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”.