When it comes to exercise, watercress might be the ticket

Posted by on Apr 30, 2012 in diet, exercise | 4 comments

Watercress and exercise? Who would have thunk that this peppery wonder veg may help to protect against cellular damage that results from high level exercise? Mind you, this initial information comes from a miniscule study of 10 men but it may carry some important information to file for the future.

Watercress is one of the oldest green vegetables known to man and evidently can be traced back to ancient Greece and Persia. But regardless of its history, this salad green is a good source of vitamins C, A, E and K, and is rich in antioxidants, so much so that when ingested, it may help to reduce oxygen free radicals that can cause damage to cells, including those that are generated during extreme, exhaustive exercise (i.e. to the point near fatigue).

In this study, which appears in the British Journal of Nutrition, 10 healthy men in their early 20s ate roughly 3 ounces of fresh watercress in a single sitting for eight weeks. They then got on a treadmill and were tested to exhaustion.  Thereafter, they stopped eating watercress for another 8 weeks and repeated the test. Both times, researchers drew blood. In the second half of the study, half the men stopped eating watercress, and half ate the same amount as before with water, rested for two hours and then completed the same exercise test while the other half didn’t eat watercress but did drink water and repeated the test.

The results?

Exercising to exhaustion did induce damage to the men’s DNA. However, eating watercress appeared to reduce the degree and extent of the damage, both in the short and long-term and men who did not eat the watercress in the second half of the study had more DNA damage than those who did. What’s more, watercress did not have an accumulative effect; in fact, eating it just two hours prior to exercise appeared to boost its protective properties.

In a related press release, lead researcher Dr. Mark Fogarty explains that “the increased demand on the body for energy can create a build-up of free radicals which can damage our DNA. What we’ve found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies, and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit.”

In fact, watercress is one of the most antioxidant-rich green leafy vegetables available. Its protective effect  may be the result of high concentrations of sulfur-containing nutrients known as glucosinolates (which are also found in broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and cabbage) and carotenoids (plant pigments that the body converts to vitamin A that also protect against free radical damage). Watercress is also known to boost the beneficial action of other antioxidants, including beta-carotene, alpha-tocopherol and ascorbic acid.

Clearly, watercress needs to be studied in greater numbers of men and women and in different age groups. In the meantime? Eating watercress can’t hurt and may even help with much needed post-exercise repair.


  1. 4-30-2012

    Thanks for this post, Liz. Besides the imperfectness of this tiny trial, which you point out, what’s curious is that in 2012 we still have essentially no idea how almost any vegetables “work” to make us healthy.

    • 4-30-2012

      That is so true Elaine. And that is also what makes the concept so exciting IMHO!

  2. 5-1-2012

    I also find myself wondering where one purchases watercress these days? I can’t think of ever having seen it in a grocery store or in any garden I’ve paid attention to. I do remember reading about in English literature…hmmmn.

    • 5-1-2012

      I eat it all the time and LOVE it! Whole Foods carries it and I imagine that other similar groceries would as well.

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