Watercress: Health Benefits, Nutrition, Risks & How To Eat 2023
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale L.) is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes vegetables such as kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and collards. These crops are referred to as cruciferous vegetables.
Watercress is an aquatic perennial leafy green vegetable that can live in or close to water. Maybe you haven’t heard of watercress until now, but it is widespread and grows worldwide. It is cultivated in Asia, Europe, India, and Africa naturally. Further, farming of watercress is possible everywhere that has ponds, lakes, slow-flowing streams, rivers, or canals.
The health benefits of watercress are many to tell about. Watercress is an ancient crop of Turkish folk medicine often used to relieve abdominal pain. They also use it in salads or dishes.
11 Amazing Health Benefits Of Watercress
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve athletic performance
- Benefits for lung health
- Regulate glucose and lipid metabolism
- Liver health and detoxification
- Antioxidant and immune booster effects
- Defense against cancer
- Benefits for women’s health
- Improve skin health
- Improve hair health
- Improve bones health
Health Benefits Of Eating Watercress
In traditional medicine, people have used watercress as a remedy for asthma and cough. Today, it is very popular with its benefits for high blood pressure, heart diseases, high blood sugar, and other chronic illnesses related to the immune system. It leads to prevention against DNA damage, cancer development, or metastasis. Even watercress is a durable crop in polluted water with heavy metals.
Lower Blood Pressure
According to the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association, healthy blood pressure should be under 120/80 mmHg (systolic/diastolic). You have hypertension if your blood pressure measurements are consistently 130/80 mm Hg or higher. Unfortunately, high blood pressure threatens the life quality of a great population worldwide. Therefore, controlling hypertension with diet is important as it is an effective, effortless, and applicable treatment.
At this point, nitrate comes to the stage. It is a functional molecule that improves vascular health. Our body uses dietary nitrates to synthase nitric oxide, criticalin widening blood vessels, relieving blood flow, and lowering blood pressure. The risk of hypertension development is reduced through nitric oxide’s effects on vascular cells. Watercress may have favorable effects as a dietary nitrate source that can help to lower blood pressure.
Improve Athletic Performance
Athletes may get promising effects related to the nitrate and antioxidant content of watercress. Watercress can be a good option for sports nutrition. Its nitrate content widens blood vessels, increases oxygen capacity, and helps to improve performance and fatigue resistance in sports.
Also, researchers showed that watercress could reduce oxidative stress after exercise. In an intervention study, 19 healthy individuals consumed 85 grams of fresh watercress or a control meal and then did particular exercises. During the recovery phase, watercress consumption provided a stronger anti-inflammatory capacity and reduction in pro-inflammatory chemicals (such as IL-6 and TNF-α).
A study with healthy individuals indicates that acute (consumption 2 hours before exercise) and chronic (8 weeks consumption) watercress intake benefits against lipid oxidation and exercise-induced DNA damage.
Benefits For Lung Health
Inflammation, immune defects, or oxidative stress caused by infections or smoking may lead to lung diseases. Watercress supplementation may help to attenuate pulmonary fibrosis in animal models. It inhibits collagen deposition, which is the main factor in the development of fibrosis.
Watercress consumption can be beneficial for tobacco users due to antioxidant molecules, including isothiocyanate. Isothiocyanates, released upon chewing watercress, can reduce radicals from smoking and the environment. It is also a preventive molecule against human lung cancer induced by tobacco use.
Regulate Glucose And Lipid Metabolism
Again, mainly due to the antioxidant activity of the watercress, it may help to regulate blood sugar and fat levels.
Watercress extract lowered serum total cholesterol, fat, and low-density lipoproteins cholesterol. It also increased the serum high-density lipoproteins cholesterol level in hypercholesterolemic animals fed with a high-fat diet.
Furthermore, in the study with the animals with high blood sugar, watercress extract interestingly increased the number of beta-cells responsible for insulin prıduction in the pancreas. It is attractively promising effects for diabetes related to beta-cell destruction.
In 15 metabolically healthy male individuals, researchers examined a single oral dose of 10 grams of freeze-dried watercress added to water consumption compared to only water. According to the results, watercress consumption enhances peptide YY secretion, a critical hormone in energy regulation in treating obesity.
Liver Health And Detoxification
The strong antioxidant content of watercress effectively binds heavy metals, removes peroxides, and inhibits free radicals. Watercress can activate the enzymes of the two phases of detoxification in the liver and inhibit liver toxicity. The high level of flavonoid and phenolic compounds prevent lipid oxidation-related liver damage.
Antioxidant And Immune Booster Effects
A randomized, crossover study with 30 men and 30 women (30 smokers and 30 nonsmokers) examined 85 grams of raw watercress daily in addition to their habitual diet for eight weeks. Watercress consumption reduced DNA damage, and benefits were more significant in smokers than nonsmokers.
