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2007 .Sc.This report was written and researched by Lyndel Costain B.RD.

whether or not watercress actually has the potential to help reduce cancer risk. Perhaps more importantly. however. The first of these was to employ a test tube approach. When we applied an extract of watercress to cultures of human cells we were able to show that it slowed the growth of cancer cells. As I stated earlier. Ideally we would like to have used development of cancer as the end point. and Sam Haldar. we don’t eat the purified compounds. In addition. iron and folate. these types of study are not easy to do and the results represent a huge amount of work by my colleagues. patience (and blood!) the study would not have been possible. bioactive plant compounds (phytochemicals) for which there is increasing evidence for beneficial effects on human health. which look at dietary patterns of large populations and attempt to correlate these with cancer incidences. and inhibited the ability of cancer cells to invade tissues in a model of cancer spread. like watercress. it rarely allows us to identify the role of specific foods and crucially it provides information only on associations between diet and cancer risk not causal relationships. our 60 volunteers seemed to have no problems in eating a bag of watercress each day for 2 months! The main endpoint of the study was DNA damage in blood cells.WAT E R C R E S S THE ORIGINAL SUPERFOOD Foreword by Professor Ian Rowland.g. It is these compounds that give watercress its distinctive peppery taste. for having the foresight to fund the study and for their enthusiastic support over the last few years. But watercress is also a particularly rich source of a group of phytochemicals called glucosinolates which. Happily. when eaten. Finally. we eat the whole food. It is a good source of many important nutrients such as vitamin C. DNA damage is considered to be an important event in various stages of development of the disease. particularly Steve Rothwell. which may help protect the cells of the body from damage from reactive free radicals (lutein specifically is considered to be very important for eye health). without whose commitment. And therein lay another problem. At The University of Ulster we wanted to identify causal effects e. These include antioxidants such as betacarotene. but also increases the ability of those cells to resist DNA damage caused by free radicals. lutein and quercetin. Although not as definitive as cancer. Epidemiology studies. Adele Boyd. Watercress is a very underrated vegetable. so we had to take some short cuts. Special thanks also must go to our volunteers. are particularly effective in helping to reduce cancer risk. To do so we needed to perform a dietary intervention. certainly provide us with important indications that cruciferous vegetables. is highly significant. The University of Ulster What’s so special about watercress? This report aims to provide the answers. Sensibly. stimulated the ability of cells to resist DNA damaging agents thought to induce cancer. so the results are very much applicable to the general population eating a normal diet. It is also important to note that our subjects were not a specially selected group on a restricted diet: they were very mixed – both men and women. particularly Chris Gill. I also thank the Watercress Alliance. some were smokers. break down to isothiocyanates. But cancer can take decades to develop. This report summarises the role of these vital substances and shows just how valuable watercress is in contributing to our daily requirements for them. so our finding that eating watercress not only reduces the level of DNA damage in blood cells. NB New research from The University of Ulster is summarised on Page 6 1 . a wide range of experiments using human cells in culture and studies in animals have demonstrated that isothiocyanates have anti-cancer potential. But epidemiology is a blunt tool. so this report also covers the evidence relating to cancers and watercress per se. calcium. These positive results encouraged us to move to the second stage – to conduct a large scale watercress dietary study in healthy volunteers. and they ranged in age from 19-55 years. watercress is packed with a wide range of natural.

• Nutrients and phytochemicals in fruit and vegetables appear to work synergistically. In 500BC. This report provides science-based information for health professionals and focuses on: • the nutritional composition of watercress • the potential health benefits of watercress • a summary of research studies relating to watercress Key research findings include: • Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable and population studies associate an increased intake of cruciferous vegetables with reduced risk of cancers at several sites. virtually fat free and contains a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals. and has been commercially cultivated since the 1800s. Daily consumption of watercress increased plasma lutein levels by 100% and beta-carotene levels by 33%. But some foods have been classed as ‘superfoods’ because they are especially rich in health-promoting nutrients. • The mix of nutrients and phytochemicals in watercress make it a valuable food throughout life. These include lutein. PEITC is a key contributor to the distinctive peppery flavour of watercress