Summary of Watercress
Primary Information, Benefits, Effects, and Important Facts
Watercress is a vegetable in the Brassicaceae family. It has a peppery taste and is related to broccoli, cauliflower, and rocket.
Watercress consumption has been associated with various anti-cancer effects.
Watercress consumption can also stimulate anti-oxidant enzymes, which is thought to reduce DNA damage. Watercress is also a good source of lutein.
Watercress and other members of the Brassicaceae family contain compounds called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates include sulforaphane, diindolylmethane and phenethyl isothiocyanates (PEITC). Compared to other Brassicaceae plants, watercress contains more PEITC. These compounds help the body protect against a variety of compounds, including carcinogens.
There is minimal human evidence to support these claims, but two human studies have found a degree of reduced DNA damage in otherwise healthy people after they added watercress to their diet.
No fake reviews. No selling you supplements. Just evidence-based information on what works
Our free supplement mini-course teaches you what works, what's a waste, and how to achieve your health goals.
Join the over 200,000 people who have gone through this course (saving themselves time and millions of dollars).
How to Take Watercress
Recommended dosage, active amounts, other details
Between 85-100g of watercress a day (referring to the wet weight of the plant) is associated with the benefits commonly seen with watercress.
Further research is needed to determine the optimal dose and timing for supplementation.
Want access to the latest supplement & nutrition info?
Updated with the newest scientific research as it comes in, the Examine.com Membership keeps you informed on over 300 supplements and across over 500 health goals and outcomes. Becoming a member gives you full access to our entire professional database on supplement and nutrition research.
If you are looking for straightforward directions and step-by-step instructions on what works - and what's a waste - to help improve your health, then our Supplement Guides are exactly what you need. Each guide gives you information on what to take, when to take, and how much to take - and all of it is backed by science.
Human Effect Matrix
The Human Effect Matrix looks at human studies (it excludes animal and in vitro studies) to tell you what effects watercress has on your body, and how strong these effects are.
|Grade||Level of Evidence [show legend]|
|Robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials|
|Multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled|
|Single double-blind study or multiple cohort studies|
|Uncontrolled or observational studies only|
Level of Evidence
? The amount of high quality evidence. The more evidence, the more we can trust the results.
Magnitude of effect
? The direction and size of the supplement's impact on each outcome. Some supplements can have an increasing effect, others have a decreasing effect, and others have no effect.
Consistency of research results
? Scientific research does not always agree. HIGH or VERY HIGH means that most of the scientific research agrees.
|Minor||Moderate See 2 studies|
|Minor||- See study|
Get access to the latest research
By becoming an Examine.com Member, you'll have access to all of the latest nutrition research on over 300 supplements across over 500 different health goals, outcomes, conditions, and more.
Scientific Research on Watercress
Click on any below to expand the corresponding section. Click on to collapse it.
Watercress is the common name for the herb Nasturtium officinale (of the family Brassicaceae) which is a commonly consumed vegetable with a peppery taste. It is one of many herbs to be used against scurvy, due to its Vitamin C content. Due to it belonging to the Brassicaceae family, it is known as a cruciferous vegetable (similar to broccoli and cauliflower).
A vegetable in the same family as broccoli, commonly used as a vegetable (usually in salads, due to its leafy composition) and carried many of the same properties as well as a peppery taste
Watercress tends to contain:
Glucobrassicin (0.01-0.02µmol/g dry weight)
4-methoxyglucobrassicin (0.06–0.18µmol/g dry weight)
6-Methylsulfinylhexyl (0.2-0.3µmol/g dry weight), 7-methylsulfinylheptyl (3.9-7.5µmol/g dry weight), and 8-methylsulfinyloctyl (2.1-4.3µmol/g dry weight) isothiocyanates
7-Methylthioheptyl (1.2-2.5µmol/g) and 8-Methylthiooctyl (0.7-1.3µmol/g) isothiocyanates
While S-(N-β-Phenylethylthiocarbomyl)glutathione (PTCG) has been found to spontaneously and metabolically form from other glucosinates in watercress, without occurring naturally. The concentration in this particular study merely being 12.5nM and less than 1% of total hydrolysed β-phenylethyl glucosinolate (a minor metabolite). It may be formed from PEITC, as this study noted that PEITC was not found in tested extracts.
