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If you want to roll back the years, forget expensive lotions and potions and reach for a bag of watercress -that's according to a Hampshire scientist.
The old adage of beauty coming from within has been borne out by a new study, commissioned by Hampshire and Dorset watercress farmers, in which 10 out of 11 female volunteers experienced visible improvements to their skin after just four weeks of adding one bag of watercress a day to their diet - with one woman managing to reduce her facial wrinkles by an incredible 39%.
The 11 women, who ranged in age from 23 to 58, began the trial by having their faces photographed using a VISIA complexion analysis system which gives a subsurface reading of an individual's skin and focuses on wrinkles, texture (the balance between oily and dry areas) pores, UV spots, brown spots, red areas (any underlying redness, inflammation, sensitivity or thinner skin) and porphyrins (levels of bacteria on the skin).
The study was commissioned by leading watercress producers The Watercress Company, Vitacress and Alresford Salads.
After four weeks of eating 80g of watercress a day the volunteers had their skin reassessed by the VISIA camera, with the following results:
· 10 out of 11 volunteers saw a positive improvement in their skin
· 7 out of 11 saw an improvement in their wrinkles
· 8 out of 11 saw an improvement in the texture* of their skin
· 9 out of 11 saw an improvement in their pores
· 5 out of 11 saw an improvement in their red areas
· 8 out of 11 saw an improvement in the levels of porphyrins
· 5 out of 11 saw an improvement in their brown spots
· 3 out of 11 saw an improvement in their UV spots
The majority of women also reported increased energy levels.
During the trial the volunteers made no other changes to their usual health and beauty regime. They were allowed to eat their daily quota of watercress in any way they chose - in salads, sandwiches, whizzed into smoothies or wilted into pasta, however it was not allowed to be cooked.
One of the success stories of the study was Ruth McKechnie, 54, a theatre training teacher from Cambridge who saw a 39% improvement in her wrinkles, 13% improvement in her skin texture, 5% per cent reduction in brown spots and 18% improvement in her levels of bacteria.
"I'm absolutely thrilled with the results of the trial and astounded at how my skin has improved in almost every aspect. It feels smoother to touch, looks plumper and best of all my wrinkles have reduced!
"I had a particularly stressful few weeks at work and thought it would have a negative effect on my skin so to see such an improvement really is impressive.
"I've also felt more energised and generally healthier which has helped me deal with the stress. Watercress will certainly be top of my shopping list from now onwards!"
Throughout history, eminent philosophers and doctors have revered the health boosting properties of watercress from the pharaohs in Egypt and the ancient Greeks, to the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. In the 16th century, not only did herbalist John Gerard extol the humble plant?s virtues, but the philosopher, statesman and scientist Francis Bacon also claimed watercress could restore a youthful bloom to women. Now, sophisticated science techniques have confirmed what folklore always thought to be true.
Dr Sarah Schenker, a leading nutritionist and dietician who oversaw the study, said:
"Watercress is a rich source of beta carotene needed to quench free radicals, which can cause damage to skin cells. However, in order to work properly a high concentration of Vitamin C is also needed to complete this process and watercress again has this in abundance. In addition watercress contains Vitamin E which is also important for skin health. It is this powerhouse of nutrients and the chain reaction in which they work together which is so important for maintaining good skin."
"This study confirms that diet is an important aspect of beauty. Eating plenty of plant foods including watercress cannot only help to slow down the ageing of our skin, but may actually reverse some of the effects of damage."
Gram for gram, watercress contains more vitamin C than oranges, four times more beta-carotene and vitamin A equivalents than apples, tomatoes and broccoli, more vitamin E than broccoli, more calcium than whole milk and more iron than spinach.
It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin (45 times that of tomatoes and more than triple the amount in broccoli).
It is also the richest dietary source of PEITC (phenylethyl isothiocyanate) which research suggests can fight cancer.
The study which was conducted between the middle of August and the middle of September 2012, was commissioned by The Watercress Alliance, a marketing body for British watercress farmers.
They were encouraged to conduct the study following research in Japan in 2011 on hairless mice being exposed to UV (sun). The mice showed significantly less wrinkles and sagging of skin when given B Carotene.
The B Carotene was found to reduce photooxidative stress which triggers an enzyme (metalloproteinase-9) which in turn dissolves collagen.
Watercress Alliance member Dr. Steve Rothwell, who holds a PhD in watercress and is based in Andover explained:
"There have been a whole host of scientific studies that have shown that B Carotene can help reduce the ageing of skin, so we were encouraged to carry out our own small pilot study using fresh watercress. We were delighted with the results of the new pilot study which may now be used to secure funding for a larger scale university research programme, as the findings have proved so conclusive."
If you're looking for inspiration to include watercress in your diet visit www.watercress.co.uk for some tasty recipe suggestions.