The original superfood

We would love to tell you all about the incredible benefits of watercress. Below you'll find a page describing the benefits in detail. If you are looking for a particular section these are all listed individually in the Health Benefits tab. 

 

Watercress has been grown on our farms in the UK since the 1850s, and was cited as one of the earliest superfoods during the 1980s-90s when this term first started to become mainstream. However, despite this leafy green’s rich history, many people are unaware of the powerful health benefits watercress possesses.

First studies in late 90s in USA by Steve Hecht looked at the effect of watercress consumption on the urinary metabolites of nicotine and when the story broke in the UK not only did Sean (our grower) get photographed in the watercress bed but it triggered a 20 year research programme.

In 2007 The Watercress Alliance, made up of The Watercress Company and other packer/growers, sponsored the first published study on watercress carried out by Professor Ian Rowland Et Al at the University of Ulster, Ireland. This research, that has attracted so much scientific attention, was focused upon a unique reaction which occurs when watercress is chewed or digested.

This process brings the enzyme myrosinase into contact with glucosinolates that are found abundantly in watercress and produces a compound called Isothiocynates (ITC’s), just the same as we taste when grating wasabi.  Much of the published research has investigated a particular type of ITC called phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), of which watercress is its highest natural source. The study included 60 participants made up of 30 smokers and 30 non-smokers. During the treatment stage, participants were required to eat one portion of raw watercress daily (85g) for 8 weeks in addition to their normal diet. The results demonstrated that watercress supplementation led to a decrease in DNA damage in white blood cells by 22.9%, as well as showing an increase in blood concentration of two key antioxidants: lutein and B-carotene. The enhanced levels of these antioxidants increases the cells capacity to combat the effects of free radicals, offering protection against the changes that occur in human cells that may lead to cancerous development. Prof Rowland comments: 

Our earlier published research into the effects of watercress extracts on human cells in vitro had indicated that watercress had the potential to reduce DNA damage. DNA damage can have many adverse consequences in the human body, so it was very exciting and satisfying to show that the damage could be reduced when watercress was consumed by volunteers in a real life situation.

This discovery kick-started the momentum for research into the health benefits of watercress, opening up a wealth of opportunity for scientific development. In 2009, Professor Graham Packham, from the University of Southampton, headed a research project looking specifically at the phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) contained within watercress.

The research found that the gluconasturtiin within watercress is a precursor for the production of PEITC, which has been proven to interfere with a protein called hypoxia inducible factor (HIF), which plays a vital role in the development of cancerous cells.

As tumours grow they rely upon a constant supply of oxygen necessary for their development. However as they grow larger the centre of the growth becomes distanced from the oxygen supply, subsequently receiving less oxygen and fewer nutrients. To counter this, cancer cells send out signals that are responsible for encouraging the growth of new capillaries into the tumour. PEITC, found within watercress, has been shown to block the signals of this protein, proving vital in the suppression of cancerous cell development and tumour growth. On presenting his research in 2009 Prof Packham commented:

The research takes an important step towards understanding the potential health benefits of this crop since it shows that eating watercress may interfere with a pathway that has already been tightly linked to cancer development.

It wasn’t long before more research commenced, with Fogarty Et Al (2012) widening the focus of the powerful properties watercress possesses in preventing DNA damage by applying it to an exercise environment. The study used a sample of ten ‘healthy’ males who were required to ingest 85g of watercress daily for 8 weeks. The participants where then asked to engage in high intensity exercise on a treadmill. This was compared to a control group where no watercress was to be consumed with the same program of activity, as well as a further group who consumed watercress acutely two hours before exercise.

The results found that exercise increases DNA damage, as well as increasing lipid peroxidation, whilst watercress consumed chronically or acutely attenuated DNA damage as well as lipid peroxidation. This provides support for the belief in the powerful protective effects of this leafy green vegetable and highlights its contribution in mitigating exercise induced DNA damage. Commenting this week on his previous research and future expectations for watercress, Dr Fogarty said....

We all know that regular exercise is extremely beneficial for our overall health. What we often forget is that each specific workout can actually be quite stressful. The type of stress that exercise causes is actually quite similar to the other types of stresses our bodies are exposed to, such as environmental pollution, cigarette smoke and even sun light. The role of foods such as watercress in our diet is therefore of extreme importance, as we’ve shown it to help dampen the body’s response to stress. So, regardless if you run marathons, swim the channel or simply walk slightly quicker because you’re late for the train to work, watercress can help your body deal with the daily stresses it is exposed to.

 

Fogarty continues....

The next stage of our research is to find out if this interesting food can also help improve exercise performance. There are so many weird and wonderful chemicals found in this plant that we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg in regards to what it can do for overall human performance, not just the Chris Froomes of this world.

These new horizons for watercress research are already well underway, with some impressive contributions coming from the South West.  Dr Kyle Stewart, a GP trainee in Torbay, and a collaboration of Torbay Medical Research Fund and The University of Exeter are currently extracting and classifying clinically useful urease inhibitors from watercress. Dr Stewart commented... 

The urease enzyme is implicated in a range of pathological states in humans, and it may very well be that this powerful natural product could be the basis of novel therapeutics both in primary and secondary care. Of particular importance is how this may play a role in overcoming antibiotic multi-resistance in some pathogens. The team has identified clinical and non-clinical markets for watercress and are enjoying the partnership with The Watercress Company in Dorset, who are of paramount importance in helping us understand the botanical aspects of this exciting work.

