Attention Smokers: Watercress Extract May Detoxify Carcinogens

CURE, Spring 2016, Volume 15, Issue 2

Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer. But there is now promising news for people who are battling the addiction.

Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer. But there is now promising news for people who are battling the addiction. A clinical trial has found that watercress extract prevents the activation of tobacco-derived carcinogens in cigarette smokers.

Participants in the randomized trial took the watercress extract mixed with olive oil four times a day for one week — others took a placebo. All 82 smokers continued their smoking habits throughout the clinical trial. After a week-long “wash-out” period (participants didn’t take anything), the two groups switched.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, who conducted the trial, found that 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 percent. It increased detoxification of benzene by 24.6 percent and acrolein by 15.1 percent, but had no effect on crotonaldehyde. All the substances are found in cigarette smoke.

A bigger benefit was seen in participants of the trial who lacked two genes involved in processing carcinogens. The watercress extract given to those smokers increased their detoxification of benzene by 95.4 percent, acrolein by 32.7 percent and crotonaldehyde by 29.8 percent, according to trial findings.

“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 Jian-Min Yuan, associate director of the UPCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Science and an epidemiologist with Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. “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 cancerfighting arsenal.”

Before the treatment can be recommended for smokers, a phase 3 clinical trial must be performed.