and in a large number of in vitro and animal studies has been shown to have a range of anticancer effects. which show a range of anti-cancer activities. rocket and radish. Hippocrates. Watercress is part of the fruit and vegetable food group. jacket potato fillings and fish dishes. as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. • Watercress is a rich source of the glucosinolate-derivatives phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) and methylsulphinylakyl isothiocyanates (MEITCs). the activation of a key carcinogen (cancer causing agent) in tobacco was inhibited. and therefore related to broccoli. Watercress is sold as a fresh salad vegetable. lutein. • As a low calorie vegetable. by itself or mixed with other salad leaves. such as lutein and beta-carotene. cauliflower. Brussel sprouts. DNA damage is an important event in cancer development. and can be enjoyed as a salad vegetable. 2 . It is believed to have originated in Greece and remains an integral part of Mediterranean diets. It is also a source of a number of phytochemicals with potential health benefits. flavonoids and hydroxycinammic acids. including phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). • When smokers ate watercress with each meal for 3 days. associated with the maintenance of eye and skin health. cabbage. Watercress is naturally low in calories. proliferation and metastasis) were observed in a study involving watercress extract and colon cancer cells. but from the interactions between them (3). Watercress is very versatile. That comes from the overall benefits of a healthy diet and lifestyle. and is readily available from greengrocers and supermarkets. and a source of folate. • Daily watercress consumption has been shown to decrease plasma triglyceride levels by about 10%. it has been used in herbal remedies from the 1600s. iron and vitamin E. in soups and smoothies or as an ingredient in cooked dishes such as stir-fries. Cultivated in pure spring water. the father of medicine. • Watercress has significant antioxidant activity in vitro. • Watercress is a good source of key nutrients and carotenoids. is said to have located his first hospital close to a stream to ensure fresh watercress to help treat his patients. INTRODUCTION Watercress Rorripa nasturtium acquaticum is a member of the Cruciferae (or Brassicaceae) family. quercetin. • Beneficial effects on the three key stages of carcinogenesis (initiation. So is watercress one of the original superfoods? Evidence suggests it is. • 80g (one cereal bowl full) of watercress provides one of the ‘at least five a day’ portions of fruit and vegetables recommended by the Department of Health to help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. The latter release isothiocyanates. calcium. and glucosinolates. • An in vitro study involving breast cancer cells found that the addition of a watercress extract inhibited their invasive potential. of which watercress is the richest known source. • Daily consumption of watercress resulted in a significant decrease in lymphocyte (white blood cell) DNA damage. antioxidants or phytochemicals (bioactive plant compounds) (1) and therefore pack more of a nutritional punch than others. phenolic acids. with 80g (one cereal bowl full) providing one of the ‘at least five a day’ portions recommended by the Department of Health to help reduce the risk of some cancers. sauces for pasta and other meals. watercress may play a role in weight management. It also contains a variety of phytochemicals including glucosinolates. Research indicates that the observed health benefits of diets rich in fruit and vegetables may come not just from their individual nutrients or phytochemicals. cardiovascular disease and many other chronic conditions (2). its health benefits have been known since ancient times. • A study investigating the effects of a diet supplemented with PEITC in mice grafted with human prostate tumours resulted in a 50% reduction in tumour weight.OVERVIEW No single food can maintain and promote good health. As a longstanding British favourite. It has been enjoying a renaissance of late with annual sales increasing by £18 million a year over the past four years to more than £55 million. • Watercress is rich in vitamin A (via beta-carotene) and vitamin C.

Higher plasma vitamin C levels may benefit cardiovascular health (see page 7).24 0. Vitamin A Watercress is a rich source of vitamin A with 100g providing 420μg (53% of the RDA) and an 80g portion providing 42% of the RDA.6 184 39 0. 8). Many green leafy vegetables. structure and function of the skin and mucous membranes.4% GDA 8. Elevated levels have been associated with modestly increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.2mg iron per100g (16% RDA) and 13% of the RDA per 80g portion. Folate is also needed for normal cell division.06 0. It also contains useful amounts of vitamin K. It contains very little carbohydrate and fat but provides some protein.7% 10% 3.9% GDA 0.7% GDA 1.6% DRV 2% GDA 2% GDA Per 80g portion 18 75 2.5% 15.3 0. A metaanalysis found that folate from food sources may offer some protection against colorectal cancer (12). nerve and muscle function. Folate – and other B vitamins Watercress is a source of folate with 100g providing 45μg (23% RDA) and a 80g portion providing 18% of the RDA. However. and foods fortified with folic acid.2% GDA 0.1% GDA 1. There is