WATERCRESS farmers from a company in St Mary Bourne have helped to fund a new study to evaluate the effects of eating watercress during radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

Two-hundred breast cancer patients have been recruited to take part in an eight-week dietary trial involving the consumption of a bag of fresh watercress a day, as part of an international study aimed at demonstrating the importance of a healthy diet during radiotherapy treatment.

The study, which started this week at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, hopes to build on previous research which has identified several compounds within watercress that may have significant cancer-fighting properties.

It is being funded by Vitacress Portugal and the Watercress Alliance, which is made up of Vitacress Salads, based in St Mary Bourne, Alresford Salads, and The Watercress Company.

The study will evaluate the role of watercress in enhancing the body’s response to the treatment and protecting against skin damage, which can be a side effect of radiotherapy.

Volunteers will be in the early stages of breast cancer and will be split into two groups, with 100 in a control group and 100 asked to eat a 100g bag of fresh watercress a day during radiotherapy treatment.

Blood samples will be taken and analysed after eight weeks, three months, one year, and three years.

The study is being carried out by the Laboratory of Nutrition and Unit of Nutrition and Metabolism of Molecular Medicine at the University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Medicine, the Radiotherapy Department of the University of Santa Maria, and the University of Reading.

Ian Rowland, professor of human nutrition at the University of Reading, said: “As far as we are aware, this is the first study of patients looking at the impact of a healthy dietary component such as watercress on outcomes and side effects of radiotherapy for cancer.

“If the diet is shown to be effective, the results will be shared with other health professionals to highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy diet when undergoing radiotherapy.”