Dr Stewart has extended his work (with funding exceeding £200k) to understand the levels of natural nitrates found in watercress.  Particular parts of the crop possess higher levels and act as a reserve of this for plant photosynthesis each day.  There have been studies on natural nitrates in Beetroot demonstrating there is a positive effect to performance by increasing VO2 max as a measure of cardiovascular fitness by around 15%.  We are looking at natural nitrates in watercress and the levels in a particular part of watercress that are double that of beetroot.

Circulating nitrate (NO3−), derived from dietary sources or endogenous nitric oxide production, is extracted from blood by the salivary glands, accumulates in saliva, and is then reduced to nitrite (NO2−) by the oral microflora.  There was a study that demonstrated using mouthwash could increase BP by depleting these bacteria.  The effects of consumption are evident within a three hour period.   The longer term importance of nitrates are demonstrated with the effect of levels of NO3 on the elasticity of our arteries, which helps reduce the effects of high blood pressure by allowing elasticity. 

His work is extending further into other aspects that affect the body’s production of ammonia.  This in itself will be researched to help reduce a plethora of unintended/associated ailments contributing to further additional medical intervention and costs.  These properties also have the ability to impact on the control and effect of a particular pathogen called H-Pylori which is linked to stomach ulcers and cancers.

We are working with Professor Mihalis Panagiotidis in Northumbria University.  His work is focusing on Melanoma Cancer. 

The challenging aspect of melanoma is that it is a highly metastatic disease and one of the most aggressive once a patient has been diagnosed with it. Moreover, despite recent improvements in treatment options it remains an incurable disease with a poor prognosis and therefore there is an unmet need for more efficient treatments.

To this end, the role of Isothiocynates in Prof Panagiotidis’ research has been explored almost exclusively in the context of melanoma prevention (obviously by dietary means) but his is also very interested to look at these compounds from the perspective of synthesizing new molecules which could be structurally analogous to Isothiocynates. This, then, could be a novel means for a therapeutic avenue in treating the disease.   However, in order to get all appropriate approvals, he has to figure out the mode of action by which Isothiocynates can combat melanoma development. In his lab, he’s pursuing this by means of determining how these compounds regulate the epigenetic pathway capable of regulating the expression of genes involved in the killing of tumour cells (i.e. apoptotic cell death).  Google Epigenetics as it’s fascinating and previously considered not possible in humans – plants do it all the time!

Prof Panagiotidis and others have shown a direct influence on the epigenetic pathway response by various dietary nutrients including Isothiocynates (watercress and other cruciferous vegetables), curcumin (turmeric spice), EGCG (green tea, vegetables and nuts), genistein (fava beans, soybeans, coffee), resveratrol (grapes, berries, peanuts) and a few more. In fact, this has now formed the concept of what is known as “epigenetic diet”.

We are absolutely correct to think that not only melanoma but also other forms of cancers can be influenced by the epigenetic pathway response. To this end, professors like Mihalis have shown this in prostate cancer, liver, colorectal, breast, skin, etc.

Our Summary of Total Body Benefits

 

 

Independent peer reviewed research papers

Metabolic targets of watercress and PEITC in MCF-7 and MCF-10A cells explain differential sensitisation responses to ionising radiation

Natasa S. Giallourou1,2 · Ian R. Rowland1 · Steve D. Rothwell3 · Graham Packham4 · Daniel M. Commane1 · Jonathan R. Swann2

Inhibition of hypoxia inducible factor by phenethyl isothiocyanate

Xiu-Hong Wang, Breeze E. Cavell, Sharifah S. Syed Alwi, Graham Packham


In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: a pilot study

Sharifah S. Syed Alwi1, Breeze E. Cavell1, Urvi Telang2, Marilyn E. Morris2, Barbara M. Parry3and Graham Packham1*

Extract : In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: a pilot study

Sharifah S. Syed Alwi1, Breeze E. Cavell1, Urvi Telang2, Marilyn E. Morris2, Barbara M. Parry3and Graham Packham1*


Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults1–3

Chris IR Gill, Sumanto Haldar, Lindsay A Boyd, Richard Bennett, Joy Whiteford, Michelle Butler, Jenny R Pearson, Ian Bradbury, and Ian R Rowland

Assessment of the Anti-Genotoxic, Anti-Proliferative, and Anti-Metastatic Potential of Crude Watercress Extract in Human Colon Cancer Cells

Lindsay A. Boyd, Mark J. McCann, Yumi Hashim, Richard N. Bennett, Chris I. R. Gill, and Ian R. Rowland


Phenethyl Isothiocyanate Inhibits AngiogenesisIn vitro and Ex vivo

Dong Xiao and Shivendra V. Singh

 

7-Methylsulfinylheptyl and 8-methylsulfinyloctyl isothiocyanates from watercress are potent inducers of phase II enzymes

Peter Rose1,2, Kathy Faulkner1, Gary Williamson2 and Richard Mithen1,3


From chemo-prevention to epigenetic regulation: The role of isothiocyanates in skin cancer prevention

Melina Mitsiogianni a, Tom Amery b, Rodrigo Franco c,d, Vasilis Zoumpourlis e, Aglaia Pappa f, Mihalis I. Panayiotidis a,⁎

Acute and chronic watercress supplementation attenuates exercise-induced peripheral mononuclear cell DNA damage and lipid peroxidation

Mark C. Fogarty1, Ciara M. Hughes2, George Burke3, John C. Brown4 and Gareth W. Davison4*


Vitamin & Mineral content

Watercress offers a significant boost of minerals and vitamins, here is our summary of the most commonly quoted levels found in watercress.

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Our favorites from You-Tube that provide a better understanding of the properties contained in watercress