RESEARCHERS have found that antioxidant-rich watercress, often labelled a super-food, can alleviate the natural stress put on our body by a workout.
Though regular moderate exercise is known to be good for us, the increased demand on our bodies is also known to cause damage to our DNA.
According to a new study from scientists at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Ulster, eating watercress can prevent some of the damage caused by high intensity exercise and help maximise the benefits of a tough workout.
The study findings have now been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Study leader Dr Mark Fogarty, from Edinburgh Napier’s School of Life, Sport and Social Sciences, said: “Although we are all aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill, lifting weights, or doing high-levels of training can take its toll.
"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.
"It’s an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research.”
Ten healthy men, aged on average of 23 years, participated in the study. For eight weeks they were given 85 grams of watercress – a small bag – and asked to participate in high-level exercise on the treadmill.
An eight week study with no watercress consumption was carried out to act as a control.
The scientists also tested whether the protection properties of watercress were affected by the regularity of consumption.
And they found that participants with no watercress in their system who ate the leafy vegetable just two hours before high level exercise still experienced the same level of protection.
Dr Fogarty said: “We put participants through short bursts of intense exercise and found that those who had not eaten watercress were found to have more DNA damage than those that did not.
"What was also fascinating is that the effect of eating watercress was not reliant on an accumulative build-up in our bodies. Those that ate the vegetable just two hours before exercise experienced the same benefits as those who had consumed the vegetable for eight weeks.”
He added: “A bag of watercress a day may be influential in aiding the bodies healing process. However, sensible advice when exercising still stands and whether you are consuming watercress or not, you should always stay hydrated and listen to your body when it tells you enough is enough.”
The study was sponsored by Vitacress Salads, one of Europe’s leading growers of watercress.
Dr Steve Rothwell of Vitacress Salads said: “This is a fantastic reaffirmation of the outstanding health attributes of watercress. It is always gratifying to see rigorous scientific studies such as this validate the belief held for millennia that watercress is a very special food.
"Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, was a great fan of watercress and indeed until the late 1800s watercress was regarded as a medicine rather than a delicious food.
“Dr Fogarty’s findings, added to published work demonstrating its anticancer properties, make for a compelling case to make sure watercress is a regular feature in our 5 a day.”