Watercress may Protect Against Breast Cancer

Eating a portion of watercress every day could help prevent breast cancer, according to a new research.

Researchers at the University of Southampton say that the vitamin-packed salad veg may provide one of the first natural defences against the disease.

They found that a cereal bowl-sized helping of the superfood triggered changes in blood cells that blocked tumour formation.

The chemical in watercress that makes it taste peppery – phenyethyl isothiocyanate, or PEITC – prevented cell damage.

The substance, previously shown to cut cancer risk for smokers, stayed in the blood for days after watercress was eaten.

Researchers had not initially expected watercress to work so well against breast cancer.

They decided to test it on 12 women with the condition only after watercress solution proved effective against cancer cells in laboratory tests.


The women were each asked to eat 80g packets – the size often sold in supermarkets – and were tested over time.

“Our research takes an important step towards understanding the potential health benefits of this crop,” the Sun quoted Professor Graham Packham, who led the two-year study, as saying.

“It shows that eating watercress may interfere with a pathway that has already been tightly linked to cancer development. This is not a cure for cancer but may well help to prevent the disease.”

He added: “We need to follow this research with larger scale studies. Understanding the risk factors for cancer is a key goal and studies on diet are an important part of this.

“Relatively little work is being performed in the UK on the links between the foods we eat and cancer development.”

Watercress, which is high in vitamin C, zinc and iron, has been shown to fight infections.

Watercresses (Nasturtium officinale, N. microphyllum; formerly Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum, R. microphylla) are fast-growing, aquatic or semi-aquatic, perennial plants native from Europe to central Asia, and one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by human beings. These plants are members of the Family Brassicaceae or cabbage family, botanically related to garden cress and mustard — all noteworthy for a peppery, tangy flavour.

The hollow stems of watercress are floating and the leaves are pinnately compound. Watercresses produce small white and green flowers in clusters.

Nasturtium nasturtium-aquaticum (nomenclaturally invalid) and Sisymbrium nasturtium-aquaticum L. are synonyms of N. officinale. Nasturtium officinale var microphyllum (Boenn. ex Reich.) Thellung is a synonym of N. microphyllum (ITIS, 2004). These species are also listed in some sources as belonging to the genus Rorippa, although molecular evidence shows that the aquatic species with hollow stems are more closely related to Cardamine than Rorippa. Watercresses are not closely related to the flowers in the genus Tropaeolum (Family Tropaeolaceae), popularly known as “nasturtiums”.

5 Replies to “Watercress may Protect Against Breast Cancer”

  1. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, experts from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and its clinical care partner, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, are offering research-based tip sheets related to breast cancer, including breast cancer prevention, screening and early detection, treatment, and survivorship.

    The series launches today with ’10 Tips for Breast Cancer Prevention’ provided by Anne McTiernan, director of the Hutchinson Center’s Prevention Center, a member of the Center’s Public Health Sciences Division, and author of “Breast Fitness” (St. Martin’s Press).

    10 tips for breast cancer prevention

    1. Avoid becoming overweight. Obesity raises the risk of breast cancer after menopause, the time of life when breast cancer most often occurs. Try to maintain a body-mass index under 25.

    2. Eat healthy to avoid tipping the scale. Embrace a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates and fatty foods. Eat lean protein such as fish or chicken breast and eat red meat in moderation, if at all. Eat whole grains. Choose vegetable oils over animal fats.

    3. Keep physically active, even when begun later in life. It reduces overall breast-cancer risk by about 10 percent to 30 percent. All it takes is moderate exercise like a 30-minute walk five days a week.

    4. Drink little or no alcohol. Alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

    5. Avoid hormone replacement therapy. Menopausal hormone therapy increases risk for breast cancer. If you must take hormones to manage menopausal symptoms, avoid those that contain progesterone and limit their use to less than three years. “Bioidentical hormones” and hormonal creams and gels are no safer than prescription hormones and should also be avoided.

    6. Consider taking an oestrogen-blocking drug. Women with a family history of breast cancer or who are over age 60 should talk to their doctor about the pros and cons of oestrogen-blocking drugs such as tamoxifen and raloxifene.

    7. Don’t smoke. Research suggests that long-term smoking is associated with increased risk of breast cancer in some women.

    8. Breast-feed your babies for as long as possible. Women who breast-feed their babies for at least a year in total have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer later.

    9. Participate in a research study. The Hutchinson Center is home to several studies that are looking at ways to reduce the risk for breast cancer.

    10. Get fit and support breast cancer research at the same time. Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. Ascend some of the world’s most breathtaking peaks while raising vital funds for and awareness of breast cancer research by participating in the Hutchinson Center’s annual Climb to Fight Breast Cancer.

