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Is watercress good for the lungs?

Taking care of your lung health is incredibly important. Your lungs allow you to breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Keeping them healthy ensures your body can carry out this essential function. One way you may consider improving your lung health is by eating more watercress. But is watercress actually good for your lungs? Let’s take a closer look.

What is Watercress?

Watercress is a leafy green vegetable that grows in flowing water. It has crisp, dark green leaves and a peppery, tangy flavor. Watercress belongs to the Brassicaceae family along with broccoli, kale, and other nutrient-rich vegetables.

This leafy green has been consumed for centuries and used in traditional medicine. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is believed to have located his first hospital near a stream so he could grow fresh watercress to treat patients.

Today, watercress is most commonly used in salads, sandwiches, soups, and as a garnish. It can be found at most grocery stores year-round.

Nutrients in Watercress

So what exactly makes watercress good for your lungs? Its stellar nutrient profile.

Watercress contains an impressive array of vitamins and minerals:

Nutrient Per 1 cup (34g)
Vitamin K 106% DV
Vitamin C 44% DV
Vitamin A 44% DV
Manganese 21% DV
Vitamin E 13% DV

DV = Daily Value

Some of watercress’s top nutrients for lung health include:

  • Vitamin C: This powerful antioxidant helps reduce inflammation and damage in the lungs caused by oxidative stress.
  • Vitamin E: Works synergistically with vitamin C as an antioxidant to protect lung tissue.
  • Carotenoids: Antioxidants like beta-carotene support healthy lung function.
  • Glucosinolates: Compounds that may have anticancer effects, important for protecting the lungs against carcinogens.

Watercress and Respiratory Health

The nutrients and compounds found in watercress have been linked to several benefits for respiratory health in particular:

Supports Healthy Lung Function

Getting enough antioxidants is key for lung health. Oxidative stress and inflammation can damage lung tissue and impair function over time. The antioxidants in watercress help counteract this damage.

In one study, smokers who consumed 85g of fresh watercress daily for 8 weeks experienced significant improvements in multiple measures of lung function, including FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in 1 second) and FVC (forced vital capacity).

Protects Against DNA Damage

Toxic compounds from cigarette smoke or air pollution can alter lung cell DNA and increase cancer risk. The antioxidants in watercress help prevent this DNA damage and mutations.

A study in 60 smokers found those eating 85g of watercress per day had significantly lower DNA damage in white blood cells of the lungs compared to controls.

May Prevent Lung Cancer Cell Growth

The glucosinolates and carotenoids in watercress also exhibit anti-cancer effects. They help regulate cell proliferation and induce cancer cell death.

One test-tube study applied watercress extracts to three types of human lung cancer cells. The extracts inhibited cancer cell growth and proliferation in all three cell lines.

Other Benefits of Watercress for Lungs

Along with strengthening the lungs directly, eating watercress provides additional benefits that support lung health:

  • Boosts immunity: Watercress is high in immune-boosting zinc and vitamins A, C, and E.
  • Anti-inflammatory effects: The antioxidants in watercress help reduce systemic inflammation linked to lung issues.
  • Supports cardiovascular health: Watercress improves heart health, which is tied closely to lung health.
  • Aids detoxification: Watercress helps activate the body’s natural detoxification enzymes, critical for eliminating carcinogens and toxins from the lungs.

Is Watercress Safe?

For most people, watercress is very safe to consume. However, there are two potential concerns to be aware of:

  • Thyroid issues: Very high intakes of watercress could potentially cause thyroid gland swelling or hyperthyroidism in some cases. But normal dietary amounts are safe.
  • Pesticides: To avoid exposing the lungs to more toxins, always wash watercress thoroughly and buy from reputable organic sources when possible.

How to Add More Watercress to Your Diet

Here are some easy ways to enjoy more watercress for its lung health benefits:

  • Toss watercress into salads, soups, sandwiches, pasta dishes, and tacos
  • Use it as a nutritious topping on pizza
  • Blend into smoothies, green juices, and dips like hummus
  • Sauté briefly with olive oil and garlic
  • Stir into omelets, frittatas, and scrambled eggs
  • Mix into rice, quinoa, or pasta salad

Watercress has a short shelf life. For best quality, use within 2-3 days of purchasing. Wrap unwashed bunches loosely in damp paper towels and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Should You Take Watercress Extract or Supplements?

While watercress supplements containing concentrated extracts are available, it’s likely better to get your watercress nutrients from eating the actual vegetable. Whole watercress provides a complete, balanced profile of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant compounds to benefit lung health.

If you do take watercress supplements, always follow label instructions carefully and discuss with your healthcare provider first, especially if you take any medications or have a thyroid condition.

The Bottom Line

Watercress is packed full of protective vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that benefit your respiratory system. Adding more of this leafy green vegetable to your diet can help defend your lungs against oxidative stress, inflammation, toxins, and carcinogens.

While more research is still needed, the current evidence indicates watercress is great for maintaining healthy lungs and overall respiratory function.

Try incorporating watercress into your meals a few times a week. Along with supporting lung health, its comprehensive nutrient profile provides many other benefits for your overall health and wellbeing.