ongoing debate as to whether this is a causal relationship.5% GDA 0. It can help to maintain healthy blood pressure and contribute to the release of hormones such as insulin (7. Folate is a B vitamin naturally occurring in food. skin.3 0.9% GDA 5. **Calculated from beta-carotene content ***(F) = female. Table 1. embryonic development.08 0. However.4% 3. thiamin. like kale. Watercress also provides useful amounts .7% 8% 2. and neurological development in embryos (7. Folate is often referred to as folic acid. which can significantly reduce calcium bioavailability.7% GDA/DRV 42% 0 11. The main nutritional cause of raised plasma homocysteine in most healthy populations is folate insufficiency (10). calcium. blood formation (including haemoglobin) and structure of the neural tube in developing embryos (7).2 336 0 1.1% GDA 6.46 250 62 0.6% 103% 11. positive associations may be confounded by nutrients such as fibre. and functioning of DNA. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) has indicated poor folate status amongst some young women and older people (9). potassium and iodine and is naturally low in sodium.8% 1. which accompany a diet naturally rich in folate (13). where 6μg beta-carotene is equivalent to 1μg vitamin A activity. reproduction. and a deficiency may result in damage to DNA.09 % EC RDA /DRV or GDA* 0.3 0.7% 11.8 12 0.2% GDA 0. blood coagulation and the function of digestive enzymes. and is a source of folate.3% 9.1% GDA 0.05 0.5 420 0 1.8% blood vessels and connective tissues (as required for normal gums.13 0.3% GDA/DRV 53% 0 14. Folate is involved in the synthesis. watercress is a low oxalate vegetable containing Energy (kcal) Energy (kj) Protein (g) Fat (g) Polyunsaturates (g) Monounsaturates (g) Saturates (g) Carbohydrates (g) Sugars (g) Fibre (g) Vitamin A (µg)** Vitamin D (µg) Vitamin E (mg) Vitamin K (µg) (5) Vitamin C (mg) Thiamin (mg) Riboflavin (mg) Niacin (mg) Vitamin B6 (mg) Folate (µg) Vitamin B12 (µg) Calcium (mg) Phosphorus (mg) Iron (mg) Magnesium (mg) Zinc (mg) Iodine (µg) (6) Selenium (µg) (6) Potassium (mg) 230 Sodium (mg) 49 Salt equivalent (g) 0.7% 5% 4.3% (F). Calcium Watercress is a source of calcium containing 170mg (21% RDA) per 100g or 17% RDA per 80g portion.3% GDA 6. which is a manufactured form of the vitamin.7 15 2 % EC RDA /DRV or GDA* 1. DRV – UK Dietary Reference Values – used when there is no RDA. which is known to increase the absorption of non-haem iron.Vitamin C is needed to synthesize neurotransmitters making it essential for normal neurological function (7.2% 18% 0 17% 5. Due to its high water content (93%) it is low in calories.17 200 49.7% (F). 2.5% 22.4 0.2 15 0.3% 6. blood formation.2 0.6 0.1% (M) DRV 5.0 1.4% GDA 1. Iron is essential for energy production and the normal transport of oxygen in the body via its role in the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle cells. growth and cellular differentiation. GDA – UK Guideline Daily Amounts for adults for key nutrients. Vitamin A is an essential fat soluble vitamin and is necessary for normal vision (including night vision). Vitamin C is necessary for the normal structure and function of 3 . women who are planning pregnancy are advised to take a daily 400μg supplement of folic acid until the 12th week of their pregnancy and to eat more good sources of folate such as green leafy vegetables.7% (M) DRV*** 6. The DRV for potassium is the same for men and women.7% 9. Watercress provides vitamin A via beta-carotene which has provitamin A activity.1 0.3% 1. Calcium is needed for the normal structure of bones and teeth. This has recently been demonstrated in an animal model study related to colorectal cancer (11). iron and vitamin E.12 * EC RDA – EC Recommended Daily Allowance for selected vitamins and minerals. vitamin B6. cartilage and wound healing). with subsequent tumour initiation. Nutrient content of watercress All data taken from (4) unless marked with (5) or (6) Per 100g 22 94 3.8 0. Folate (and vitamin B6) is also involved in the maintenance of normal blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. 2.3% GDA 1.around 11% RDA per 100g .1% GDA 1.23 45 0 170 52 2. 8). To reduce the risk of neural tube defects. The NDNS reported that 24% of women (40% aged 19-34) and 3% of men aged 19-24 have iron intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) which puts them at risk of iron deficiency (9).6% 4% 3. 8).3 1.2% 12.18 36 0 136 42 1.1% 3% 1.3 0.4 0. 8). Vitamin C Watercress is a rich source of vitamin C with 100g providing 62mg (103% RDA) and an 80g portion providing 83% of the RDA.7% 82. It is also needed for normal immune function.5% 0 21. Watercress is also rich in vitamin C. (M) = male DRV.16 0. contain high levels of oxalates. It increases the gastrointestinal absorption of non-haem iron (the form of iron found in plant foods).56 12 1.6% 1. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia (a deficiency of red blood cells).N U TR I TI ONAL CO MP O SI T I ON O F WATE R C R E S S Watercress is rich in vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C.of thiamin (B1) and vitamin B6 which are required for the metabolism of carbohydrate and protein.0 0.4 0. bones. repair. Iron Watercress is a source of iron providing 2. and for the maintenance of immune function (7. spinach in particular. and as an antioxidant helps to prevent the cell and tissue-damaging effects of free radicals.4 1.

