Watercress turns-off breast cancer
Breast cancer remains the most common cause of cancer related death in Australia. One in eleven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they are 75 and between 1996 and 2006 the incidence of breast cancer rose by 20 per cent. That is why the potential of humble watercress to suppress breast tumours is so exciting.
To understand this we really need to understand how tumours work. Tumours are clusters of fast growing cells. In fact they develop so rapidly that they outgrow the supply of oxygen and nutrients that the existing blood vessels can supply. So what tumours do is produce chemicals that encourage the growth of new blood vessels and this is where watercress comes into play.
One of the chemicals that breast cancer tumours use to promote blood vessel growth is Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF). What researchers have found is that a compound from watercress called phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC) can block the action of HIF. This means that breast tumours could effectively be starved but the question is will watercress offer this protection to humans?
To test this the researchers had some women who had survived breast cancer eat a cereal bowl of watercress (approximately 80 grams). They then took blood tests over the following 24 hours.
They found two interesting things. Firstly, blood levels of PEITC did rise significantly. The important thing though, was what effect the PEITC might have. The good news is that the action of HIF was measurably reduced. What this means is that eating watercress can have this therapeutic effect, you donâ€™t have to take out the PEITC and put it in a pill.
This was only a small study but it is encouraging that a simple and otherwise healthy food like watercress may also have a role in reducing breast cancer development.