In general, watercress carries the same bioactives as other plants in the same family (Brassicaceae) although due to the gluconasturtiin content it contains a relatively high level of the isothiocyanate known as PEITC
While the essential oil (volatile compounds) include:
Myristicin (57.6% of the leaves and not detected in stems or flowers)
α-terpinolene (8.9% of the leaves, 15.2% and 19.7% of the stems and flowers)
β-Caryophyllene (13.1% stems, 6.6% of the flowers, and 4.3% leaves)
Caryophyllene oxide (37.2% of the stem, 6.7% of the flower, 4.2% of the leaves)
p-cymene-8-ol (17.6% of the stem, 7.6% of the flower, 3.1% of the leaves)
Neophytadienen (1.6% of the flowers, 1.5% of the leaves, and 0.8% of the stems)
The essential oil is a surprisingly good source (percentage wise) of Myristicin, the hallucinogenic substance in nutmeg; this may not be high enough overall to induce a trip, however
By weight, the essential oil is approximately 1.5% (stems), 1.2% (leaves) and 1.0% (flowers) and, when isolated, the essential oil does not contain polyphenolics nor flavonoids.
An extract (80:20 aqueous:ethanolic) of watercress has a polyphenolic content of 96.6+/-3.5mg/g as gallic acid equivalents (9.6%) and total flavonoid content of 62.3+/-2.4mg/g as catechin equivalents (6.2%; 64% of the phenolics). Comparatively speaking, Watercress appears to be one of the highest common sources of Lutein (including parsley and spinach) although the most common dietary source are tomatoes; β-Carotene is also higher in watercress than most tested common vegetables excluding carrots. This content of polyphenolics, relative to other Brassicaceae vegetables of leafy composure (mizuna and rocket) watercress has a higher phenolic content and a higher Vitamin C content.
It has been estimated that, due to the gluconasturiin content, consumption of approximately an ounce of watercress results in exposure to approximately 2-6mg of PEITC in humans and that consumption of 80g watercress has been noted to increase serum PEITC to 297nM on average (large range of 61-656nM) at a Tmax generally between 90-185 minutes, while 100g watercress has been noted to increase serum PEITC to 928nM.
Watercress consumption is able to increase circulating levels of PEITC, although in an unreliable manner
In hypercholesterolemic rats, 500mg/kg watercress daily for 30 days has been noted to reduce triglycerides (43%), LDL-C (49%), and total cholesterol (37%) while increasing HDL-C (16%); a beneficial influence on liver enzymes was noted as well, with reductions of ALT (39%), AST (42%), and ALP (40%). These effects were thought to be secondary to its antioxidant properties, and have been seen with a hydroalcoholic extract in rats fed a high fat diet, where oral ingestion of 500mg/kg of this watercress extract for 30 days normalized total cholesterol, LDL-C, and triglycerides with a small spike in HDL-C with a similar benefit to liver enzyme levels.
Animal evidence to suggest (surprisingly potent) anti-cholesterol and anti-triglyceride effects in rats fed a high fat diet, which is thought to be secondary to antioxidant effects in liver tissue. Currently no human evidence
The antioxidant potential of watercress is shown in a concentration dependent manner against lipid peroxidation (EC50 273.5μg/mL, underperfoming relative to catechin at 10.1μg/mL), iron chelation (538.6μg/mL, underperforming relative to EDTA at 5μg/mL), DPPH free radical scavenging (114.7μg/mL, underperforming to Vitamin C at 3.5μg/mL), ABTS+ inhibition (60.8μg/mL, underperforming to Trolox at 11.2μg/mL), nitric oxide inhibition (395.2μg/mL, somewhat comparable to catechin at 332.1μg/mL), and hydrogen peroxide scavenging activity (312.4μg/mL, somewhat comparable to Vitamin C at 106.2μg/mL). Concentrating watercress for the ethanolic extract increases potency of the antioxidant parameters, but not enough to surpass reference compounds.
The essential oil components also possesses antioxidant properties, with that of the leaves (IC50 87.0+/-0.9µg/mL) being more potent than the stem or flower in a DPPH assay (but less potent than the reference compound BHT at 18.0+/-0.3µg/mL).
