The vegetable watercress (Nasturtium officinale R.Br.) is, besides being a generally nutritious food, a rich source of glucosinolates. Gluconasturtiin, the predominant glucosinolate in watercress, has been shown to have several health beneficial properties through its bioactive breakdown product phenethyl isothiocyanate. Little is known about the immunoregulatory effects of watercress. Moreover, anti-inflammatory effects have mostly been shown in in vitro or in animal models. Hence, we conducted a proof-of-concept study to investigate the effects of watercress on the human immune system. In a cross-over intervention study, 19 healthy subjects (26.5 ± 4.3 years; 14 males, 5 females) were given a single dose (85 g) of fresh self-grown watercress or a control meal. Two hours later, a 30 min high-intensity workout was conducted to promote exercise-induced inflammation. Blood samples were drawn before, 5 min after, and 3 h after the exercise unit. Inflammatory blood markers (IL-1β, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-α, MCP-1, MMP-9) were analyzed in whole blood cultures after ex vivo immune cell stimulation via lipopolysaccharides. A mild pro-inflammatory reaction was observed after watercress consumption indicated by an increase in IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α, whereas the immune response was more pronounced for both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory markers (IL-1β, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-α) after the exercise unit compared to the control meal. During the recovery phase, watercress consumption led to a stronger anti-inflammatory downregulation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and TNF-α. In conclusion, we propose that watercress causes a stronger pro-inflammatory response and anti-inflammatory counter-regulation during and after exercise. The clinical relevance of these changes should be verified in future studies.
Keywords: anti-inflammatory; cruciferous vegetables; gluconasturtiin; glucosinolates; pro-inflammatory; watercress.