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Watercress reduces cancer risk in smokers




Helps addicts quit habit, prevents complications of diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer

Can extract from common watercress help smokers quit the habit and detoxify them of cancer-causing chemicals?

For the first time, researchers have demonstrated in a phase II clinical trials how watercress extract taken multiple times a day significantly inhibits the activation of a tobacco-derived carcinogen in cigarette smokers.

The researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with UPMC Cancer Center, presented the results of the phase II clinical trial April 19, 2016, at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in New Orleans, United States.

A similar study titled “Effects of watercress consumption on metabolism of a tobacco-specific lung carcinogen in smokers” was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Preview in 1995.

The trial also showed that the extract detoxifies environmental carcinogens and toxicants found in cigarette smoke, and that the effect is stronger in people who lack certain genes involved in processing carcinogens. This trial was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is a water-loving plant that is used in salads and soups.

Watercress is a dark, leafy green grown in natural spring water. For the past few decades, watercress has been used as little more than a plate garnish but is now seeing resurgence in popularity as one of the next big super foods.

An ancient green said to have been a staple in Roman soldiers diets, watercress is actually a part of the cruciferous (also known as brassica) family of vegetables along with kale, broccoli, arugula and Brussels sprouts.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used watercress to treat his patients. Watercress was widely available until the 19th century and watercress sandwiches were a staple of the working class diet in England.

Associate director of the UPCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Science and an epidemiologist with Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, Dr. Jian-Min Yuan, said: “Cigarette smokers are at far greater risk than the general public for developing lung cancer, and helping smokers quit should be our top cancer prevention priority in these people.

“But nicotine is very addictive, and quitting can take time and multiple relapses. Having a tolerable, nontoxic treatment, like watercress extract, that can protect smokers against cancer would be an incredibly valuable tool in our cancer-fighting arsenal.”

Yuan, who also is Pitt’s Arnold Palmer Endowed Chair in Cancer Prevention, and his colleagues, enrolled 82 cigarette smokers in the randomized clinical trial. The participants either took 10 milligrams of watercress extract mixed in one milliliter of olive oil four times a day for a week or they took a placebo. Each group of participants then had a one-week “wash-out” period where they did not take anything and then switched so that those getting the placebo now received the extract. They all continued their regular smoking habits throughout the trial.

In one week, the watercress extract reduced activation of the carcinogen known as nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone in the smokers by an average of 7.7 percent. It increased detoxification of benzene by 24.6 percent and acrolein by 15.1 percent, but had no effect on crotonaldehyde. All the substances are found in cigarette smoke.

Participants who lacked two genes involved in a genetic pathway that helps the antioxidant glutathione remove carcinogens and toxicants from the body saw an even bigger benefit to taking the watercress extract, which increased their detoxification of benzene by 95.4 percent, acrolein by 32.7 percent and crotonaldehyde by 29.8 percent.

A phase III clinical trial in hundreds of people must be performed before the treatment could be recommended for smokers, and Yuan warned that while eating cruciferous vegetables, such as watercress and broccoli, is good for people, they are unlikely to have the same pronounced effect as the extract.

Also, another study published in International Journal of Medicinal Plants and Alternative Medicine Vol. 1(8), pp. 137-163, September 2013, identified watercress as one of the medicinal plants-based foods for breast cancer treatment.

The researchers noted: “A total of 10 per cent of the studied Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) yielded Adzuki bean, Asparagus, Broccoli, Burdock, Cabbage, Chinese yam, Dandelion, Tomato, Watercress, and Watermelon in effectively treating Breast Cancer (BC) menace. A Populated Multimedia-based Medicinal Plants Sustainability Management System was used to address MAPs’ extinction challenge with the BC-related MAPs. Orthodox BC treatments have devastating effects including temporary infertility. However, eating fruits and vegetables daily significantly reduces BC’s risk.”

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