Compounds in watercress appear to have direct anti-oxidant properties, although they are not remarkably potent in vitro relative to reference compounds
15 days of supplementation of 0.5-1g/kg of watercress to rats was unable to induce genomic damage inherently but showed some protection against cyclophosphamide-induced genotoxicity as assessed by bladder histological changes; the protective effects were also replicated in vitro in a concentration-dependent manner. This DNA protective effect has been noted in vitro elsewhere.
May protect DNA from oxidative damage
An increase in antioxidant capacity of the blood has been noted in rats with high cholesterol consuming 500mg/kg of watercress daily for 30 days, where the increase in hepatic lipid peroxidation and subsequent decrease in hepatic glutathione were not only normalized but the correction surpassed control (with the hypercholesterolemic rats given watercress having less lipid peroxidation and more glutathione than non-hypercholesterolemic control rats). Similar trends were noted for Catalase, SOD, and glutahione reductase and peroxidase.
8 weeks of consumption of 85g watercress daily has been noted to influence anti-oxidant enzymes in humans, although the effect was only noted in red blood cells (not white blood cells) and the small increase in gluthione peroxidase and SOD were limited GSMT1*0 genotype (of which 44/60 persons had). This genotype is associated with having a more profound anti-cancer association with cruciferous vegetables which is thought to be due to a slower excretion rate of isothiocyanates and thus prolonged circulating levels; This study noted that the other genotypes had a trend towards enhanced glutathione peroxidase and SOD, but that the increases were not statistically significant.
These observations have been noted earlier in healthy adults consuming 85g watercress daily, and have been noted to be more significant in smokers relative to nonsmokers.
Two studies have confirmed some bioactivity of daily watercress consumption in regards to antioxidative parameters, with one noting a reduction in DNA damage in lymphocytes (white blood cells) while the other noted a genotype-dependent induction of anti-oxidant enzymes
Glucosinolates are thought to confer chemoprotective effects via modulating phase I and II enzymes (enzymes involved in drug bioactivation and excretion).
Induction of Quinone reductase is observed with S-(N-β-Phenylethylthiocarbomyl)glutathione (PTCG) although at concentrations 400-fold higher than found in the food product; 7-Methylsulfinylheptyl and 8-methylsulfinyloctyl isothiocyanates were found to induce the enzyme 2-fold at 0.2µM and 0.5µM (similar potency to other sulfated isothiocyanates including 4-methylsulfinylbutyl isothiocyanate (sulforaphane)).
Appears to induce quinone reductase, with a few bioactives capable of doing so with similar potencies to sulforaphane
PEITC has been shown previously to inhibit the protein known as 4E-BP1 which may mediate some anti-cancer activity (via suppressing activities of HIF), and this has been shown to occur in vivo in women, where consumption of 80g watercress increased serum PEITC to 297nM and suppressed 4E-BP1 phosphorylation in lymphocytes of tested persons at 6-8 hours after ingestion although the degree of suppression was fairly unreliable.
Appears to inhibit 4E-BP1, which has been noted in a small sample of humans following oral ingestion of 80g watercress
Nicotine is a stimulatory alkaloid found most commonly in cigarettes and stop smoking aids.
Watercress consumption has been found to increase the urinary metabolites 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNAL) and its glucuronide. This was thought to be due to either an increase in glucuronidation or an inhibition of CYP1A2 (aromatase).
Three days of consumption of two ounces (56.8g) of watercress at each meal has failed to significantly change urinary nicotine and continine levels, which is thought to be due to minimal inhibition of CYP2A6.
