are appealing, the studies involved used very small samples and are not conclusive. More research into watercress needs to be done to validate these claims. However, watercress is considered a super food, as it contains many nutrients and soluble fiber. For example:
- B vitamins and glucosinolates, which support liver function and thus our ability to detoxify the body. A sluggish liver can lead to many health problems including fatigue, poor digestion, mood swings and poor memory.
- A relatively high quantity of vitamin A, a nutrient that helps maintain the health of membranes i.e. our skin and internal membranes such as our intestines.
- A good source of specific phytonutrients, including lutein, which can maintain eye health, as well as antioxidants which can help protect cells from free radical attack and consequent DNA damage, which can influence the aging process and contribute to the development of cancer.
- Zinc and vitamin C, both of which help maintain overall health as well as support the immune system.
- Vitamin K. This has been in the news lately, with researchers discovering a barrage of health benefits such as preventing osteoporosis and heart attacks as well as the previously known benefit of blood clotting. However, be aware that the version of vitamin K from watercress only supports blood clotting, although in the body it can be converted to the bone density and cardiac protecting version. As vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, consuming your watercress with a little fat such as olive oil will help absorption in the body.
One caution with watercress is that it is naturally high in iodine. Given that salt is fortified with iodine here in Costa Rica, anyone with hyperthyroidism should take care with watercress consumption. It can also interact with some common drugs such as blood thinners and antibiotics. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist if you are concerned that your meds could be causing such problems.
We can thus conclude that although it is not certain that watercress can prevent cancer, it should be beneficial to your health when included as part of your daily or even weekly diet. Try it in wraps, sandwiches, salads, pesto, as a soup or simply as a generous garnish.
Julie Godfrey BSc (Hons) is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). See www.foreverhealthyco.com or email email@example.com.