Watercress is an aquatic plant, which grows in damp terrain surrounding small streams and springs. Bearing the Latin label Nasturtium officinale, watercress is an often underrated relative to more common leafy greens such as cabbage and arugula. However, with over 15 essential vitamins and minerals it packs far more nutritional punch, its health giving prowess leading researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey to place the humble plant at the top of a list of 41 powerhouse fruits and vegetables.
Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, MD, writing for The Wichita Eagle, tap into their medical expertise to lay out a detailed breakdown of the nutritional goldmine that is the watercress plant:
“Watercress has been somewhat neglected, until recently, when news hit that it is packed — and we mean packed — with nutrients that fight diseases such as cancer, and are essential for loads of energy.
“Turns out that, per calorie, watercress delivers the maximum amount of nutrients, earning what the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index considers a perfect 1,000. One cup of watercress contains 4 calories, but delivers 106 percent of your daily value for vitamin K, 21 percent of vitamin A; 24 percent of vitamin C; 4 percent of calcium; 3 percent of potassium; and a touch of several B vitamins, as well as manganese, copper, phosphorous and magnesium.”
This dense source of nutrients works wonders, contributing to overall health and well-being, providing the body with vital phytochemicals and serving as a means to prevent disease and ailments before they set in. Watercress’ pantheon of vitamins, minerals and other compounds also work effectively to treat many disorders including:
- Swollen breathing passages
- parasitic worms
In a pilot study performed at the UK’s University of Southampton, which was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researches made a crucial discovery that further revealed the medicinal powers of watercress; The compound isothiocyanate, which is contained within the plant, was found to block nutrients from fueling the growth of breast cancer cells.
The research was led by Professor Graham Packham, a molecular oncologist at the University of Southampton. In a press release Packham explains:
“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.
“Knowing the risk factors for cancer is a key goal and studies on diet are an important part of this. However, relatively little work is being performed in the UK on the links between the foods we eat and cancer development.”
Breast cancer is currently the most common cancer in females in the West and directly affects around 1 in 9 women at some point in their life. Research such as that performed by Packham and his team is therefore paramount in boosting the credibility of using diet and nutrition as a tool to prevent and treat such ferocious and widespread diseases.
Adding to our empirical knowledge of the healing properties of watercress, research conducted at the University of Ulster has led a team of scientists studying the plant there to conclude: “Eating watercress daily can significantly reduce DNA damage to blood cells, which is considered to be an important trigger in the development of cancer.”
This claim is the result of a study involving 30 healthy men and 30 healthy women (the numbers included 30 smokers), who consumed 85 grams of fresh watercress every day for eight weeks. The results of the study indicated that watercress is capable of reducing DNA damage as well as increasing the ability of cells to resist future DNA damage caused by free radicals.
Professor Ian Rowland, who led the Ulster University research team, said in a press release that:
Our findings are highly significant. Population studies have shown links between higher intakes of cruciferous vegetables like watercress, and a reduced risk of a number of cancers.
“However, such studies don’t give direct information about causal effects. What makes this study unique is it involves people eating watercress in easily achievable amounts, to see what impact that might have on known bio-markers of cancer risk, such as DNA damage. Most studies to date have relied on tests conducted in test tubes or in animals, with chemicals derived from cruciferous vegetables.”
Rowland went on to say:
“Blood cell DNA damage is an indicator of whole body cancer risk, and, the results support the theory that consumption of watercress is linked to an overall reduced risk of cancer at various sites in the body. The nature of the study group also means that the results are applicable to the general population eating a normal diet.”
The evidence is crystal clear, watercress is in a leafy green league of its own in terms of nutritional content and its ability to starve tumors of nutrients and protect the body against DNA damage. Like other greens, watercress can make a pungent and peppery addition in a variety of dishes including salads and curries, while juicing allows large quantities to be consumed in a short period of time.