- Luca LM, Norum KR. Scurvy and cloudberries: a chapter in the history of nutritional sciences. J Nutr. (2011)
- Rose P, et al. 7-Methylsulfinylheptyl and 8-methylsulfinyloctyl isothiocyanates from watercress are potent inducers of phase II enzymes. Carcinogenesis. (2000)
- Fintelmann V, et al. Efficacy and safety of a combination herbal medicinal product containing Tropaeoli majoris herba and Armoraciae rusticanae radix for the prophylactic treatment of patients with respiratory tract diseases: a randomised, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III trial. Curr Med Res Opin. (2012)
- Jensen JK, et al. RNA-Seq analysis of developing nasturtium seeds (Tropaeolum majus): identification and characterization of an additional galactosyltransferase involved in xyloglucan biosynthesis. Mol Plant. (2012)
- Park NI, et al. An efficient protocol for genetic transformation of watercress (Nasturtium officinale) using Agrobacterium rhizogenes. Mol Biol Rep. (2011)
- O'Neill ME, et al. A European carotenoid database to assess carotenoid intakes and its use in a five-country comparative study. Br J Nutr. (2001)
- Bingham SA, et al. Validation of dietary assessment methods in the UK arm of EPIC using weighed records, and 24-hour urinary nitrogen and potassium and serum vitamin C and carotenoids as biomarkers. Int J Epidemiol. (1997)
- Saleem A, et al. Characterisation of phenolics in Flor-Essence--a compound herbal product and its contributing herbs. Phytochem Anal. (2009)
- Martínez-Sánchez A, et al. A comparative study of flavonoid compounds, vitamin C, and antioxidant properties of baby leaf Brassicaceae species. J Agric Food Chem. (2008)
- Amiri H. Volatile constituents and antioxidant activity of flowers, stems and leaves of Nasturtium officinale R. Br. Nat Prod Res. (2012)
- Bahramikia S, Yazdanparast R. Antioxidant efficacy of Nasturtium officinale extracts using various in vitro assay systems. J Acupunct Meridian Stud. (2010)
- Duman F, Ozturk F. Nickel accumulation and its effect on biomass, protein content and antioxidative enzymes in roots and leaves of watercress (Nasturtium officinale R. Br.). J Environ Sci (China). (2010)
- Chung FL, et al. Quantitation of human uptake of the anticarcinogen phenethyl isothiocyanate after a watercress meal. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. (1992)
- Hecht SS, et al. Effects of watercress consumption on metabolism of a tobacco-specific lung carcinogen in smokers. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. (1995)
- Effects of Watercress Consumption on Urinary Metabolites of Nicotine in Smokers.
- Syed Alwi SS, et al. In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: a pilot study. Br J Nutr. (2010)
- Ji Y, Morris ME. Determination of phenethyl isothiocyanate in human plasma and urine by ammonia derivatization and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Anal Biochem. (2003)
- Yazdanparast R, Bahramikia S, Ardestani A. Nasturtium officinale reduces oxidative stress and enhances antioxidant capacity in hypercholesterolaemic rats. Chem Biol Interact. (2008)
- Bahramikia S, Yazdanparast R. Effect of hydroalcoholic extracts of Nasturtium officinale leaves on lipid profile in high-fat diet rats. J Ethnopharmacol. (2008)
- Ozen T. Investigation of antioxidant properties of Nasturtium officinale (watercress) leaf extracts. Acta Pol Pharm. (2009)
- Casanova NA, et al. In vivo antigenotoxic activity of watercress juice (Nasturtium officinale) against induced DNA damage. J Appl Toxicol. (2012)
- Hofmann T, et al. Modulation of detoxification enzymes by watercress: in vitro and in vivo investigations in human peripheral blood cells. Eur J Nutr. (2009)
- London SJ, et al. Isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase M1 and T1 polymorphisms, and lung-cancer risk: a prospective study of men in Shanghai, China. Lancet. (2000)
- Dietary isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase polymorphisms and colorectal cancer risk in the Singapore Chinese Health Study.
- Gill CI, et al. Watercress supplementation in diet reduces lymphocyte DNA damage and alters blood antioxidant status in healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr. (2007)
- A major inducer of anticarcinogenic protective enzymes from broccoli: isolation and elucidation of structure.
- Selective increase of the potential anticarcinogen 4-methylsulphinylbutyl glucosinolate in broccoli.
- Wang XH, et al. Inhibition of hypoxia inducible factor by phenethyl isothiocyanate. Biochem Pharmacol. (2009)
- Hu J, et al. Phenethyl isothiocyanate, a cancer chemopreventive constituent of cruciferous vegetables, inhibits cap-dependent translation by regulating the level and phosphorylation of 4E-BP1. Cancer Res. (2007)