Watercress extract helps detoxify carcinogens in smokers

An extract from watercress reduced the effects of carcinogens in smokers, lowering their risk for developing lung cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found supplements of an extract manufactured from the aquatic leaf vegetable, taken multiple times a day, reduced the activation of nicotine-derived nitrosamine ketone and increased detoxification of benzene and acrolein, all of which lowers the risk of lung cancer.

The study, presented at the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday (19Apr16), suggests it may be possible for the increased risk for lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes to be lowered or mitigated to an extent.

“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,” said Dr Jian-Min Yuan in a statement. “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.”

For the study, Dr Yuan and his team enrolled 82 cigarette smokers in the randomized clinical trial. The participants either took 10 milligrams of watercress extract mixed in 1 milliliter of olive oil four times a day for a week or took a placebo. Each group of participants then had a one week “wash-out” period where they didn’t 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 per cent. It increased detoxification of benzene by 24.6 per cent and acrolein by 15.1 per cent, but had no effect on crotonaldehyde. All the substances are found in cigarette smoke.

Researchers also reported that for participants missing genes that remove the carcinogens and toxicants from the body, the effect was even greater.

Furthermore, Dr. 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.

Another clinical trial of hundreds of people will need to be held before the treatment can be recommended for smokers.