Watercress modulates antioxidant enzymes (such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase). It suggests the capacity of moderate intake of watercress to induce detoxification.
Watercress also has deleterious effects on harmful metabolites of drugs. For example, the antioxidant content of watercress, such as rutin, ferulic acid, and coumaric acid, has curative effects against paraben toxicity.
Defense Against Cancer
As we mentioned above, watercress has preventive capacities against DNA damage which is the main trigger of cancer, aging, and other disorders. Watercress inhibited DNA damage related to aggressive free radicals in all three phases of the cancer cell cycle investigated.
High polyphenol intake is a beneficial strategy to reduce damage. Diets rich in vegetables such as watercress reduce the risk of lung cancer, colorectal carcinoma, and prostate cancer. These vegetables have a high amount of isothiocyanates which are effective protective factors in cancer prevention. In animal models, isothiocyanates inhibit cancer cells.
Benefits For Women’s Health
Oxidative stress is the underlying cause of many health problems in women. Researchers investigated watercress in polycystic ovary syndrome, which is one of the common health problems in women.
It intensifies mitochondrial apoptosis (scavenging of unhealthy cells or organelles) in cystic follicles and prevents their formation. Watercress consumption with commercial drugs can help ovulation and fertility in women with polycystic ovaries.
Improve Skin Health
Skin problems are related to environmental stress factors such as sunlight, radiation, or air pollution. Watercress can help to improve skin health by reducing the oxidative stress response. Its extract has promising effects against skin cancer. Topical use can also reduce skin-related (cutaneous) inflammatory processes.
Improve Hair Health
Hair loss and greying effects are troublesome conditions for both men and women. Specific molecules, such as Dickkopf-1, are secreted from dermal papilla cells, suppressing melanogenesis, which gives hair color. Watercress extract inhibits these molecules’ secretion and may reduce hair greying and loss.
Improve Bones Health
Watercress is a food that makes bones stronger. It increases bone cell proliferation and the expression of collagen type I, which is the structural protein of healthy bones. The same study shows that watercress increased mineralization related to bone density. These findings indicate watercress might benefit bone health.
Fresh watercress is very low in calories. One cup of (34 grams) raw chopped watercress contains 3.7 calories, which is nothing! It doesn’t contain fat, is very low in protein (0.8 grams), and carbohydrate (0.4 grams). It does not provide very many macronutrients, but it is rich in micronutrients. One cup of watercress contains:
- 54.40 micrograms of vitamin A (6% of daily value).
- 85 mcg of vitamin K (70% of DV).
- 14.6 milligrams of vitamin C (16% of DV).
- 40.80 mg of calcium (3% of DV).
- 112 mg of potassium (2% of DV).
Potential Side Effects
After all, is watercress good for you in each case? No, there are some factors that you should consider.
Watercress has a high amount of vitamin K. Therefore, you should avoid too much vitamin K in your diet if you use blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin, as it reduces warfarin effectiveness.
Also, in a small study with healthy individuals, 100 grams of watercress daily for seven days was related to increased carbon dioxide production during exercise. This study suggests that it may have a negative effect on exercise performance, but further studies are needed.
Ways To Add Watercress To Diet
First, you should consider that cooking watercress inactivates some of the anti-cancer effects by reducing related enzymes. So it might be better to consume raw watercress to get chemoprotective benefits.
It is the form of watercress consumed in many studies. You can use watercress to have your green smoothies with other beneficial leafy greens.
Adding watercress to your salads is a good idea as fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are more available if they are consumed with oils such as extra virgin olive oil that you may add to your salads.
Watercress Soup Or Dishes
Even though there will be a loss in some functional properties with cooking watercress, it can still be a healthy choice. You can add watercress to your vegetable mix dishes or soups and increase the antioxidant content of your meals.
You can prepare dip sauces or toppings with watercress and healthy nuts.
How Much Watercress Should You Eat?
There is no upper limit in the literature, but generally, studies include about 80-100 grams of fresh watercress.
The Bottom Line: Is Watercress Good For You?
As an ancient medicinal herb, watercress is more than a leafy green for us. It provides many vitamins and minerals besides its active compounds such as isothiocyanates, lutein, ß-carotene, quercetin, and more, plus being very low-calorie.
This good combination of nutritional content protects from cancers, inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and many other diseases related to oxidative stress. It is also a great nitrate source, making watercress an ergogenic (performance-enhancing) food for athletes.
It is clear that watercress is a functional food, and it has proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory content. However, recent research showed the many health benefits of watercress only in animal or cell culture studies with limited available human studies. However, watercress has promising health effects, warranting more human clinical trials in the future.
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