Watercress is one of the healthiest foods we have come across. It has more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than an orange and more absorbable iron than spinach. And move over broccoli – not only is watercress higher in calcium, iron, beta-carotene and selenium, but it is higher in the cancer-fighting antioxidants known as Isothiocyanates, mainly phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) and sulforaphane.
Recent ground breaking studies have shown that the consumption of watercress could inhibit breast cancer, lung cancer and even melanoma. An August 2009 study from the University of Southampton revealed that PEITC interferes with the growth of cancer cells by literally blocking the signal to surrounding normal tissues to grow new blood vessels into tumors, which feed them oxygen and nutrients. PEITC blocks the tumor development process by ‘turning off’ the function of a protein called Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF). In a second study in April 2010, the molecular oncologists were able to detect significant levels of PEITC in the blood of study female participants following a watercress meal, and most importantly, could show that the function of the protein HIF was also measurably affected in the blood cells of the women.
The antioxidant properties in watercress can also help protect cells and DNA from damage, which are indicators of cancer risk. Watercress acts as a protector by increasing molecules such as lutein and beta-carotene. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted a 100 per cent increase in lutein molecules and a 33 per cent rise in beta-carotene after participants ate 85g of watercress daily for 8 weeks, in addition to their regular diet. Participant blood tests showed a 22.9 per cent reduction in DNA damage to white blood cells – DNA damage is considered by scientists to be an important trigger in the development of cancer. Researcher and Professor Ian Rowland notes the significance of these new studies involving the consumption of the actual food in easily achievable amounts, which measure the impact on known bio-markers of cancer risk, such as DNA damage, while “most studies to date have relied on tests conducted in test tubes or in animals, with chemicals derived from cruciferous vegetables.”
Isothiocyanates were also shown to inhibit melanoma, lung cancer, and breast cancer. Gavin Robertson, associate professor of pharmacology, pathology and dermatology at Penn State College of Medicine researched a new drug known as isoselenocyanate which combines isothiocyanates with selenium to targets the Akt3 protein in inhibiting the development of melanoma. Recent studies from Georgetown University Medical Center and the Institute for Cancer Prevention confirmed that compounds derived from naturally occurring isothiocyanates blocked lung cancer progression in both animal studies and in tests with human lung cancer cells. Sulforaphane was shown to block the formation of mammary tumors in rats in earlier studies conducted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Sulforaphane can be obtained in supplement form, such as Broccoli Sprouts by Source Naturals but the best way to obtain the benefits is through your diet. For maximum health benefits, consume watercress raw. Renowned dermatologist and board certified nutritionist Dr. Nicholas Perricone, who recommends watercress for its anti-aging and cancer fighting ability, suggests watercress consumption of 3-5 times per week. Try to increase your raw intake by adding watercress to your juicing routine and give these yummy recipes a try.
Watercress has been used by traditional healers and Chinese herbalists to treat a wide range of ailments ranging from topical applications for canker sores, cold sores and acne to remedies for fever, hot flashes and infections such as bronchitis. Watercress has mild diuretic properties, which means it can eliminate water retention caused by bloating or excess salt. This super food is available all year round.
Photo Credit: Watercress of Kangkong – The Must Eat Green Recipe Credits: Avocado and Watercress Salad, Watercress Soup, DNA Defending Asian Watercress Saute
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