03 4 . Table 5. However. pollution. an antioxidant enzyme). For example.43 17. 5) Carotenoid Beta-carotene Lutein & zeaxanthin μg/100g 2520 5767 Glucosinolates Watercress is one of the most concentrated sources of glucosinolates. for example.5mg/100g watercress (14). This is of particular concern since the twenties is the last window of opportunity for increases in bone density before peak bone mass is attained (16).alpha-linolenic acid is still classified as ‘essential’ and has key physiological effects. Antioxidants help to protect cells by scavenging highly reactive free radical molecules (by donating electrons) before they cause cell and tissue damage. Isothiocyanates are metabolised in vivo by conjugation with glutathione. Fairweather-Tait et al (15) have shown that the fractional absorption of calcium from watercress soup is 27. The total urinary level of isothiocyanate equivalents is an excellent biomarker of human consumption of different glucosinolates (23). Phenolic Q-3-O-Rutinoside (Rutin) Total HCA derivatives μmol/g fresh weight 0.40 0. watercress is a rich source of a variety of phytochemicals. which may interfere with key functions in the body. Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic diseases (27). water soluble phytochemicals that are widely distributed throughout cruciferous vegetables. and carotenoids such as betacarotene and lutein. Glucosinolates are sulphur-containing. Studies indicate different mechanisms of action for different phytochemicals (19). Cooking can reduce glucosinolate levels by 30-60% depending on the cooking method.6 109. optimal prostaglandin and leukotrine formation (18). but colon microflora appear to hydrolyse glucosinolates and allow their absorption. alcohol and ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. Table 3. which can damage lipids. also have antioxidant activity and appear to work additively and synergistically (25-28). Rutin and Phenolic acid content of Watercress (24) Hydroxycinnamic acids (HCAs) are phenolic acids. the enzyme myrosinase is released from the plant cell compartment to hydrolyze glucosinolates into a number of breakdown products including aglucones. These aglucones are very unstable and spontaneously convert to isothiocyanates. such as PEITC. catalase) to counterbalance free radicals.98 0. and is implicated in the development of cancer. Since watercress is often consumed raw this helps to maximise glucosinolate intake.7% fractional absorption from calcium-enriched skimmed milk in the same study. many phytochemicals such as phenolics and carotenoids. As a consequence.44 Table 4. However. The most clearly identified include glucosinolate derivatives such as phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) and methylsulphinylakyl isothiocyanates (MEITCs). crushed or chewed. When the vegetables are cut.07 0. Carotenoid content of Watercress (4. such as vitamins C and E and selenium (needed to form glutathione peroxidase. The body has an endogenous (internal) system of antioxidant enzymes (such as glutathione peroxidase. which are a major class of phenolic compounds. Phytochemical Content of Watercress Table 2: Flavonoid content of Watercress (20) Flavonoid Flavones Flavonols mg/100g 0. The body constantly reacts with oxygen as part of the energy producing processes of cells.53 0. For example PEITC and MEITC have been shown to play a role in the suppression of carcinogenesis in a number of in vitro studies.04 1. 22).1 0. which is derived from the hydrolysis of the glucosinolate gluconasturtiin. it helps to maintain the function and integrity of cell membranes (18) and optimises the ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. cigarette smoke. followed by conversion through the mercapturic acid pathway to N-acetylcysteine conjugates which are excreted in the urine. which may help to explain the observed health benefits associated with regular consumption of fruit and vegetables. sulphoraphane and indole 3-carbinol. flavonoids such as quercetin. Isothiocyanates are absorbed from the upper gastrointestinal tract (21).065 μmol/g dry weight 1. albeit less efficiently than myrosinase (21. and DNA. While heart health benefits have been more closely associated with the long chain omega-3 fatty acids (20:5n-3 and 22:6n-3) and conversion of 18:3n-3 to long chain omega-3 fatty acids is inefficient . quinone reductase. cooking intensity and on the type of compound. superoxide dismutase.20 7.01 0.<2. Omega-3 fats Watercress is naturally low in fat. P H Y TO C H E M I C A LS A N D A N T I O X I D A N T S In addition to nutrients. Isothiocyanate content of Watercress (24) Isothiocyanates are active derivatives of glucosinolates Isothiocyanate 7-Methylsulphinylheptyl 8-Methylsulphinylheptyl 3-Indolylmethyl 2-Phenylethyl (PEITC) 4-Methoxy-3-Indolylmethyl μmol/g fresh weight 0.4% which compares well to the 35. have calcium intakes below the LRNI. overproduction can cause an imbalance.02 1. hydroxycinnamic acids. Recent in vitro and human intervention studies provide more specific evidence probably as a result of synergistic activity between the components of watercress (see pages 6 and 7).4 μmol/g dry weight 0. free radicals are formed and can be increased by infection. and flavonoids and carotenoids have potent antioxidant activity.06 0.791 (4-Methylsulphinylbutane (sulphoraphane): levels on average are 1/20 those of PEITC) Apigenin Luteolin Kaempferol Myricetin Quercetin Antioxidants Diets rich in fruit and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases. including cruciferous vegetables such as watercress. Over the past few decades there has been a shift in the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet.68 0. to favour omega-6. Regular consumption can contribute useful amounts of omega-3 fatty acids to the diet (17). Cooking destroys myrosinase. Watercress is nature’s richest source of PEITC. leading to oxidative stress. Protection has often been at least partly attributed to the antioxidant nutrients in fruit and vegetables. proteins. which puts them at risk of deficiency (9). cardiovascular disease. so light and short cooking methods are recommended to conserve them (21). The NDNS survey indicated that 8% and 5% of 19-24 year old women and men respectively.05 9. But the little polyunsaturated fat it does contain has a high proportion of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3). the parent of the omega-3 fatty acid family.

