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Watercress and Cancer

Numerous studies have found an ingredient in watercress can prevent and fight many types of cancer. Dietary intake in of isothiocyanates (ITC) can reduce the risk of cancer development as well as inhibit the reproduction of cancerous cells, a recent study has demonstrated.

Anti-cancer Properties of Watercress

 Several recent studies have demonstrated dietary intake of isothiocyanates (ITC) can reduce the risk of cancer development as well as inhibit the reproduction of cancerous cells. Dietary phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) was previously shown to restrain the survival of cancer cells and decrease the formation activity of new blood vessels into existing malignant tumors. This leads researchers to conclude potential anti-cancer effects of PEITC, not only among individuals who want to prevent the disease but also cancer patients who want to reduce or stop the reproduction of cancer cells.

In a recent study, the researchers studied in vitro and in vivo effects of watercress, which is a rich source of PEITC. The results of the study conducted on four participants have shown that raw watercress extracts inhibited the growth of cancer cells without causing side effects. The therapeutic effects of watercress are fast. It has been shown a significant reduction in 6 and 8 hours after ingestion.

Watercress, which has botanical name Nasturtium officinale, is the richest source of nasturtium glucosinolate, which upon reaction with water (hydrolysis) produces phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a potent anti-cancer element. The interest to grow and study watercress started from a previous research that demonstrated the anticarcinogenic properties of PEITC against cancers associated with specific carcinogens in tobacco, lung cancer and breast cancer for instance.

In laboratory, researchers transplanted twenty-one days old watercress seedlings in growth chambers. The repartitions were:16-h days/8-h nights of 25/22 degrees C and photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) of approximately 265 micromol m(-2) s(-)(1). The study was repeated three times. Each time, the leaves were analyzed for PEITC and ascorbic acid concentrations at transplantation, “and harvested at 10 day intervals up to 60 days after transplantation.”

The results show that the age form of growth of the plants plays an important role in their anti-cancer effects. For example, PEITC and ascorbic acid concentrations are highest in the leaves harvested at 40 days and lowest at transplantation. “Leaves harvested 40 days produced about 150% higher PEITC concentrations compared to the leaves at transplant. Both PEITC concentrations and ascorbic acid leaves increased linearly with age up to 40 days after transplantation”. And no more significant increase was recorded.

It is therefore important to consume watercress; not only cancer patients but also individuals who want to reduce their chance of developing the disease. A simple way to enjoy its benefits is extracting the juice from fresh watercress, using a power juicer. The effect is felt immediately.

Watercress may interact with certain medications. Talk to your doctor if you are taking Chlorzoxazone (Parafon Forte, Paraflex), Lithium, and Warfarin (Coumadin).



  1. British Journal of Nutrition - 'In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: Researchers Syed Alwi SS, , Cavell BE, Telang U, Morris ME, Parry BM, Packham G.
  2. Cancereffects.com: anticancer properties of watercress
  3. Biochemical Pharmacology -'Inhibition of hypoxia inducible factor by phenethyl isothiocyanate' in watercress: Researchers Wang XH1, Cavell BE, Syed Alwi SS, Packham G . PMID: 9376091 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
  4. Ontogenic variations of ascorbic acid and phenethyl isothiocyanate concentrations in watercress (Nasturtium officinale R.Br.) leaves: Palaniswamy UR, McAvoy RJ, Bible BB, Stuart JD - PMID: 12926905 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]


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