Eating Watercress during Radiotherapy Treatment for Breast Cancer

Posted On: Wednesday September 11th, 2013 Author: Dieter Lloyd Comments: 0

Two hundred breast cancer patients are being recruited to take part in an eight week dietary trial involving the consumption of a bag of fresh watercress a day as part of an international study aimed at demonstrating the importance of a healthy diet during radiotherapy treatment.

The study, which gets underway on 1 October, the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, hopes to build on previous research which has identified several compounds within watercress that may have significant cancer fighting properties.

The aim of this latest study is to evaluate the role of watercress in enhancing the body’s response to the treatment as well as protecting against skin damage (sometimes an unfortunate side effect of radiotherapy).

The women volunteers will be in the early stages of breast cancer.  There will be 100 in a control group, with the other 100 being asked to eat a 100g bag of fresh watercress a day over eight weeks of radiotherapy treatment.  Blood samples will be taken and analysed after eight weeks, three months, one year and three years.

The study, which is being funded by watercress producers in Portugal and the UK*, is being carried out by the Laboratory of Nutrition and Unit of Nutrition and Metabolism of Molecular Medicine at the University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Medicine,  the Radiotherapy Department of the University of Santa Maria and the University of Reading.

Ian Rowland, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Reading, commented: “As far as we are aware this is the first study in patients looking at the impact of a healthy dietary component such as watercress on outcomes and side effects of radiotherapy for cancer.  If the diet is shown to be effective, the results will be shared with other health professionals to highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy diet when undergoing radiotherapy.”

Professor Rowland was previously at the University of Ulster, Coleraine, where he headed up an earlier watercress dietary trial. The results, which were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (February 2007), showed that eating watercress daily can play a role in cancer prevention by significantly reducing DNA damage to blood cells and increasing the ability of those cells to resist further DNA damage caused by free radicals.

More recently research published by the University of Southampton in September 2010 revealed that a plant compound in watercress may have the ability to suppress breast cancer cell development by “turning off” a signal in the body and thereby starving the growing tumour of essential blood and oxygen.

Watercress is grown in mineral rich spring water, drawn from deep under the Chalk Downs of Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire.  Gram for gram it contains more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more vitamin E than broccoli and more folate than bananas.  It is brimming with Vitamin A (converted from beta carotene) with 80g providing a whopping 42% of the recommended daily allowance.

The curative properties of watercress have been revered down the centuries; Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have located his first hospital close to a spring to ensure a supply of fresh watercress to help treat his patients, Greek soldiers were given it as a tonic before going into battle and the 16th Century herbalist Culpepper claimed it could cleanse the blood.

*The study is being funded by Vitacress Portugal, with the Reading element of the work being paid for by the Watercress Alliance producer group (made up of Vitacress Salads in the UK,  Alresford Salads and The Watercress Company)

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