Antioxidant potential of watercress It is hypothesized that consuming foods rich in antioxidants may help to prevent or slow the oxidative stress induced by free radicals. 36. In addition. Cancerous cells may also spread to and invade other tissues (known as ‘metastasis’). Lutein has been shown to have anti-carcinogenic activities in vitro (50). such as smokers (34). µM/100g 708 580 980 310 670 290 810-1130µM/100ml CANCER Cancer ultimately stems from damage to cellular DNA. age-related macular degeneration and skin photodamage. interest is moving towards assessing the antioxidant activity and in vivo effects of whole foods. Although borderline. epidemiological associations do not show causality. Many diet and lifestyle factors can influence the development of cancer. However. A number of antioxidants or more likely. Ongoing laboratory. 37). study length and design. indicate that PEITC/other isothiocyanates are not always directly identified as the potentially active components (29. • increasing the ability of cells to resist attack from carcinogens by increasing the activity of detoxifying/antioxidant enzymes known as ‘phase II enzymes’ . Faulty genetic material can also be inherited. through animal models and into human trials – have indicated that isothiocyanates such as PEITC and MEITCs can inhibit cancer development by (40-44): • preventing carcinogen activation by inhibiting phase I enzymes such as cytochrome P450s . 46). The in vivo evidence that fruit and vegetables actually reduce markers of oxidative damage has been limited. • inducing apoptosis (the death of damaged or cancer cells). Population studies associate an increased intake of cruciferous vegetables with reduced risk of cancers at several sites (38). 25. In 2000. glutathione S-transferases and UDPglucuronosyltransferases. • inhibiting cell cycle progression . Nevertheless. it was demonstrated that eating watercress protected smokers from a key tobacco carcinogen implicated in lung cancer (40). Mechanisms of other Components of Watercress Studies using a watercress extract. enhanced resistance of plasma lipoproteins to oxidation and increased red blood cell glutathione peroxidase (33).thus stopping a potential carcinogen becoming a carcinogen. good intakes of nutrient and phytochemical-dense green leafy and/or cruciferous vegetables has been associated with a decreased risk of conditions such as certain cancers. coronary heart disease. lycopene and as mixed carotenoids. might contribute to this (24. A placebo-controlled trial in post menopausal women by Zhao and colleagues (51) with carotenoid supplements (lutein. 45. 34). including watercress. Table 6. offer potential health benefits. In 1977. Isothiocyanates – proposed anti-cancer mechanisms Many studies – from laboratory and cell culture studies. The University of Ulster study (24) found that daily watercress consumption resulted in a 100% increase in plasma lutein.such as quinone reductase. Responsiveness may be greater for people who are under a higher level of oxidative stress. 31**) The FRAP assay directly measures antioxidants in a liquid sample. In 1995. β-carotene. Specifically. Since there is still much to understand about phytochemicals.which inhibits the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. animal and human intervention studies are helping to increase our understanding of why vegetables. especially amongst smokers (see page 6). it has been associated with markers such as a reduction in serum oxidizability (35). fruit and vegetable consumption can reduce DNA damage (a precursor to the development of cancer) in blood cells (24. In 2007 an important study with watercress adds to the few human intervention studies investigating the effects of cruciferous vegetable consumption on cancer risk (24). Watercress is also a good source of lutein and beta-carotene. Today. For example. Null findings may be influenced by many factors including absorption and metabolism of phytochemicals. A prospective study of over 6000 adults found that a higher intake of cruciferous vegetables was linked to a lower risk of all cause mortality (32). and individual variation in antioxidant status and responsiveness to dietary antioxidants (33. one of the first papers identifying the potential of phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) to inhibit carcinogenesis (the development of normal cells into cancerous cells) in laboratory animals was published (39). Watercress has significant antioxidant potential in vitro according to ferric-reducing antioxidant potential (FRAP) analysis (see Table 6). FRAP values are the combined concentrations of all electron donating antioxidants. a disease that is expected to affect more than 1 in 3 people in the UK at some stage of their lives. Ferric . damaged cells have the potential to proliferate uncontrollably to form a tumour. a recent pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies investigating intakes of dietary carotenoids and colorectal cancer risk identified lutein plus zeaxanthin as the only carotenoids to show any significance (52). isothiocyanates have been shown to stimulate endogenous antioxidant activity (30). mostly caused by some form of carcinogen (cancer causing agent) or virus. studies have shown that eating fruit and/or vegetables can reduce the amount of damage free radicals cause to the blood. If not repaired. The effects in blood cells is an indicator of what is happening to tissues less accessible for sampling and testing. UK scientists identified a number of active isothiocyanates in watercress and found that watercress extract has more powerful anticarcinogenic activity than PEITC alone (41). 5 .Reducing Antioxidant Potential (FRAP) (6*. protection against DNA breakage in mammalian cells and inhibition of phase I enzyme activity (49). Flavonols such as quercetin can accumulate in the plasma (27) and have been shown to modulate DNA damage from genotoxins in vitro (47) and have anti-proliferative effects (48). Watercress* Broccoli Spinach Tomato Onion Apple Black tea** P OT E N T I A L H E A LT H B E N E F I T S O F WAT E R C R E S S Hippocrates was one of the first to recognise the potential health benefits of watercress. and 33% increase in beta-carotene and a significant decrease in oxidative damage to white blood cell (lymphocyte) DNA. which result in antigenotoxic (reduction in damage to DNA) effects.Antioxidants provided by the diet may support endogenous antioxidant activity. at levels achievable with diet) found a decrease in endogenous lymphocyte DNA damage as a result of the supplementation. 29). This section focuses on the potential benefits of watercress. The hydroxycinnamic acids ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid have been found to offer free radical scavenging activity. a combination of its bioactive components.