  2. A new drug could be the first effective targeted treatment against Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which affects one in seven sufferers of the disease.

    The drug, known as BSI-201, could help tackle the hard-to-treat form of breast cancer.

    Patients with this type of cancer do not respond to the three main drugs used to treat breast cancer and so must rely upon chemotherapy, which can have harmful side effects.

    Around 15 per cent of breast cancer sufferers are diagnosed with the triple negative form.

    While the three other major forms of breast cancer can be treated with either hormone therapy such as tamoxifen or the drug Herceptin, triple negative cancer cells are not vulnerable to these medications.

    Laboratory studies and early trials of the drug, which is produced by drug firm Sanofi Aventis, have shown it appears to be effective at combating this form of cancer when used with other chemotherapy drugs.

    A major clinical trial is now under way in the United States to test how effective the drug is.


  3. Watercress is often placed to the side of a plate as a decorative garnish, but it has been revered for its health properties for centuries.

    The father of medicine, Hippocrates, is believed to have located his first hospital close to a freshwater stream to have a ready supply of the plant, while 17th Century herbalist Culpeper claimed it could cleanse the blood. It was used to ‘cure’ ailments such as baldness, hiccups and even freckles.

    While these health claims may be debatable, watercress is packed with 15 essential vitamins and minerals. Now, scientists believe a daily dose may help combat breast cancer.

    This month, researchers at Southampton University discovered that within hours of eating 3oz of watercress a day – about a full cereal bowl – a small group of breast cancer survivors had a higher level of cancer-fighting molecules in their blood.

    They found the compound phenethyl isothiocyanate – which gives watercress its peppery taste – blocks the hypoxia-inducible factor protein which helps cancer tumours grow.

    They also found watercress helps ‘turn off’ the signals that cancer cells send out asking the body for more blood and oxygen.

    Professor Graham Packham, who led the research, said: ‘I was surprised that eating one portion produced significant levels of this compound in the blood. It has the potential to have the same effect with other cancers.’

    In fact, this is not the first time watercress – whose Latin name means ‘nose-twister’ – has been found to combat cancer.


  4. Women with a “high risk” breast cancer gene may find out more about their chances of developing the disease by having other parts of their DNA checked, say researchers.

    Differences in a separate genetic “region” were found to raise or lower the risk for women with the BRCA1 gene.

    In future, such results could help women decide on preventative treatment.

    The DNA region, reports the journal Nature Genetics, could also have an impact on ovarian cancer risk.

    Scientists have known for some time that certain genetic mutations are linked to a substantially higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer at some point in a woman’s lifetime.

    Carrying a mutated BRCA1 gene, for example, means at least a 65% risk of breast cancer by the age of 70, and a 40% risk of ovarian cancer.

    However, the remaining uncertainty can be damaging and distressing for women – some even elect to have their breasts or ovaries removed to reduce the chances of falling ill.

    The latest find offers the prospect of “fine-tuning” genetic testing to offer a more personalised view of the likely risk.


  5. The pilot study suggests that eating watercress could help prevent the development of breast cancer while also helping recovering breast cancer victims avoid a recurrence of the disease.

    Watercress is the latest in a long line of so called ‘superfoods’ that have been found to have beneficial and protective health effects.

    The research, which was led by Professor Graham Packham from the Cancer Research UK centre at Southampton University, is reported in the British Journal of Nutrition and was funded by the Watercress Alliance, an industry body which represents UK growers.

    Further findings from another study are expected to be announced next month.

    Writing in the scientific journal, the authors said chemicals found in watercress, known as isothiocyanates, appeared to interfere with the growth of cancer cells.

    They said: “This pilot study suggests that dietary intake of watercress may be sufficient to modulate this potential anti-cancer pathway.”

    The researchers added that the mechanism by which the isothiocyanates from watercress helped to inhibit cancer growth was unclear and said that further work needed to be done with larger numbers of patients to confirm their results.

    The pilot study used four women, all of whom were breast cancer survivors, and monitored changes in their blood of key molecules involved in the growth of cancer cells.

    The participants were asked to fast on the day of the tests and had blood samples taken before and after eating a portion of watercress.

    The scientists found that six hours after they had eaten the leaves, the women experienced a drop in the activity of a molecule called 4E binding protein, which is thought to be involved in helping cancer cells survive.

    Laboratory studies also showed that extracts taken from watercress leaves inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells.

    The findings build on epidemiological studies that have shown people who eat watercress and other vegetables rich in isothiocyanates, such as broccoli and cabbage, are at lower risk of developing cancer.


Leave a Reply