vitamin C. and Body Mass Index (BMI) analysis found no statistical differences in the BMI. randomised crossover study was carried out with 30 male and 30 female healthy volunteers (of which 30 were smokers) who had a mean age 33 years (range 19-55).25 0. vitamin E. watercress supplementation was associated with significant reductions in lymphocyte basal DNA damage (by 17%) and in basal plus oxidative purine DNA damage (by 22. recent cohort studies appear to question the strength of these findings.1 0. folate and carotene. However. no significant changes were observed for plasma concentrations of alpha-tocopherol. Lipid profiles (LDL. were significantly higher during the watercress phase of the study. led by scientists at the University of Ulster 6 . hydroxycinnamic acids) as well as glucosinolates. ascorbic acid [vitamin C]. which showed a decrease of around 10% after watercress supplementation. ascorbic acid or in the total antioxidant potential of plasma (FRAP value). During the control phase (8 weeks).4%. Watercress contains phenolic compounds and high concentration of glucosinolates. lutein.05 0 Watercress al rm no di et Pre-treatment Post-treatment The exact mechanisms causing the antigenotoxic (anti-DNA damaging) effects found in this study due to watercress supplementation are not clear. red blood cell glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase activity did not change significantly in the total study population. Watercress leaves were analysed and found to contain a number of phenolic compounds (rutin. in this study consumption of watercress had no effect on antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione peroxidase or superoxide dismutase activity. increases in the in vivo concentrations of lutein and beta-carotene may contribute to the decrease in DNA damage levels in lymphocytes observed in the present study. vitamin E. and differences in response according to glutathione S-transferase genotype (sub-grouping populations according to glutathione S-transferase genotype appears to strengthen the relationship) (30). the mean intakes of dietary fibre. Environmental carcinogens (pollutants. This may reflect greater toxic burden or oxidative stress amongst the smokers. with no watercress.3 0. Further supportive evidence comes from a recent investigation into potential anti-carcinogenic mechanisms for the cruciferous vegetable watercress. subjects were asked to maintain their habitual diet. with the exception of plasma triglyceride concentration. as smokers were also µmol/l 0. 504-510. compared to the control phase. A decrease in endogenous lymphocyte DNA damage as a result of carotenoid supplementation has recently been demonstrated (51). but also increased the ability of those cells to resist DNA damage caused by free radicals. amounts of cruciferous vegetables needed to be consumed to achieve an effect.15 0. C O LO R E C TA L C A N C E R Epidemiological studies link cruciferous vegetable intake with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer (30). In response to watercress. Effects of watercress consumption on blood levels of lutein (100% increase) n 8 orm w al ee d ks iet DNA damage in lymphocytes DNA in white blood cell (lymphocyte) + s es cr er s at ek w we 8 Free radicals in the body Significant reduction of DNA damage in lymphocytes Gill and colleagues set out to assess the effects of eating watercress daily on biomarkers related to cancer risk. total cholesterol) were unaffected by watercress consumption. energy intake and macronutrient intakes between the control phase and the watercress phase of the study. alpha-tocopherol [vitamin E]. Bradbury I and Rowland IR (2007) Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy volunteers. which may have also contributed to the antigenotoxicity observed in lymphocytes as a result of watercress supplementation. plasma antioxidants (retinol [vitamin A]. However.35 0. They are also known to contain good amounts of vitamin C. dietary) found to have a significantly lower antioxidant status at the start of the study compared to the non-smokers.9%). These inconsistencies may be explained by factors such as the sensitivity of measuring vegetable intake. Haldar S. A single blind. All 60 subjects completed the study and food diary.2 0. HDL. Therefore. beta-carotene). Therefore. despite plausible mechanisms for anti-carcinogenic activity of cruciferous vegetables. Other potential mechanisms of the antigenotoxicity observed as a result of watercress supplementation could have been due to changes in glutathione S-transferase activity as has been previously observed with cruciferous vegetables. superoxide dismutase) in red blood cells. Boyd LA. beta-carotene (which can be converted to vitamin A) and lutein. watercress supplementation not only reduced the level of DNA damage in lymphocytes. but may be related to antioxidant status. Bennett R. However. subjects consumed one pack (85g) purchased from a local supermarket of raw watercress for 8 weeks in addition to their normal diet. Plasma lutein and beta-carotene were significantly increased by 100% and 33% respectively after watercress supplementation. plasma total antioxidant status using the FRAP assay and plasma lipid profile. During the treatment phase. Basal DNA damage in response to ex vivo hydrogen peroxide was reduced by 9. The authors concluded that the result supports the theory that consumption of watercress can be linked to a reduced risk of cancer via decreased damage to DNA and possible affects on antioxidant status by increasing levels of plasma carotenoids. smoking. However. suggesting they were a result of the watercress supplementation. retinol.NEW RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT FROM THE U N I V E R S I T Y O F U LS T E R Gill CIR. folate. All volunteers completed a 7-day food diary during each phase of the trial. The control and the treatment phases were separated by a 7 week washout phase when subjects consumed their usual diet. Compared to the control phase. Pearson JR. Butler B. The effect of watercress supplementation was measured on a range of endpoints including DNA damage in lymphocytes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 85 (2). activity of endogenous (internal) detoxifying/antioxidant enzymes (glutathione peroxidase. Whiteford J. Beneficial changes seen after watercress intervention were of greater magnitude and more significant in smokers.

equivalent to 50g of fruit or vegetable intake. LU N G C A N C E R Regular consumption of cruciferous vegetables and associated isothiocyanates has been linked to a reduced risk of lung cancer. proliferation (uncontrolled growth) of cancer cells. Chiao et al (60) assessed the in vivo affects of a PEITC-NAC supplemented diet versus a nonsupplemented diet on tumours of human prostate cancer cells grafted on to mice. which is associated with increased invasive and metastatic potential. There is therefore much interest in agents that may block their action. Gill et al (24) found that blood triglyceride levels were reduced by about 10% after the 8-week test period of watercress consumption 7 . while consuming 2 ounces (56. P R O S TAT E C A N C E R A number of epidemiological studies link consumption of diets rich in cruciferous vegetables with a reduced incidence of prostate cancer (57. After a 9-week treatment period. and further studies are warranted. Matrix metalloproteinases are enzymes that break down proteins such as collagen found in the extracellular matrix. and from cardiovascular disease and ischaemic heart disease in men and women (69). In addition. Cancer cells can stimulate abnormally high activity of matrix metalloproteinases (including metalloproteinase-9). Proposed beneficial components of vegetables and fruit include: antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C. but may involve reduced lipoprotein oxidation and lipid. One prospective study found a weak association but suggested that the potential benefits of cruciferous vegetables may emerge only after many years and consumption from an early age is recommended (59). watercress is rich in vitamin C and a good source of most of the identified beneficial components. lutein. which in turn delays their growth. has recognised anticarcinogenic effects (40). fibre and minerals such as potassium and vitamin B6 (67. Hecht used watercress. Eleven smokers volunteered to expose themselves to the lung-specific tobacco carcinogen 4(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) for 3 days. Mechanisms identified in this study suggest that PEITC-NAC may reduce tumour growth by inhibiting proliferation (uncontrolled cell growth) via cell cycle regulators. glutathione S-transferases) after sub-grouping according to GST genotype (61-63). 65). More recent in vivo work suggests a potential effect on tumour growth. the richest known food source. Analysis of the extracts revealed that the inhibitory effects of each vegetable were associated with the presence of 7-methylsulphinylheptyl isothiocyanates (MEITCs) and 4-methysulphinylbutyl (sulphoraphane). and significantly blocked the cells’ invasive or metastatic actions. and inducing apoptosis (externally triggered cell death). flavonoids. and metastasis (the spread of cancer cells). cells through Matrigel. This provided information on the overall effect of identified. the major isothiocyanate in watercress. Other possible mechanisms include acting at the post initiation stage of lung tumour development via cell-cycle arrest and induction of apoptosis (64. 4-Hydroxy nonenal and faecal water) known to promote the DNA damage and abnormal changes that initiate carcinogenesis. was independently associated with about a 20% reduction in all-cause mortality. particularly cruciferous vegetables. Causal mechanisms are still being clarified. The result was a highly significant increase in urinary NNK breakdown products during days 2 and 3 which correlated with the intake of PEITC from watercress during this period. This linked PEITC and watercress consumption to the metabolism and secretion/neutralization of the lung carcinogen NNK. delayed the cell cycle of the colon cancer cells. Direct studies with watercress have not been carried out.(29). prepared using watercress bought from local supermarkets. The cells were then either exposed to toxins (H202.8 g) of watercress at each meal. Tumour weight was reduced by 50% compared with mice on the diet without PEITC-NAC. there was a significant reduction in tumour size in 100% of the mice on the supplemented diet. A rise in plasma ascorbic acid. 68). C A R D I O VA S C U L A R H E A LT H It has been estimated that eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day could reduce the risk of deaths from chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke by up to 20% (66). Unable to obtain a license for a human study using pharmaceutical PEITC. which acts as a primary barrier to tumour growth and metastasis. BREAST CANCER Inverse associations between vegetable intake. While no studies have been carried out with watercress to specifically assess its potential to help maintain cardiovascular health. The watercress extract significantly inhibited DNA damage induced by oxidative stress from H202 (by 28%) and by faecal water (by 19%). The authors concluded that their studies support the view that watercress may be effective in helping to reduce cancer risk in humans. 58). They showed for the first time that an extract of watercress juice can inhibit the three key stages of carcinogenesis. Hecht and colleagues (40) had already observed significant benefits of PEITC for cancer protection in animals and wanted to assess its potential in humans. homocysteine and blood pressure reductions. Anti lung cancer mechanisms for isothiocyanates have been attributed to the inhibition of phase I enzymes (so neutralizing potential carcinogens) and/or to the induction of the activity of phase II enzymes which can detoxify carcinogens. and breast cancer have been noted in some (53. folate. Rose et al (56) used a watercress extract to assess its effects on chemically-induced cancer cell invasion in human breast cancer cells (MDA-MB-23). PEITC. Namely: initiation (the DNA damage that triggers cancer cell development). The study differed from many others in that it used extracts of whole watercress rather than individual phytochemicals found in watercress to test for anticarcinogenic effects. with stronger effects noted for GST null individuals (who therefore have no potential protection from the phase II enzymes. The watercress extract (and also a broccoli extract) inhibited metalloproteinase-9 activities in vitro and also suppressed the invasive potential of human breast cancer cells. and still to be identified compounds in watercress. The EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) Norfolk population study found that plasma ascorbic acid (vitamin C) concentration was inversely related to all-cause mortality. After finding that in vitro exposure of human prostate cancer cells to the N-acetylcysteine (NAC) conjugate of phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC-NAC). glucosinolates. and how they might work together. However. mechanisms to explain positive associations with cruciferous vegetables are being investigated. Metastasis (their ability to invade tissues) was assessed by studying attachment and penetration of HT115. 54) but not all (55) studies. To investigate possible reasons for these positive associations. significantly inhibited their growth. human colorectal adenocarcinoma. The study involved incubating human colon cancer cells (HT29) with watercress extract. or had their ability to proliferate assessed.

which over time can damage skin DNA. C and K. and beta-carotene. E Y E H E A LT H Watercress is a source of nutrients associated with the maintenance of normal vision and eye health. as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle (including not smoking) remains a key recommendation for the maintenance of eye health (75. including carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Higher intakes of lutein and zeaxanthin-rich foods have been associated with a lower incidence of the eye diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration (50. Watercress is low in fat and calories with 18 calories per 80g portion. including vitamin A. human intervention studies with supplements or a carotenoid-rich diet have shown evidence of skin photo-protection after intervention periods of at least 10 weeks (82). Diet is the sole source of lutein and zeaxanthin. leafy vegetables. mixed low fat salad as a starter resulted in subjects eating 12% fewer calories (a saving of more than 100 calories) overall at that meal. it is not currently possible to make clear conclusions about the distinct role of lutein and zeaxanthin without more prospective studies. Free radicals can be produced in the skin as a result of UV radiation from sun exposure and pollution. vitamins C and E. Higher intakes of fruit and vegetables have been associated with better body weight control in women (86). Like most vegetables it has a high water content (93%) and low energy density. and they are the only carotenoids concentrated in the lens and macular pigment (which protects the macula from the damaging photo-oxidative effects of blue light). Associations have been found between higher intakes of carotenoids (from fruit and vegetables) and reduced risk of melanoma (79) and higher intakes of green leafy vegetables and reduced risk of recurrence of squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer) (80). polyphenols and carotenoids (77. During pregnancy requirements increase for vitamins A and C. alpha-linolenic acid and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. However. compared to when they didn’t start their meals with the salad. a regular intake of lutein-rich green. Watercress is an especially good provider of vitamins A (via beta-carotene). 70-72) .the most common cause of poor vision and blindness in people over 60 in the UK. folate. The Ulster study (24) showed a 100% increase in plasma lutein levels in subjects regularly eating watercress. Based on recent trends. All essential nutrients support growth and development (7). As a salad vegetable it can contribute to the nutritional benefits associated with daily salad consumption. Research carried out at Pennsylvania State University (87) found that eating a large. Methods such as Raman resonance spectroscopy have been used to measure the uptake of carotenoids in the skin. zinc and the antioxidants vitamins C and E and betacarotene) may be associated with the development of these conditions (73. iron and vitamin E. Raised blood triglyceride levels can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. which can contribute to feelings of fullness and may help with weight control. As a salad vegetable it is most often eaten as part of a mixed salad. immune suppression and possibly skin cancer. and vitamin K contributes to normal bone structure. many other physiological. and other antioxidant rich foods. WEIGHT CONTROL Almost two-thirds of UK adults are overweight and 23% of men and 24% of women are obese. lutein and lycopene. Most fruit and vegetables have a low energy density. including vitamins A (from beta-carotene). 74). proteins and lipids. Folate is needed for the normal development of the neural tube so helping to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. and high levels have been associated with skin protection and reduced wrinkling (81). Gradual deterioration of the macular can cause oxidative stress within the retina. yellow and cruciferous vegetables. An animal study found that compared to a standard diet. Phytochemicals such as carotenoids and flavonoids are part of the light-protecting systems in plants and appear to contribute to the prevention of UV damage in humans. with the potential for skin ageing. In the same study blood levels of lutein increased by 100%. C and E. In addition. folate and carotenoids and consistently higher serum values of these nutrients (88). Nevertheless. Folate also plays a role in maintaining blood and circulation. Eating plenty of vegetables (around 3 portions daily). 76). equivalent to a vegetable portion. The skin has internal antioxidant defence systems but also appears to make use of dietary antioxidants. 78). especially green leafy. 8 . A recent analysis found that salad consumers tended to have more favourable intakes of vitamins C and E. S K I N H E A LT H Watercress contains a range of nutrients and phytochemicals associated with the maintenance of skin health. LIFE CYCLE N UT R IT ION The mix of nutrients and phytochemicals found in watercress make it a valuable food that can help to support the body’s natural defences and contribute to health and well being throughout life. has been associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline amongst people aged 65 or over (89). While no direct research has been done with watercress. which can accumulate in the skin (77. 12 million adults (33% of men and 28% of women) are predicted to be obese by 2010 (84. Calcium is important to build and maintain strong bones. leading to a loss of central vision. a lutein-supplemented diet resulted in lutein accumulation and a decrease in reactive oxygen species (free radicals) in the skin and a significant inhibition of skin photodamage (83). 85). daily).(85g. lifestyle and dietary factors (such as omega-3 fatty acids. 81).

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