Time to Celebrate Celery
By William Gamonski
Although celery is often a complimentary addition to soups and dishes, its substantial health protection makes it a star player in any meal. Each stalk of celery, along with its seeds and leaves, contains vitamin K, folate, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, and molybdenum.1 It also contains a hefty dose of the unique compound 3-n-butylphthalide, which has shown to enhance cognitive function in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.2 Incorporating celery into your daily diet can provide numerous health benefits, from treating gout to safeguarding against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Celery's TaleCelery (Apium graveolens) belongs to the Umbelliferae family and is derived from wild celery that contains more leaves and less stalks. Although celery is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean, it's also indigenous to India, Nepal, and China. It was first recognized for its medicinal properties as early as the 9th century before being utilized as a food source during the Middle Ages. Celery didn't become a common vegetable until the 1800s in Europe and later was introduced to the United States in the 1900s.1
Anti-Cancer PowerA growing body of evidence indicates that flavonoids are an integral component of any cancer-preventive strategy.3 Two of these flavonoids, apigenin and luteolin, found in celery are distinguished for their ability to protect against various types of cancer.4 In one study reported in the International Journal of Cancer, scientists compared the intake of five flavonoids in women with and without ovarian cancer.4 After adjusting for confounding factors of tubal ligation (tubes tied), physical activity and duration of oral contraceptive use, researchers found only apigenin to be associated with reduced ovarian cancer risk, with the highest intake of the flavonoid linked to a 21% reduction risk.4 It is believed apigenin works by decreasing the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that stimulates the formation of new blood vessels that are vital for tumor growth.5
Pancreatic cancer is frequently diagnosed at more advanced stages in patients, making it difficult to treat and causing poor survival rates.6 Compelling data suggests that apigenin can combat pancreatic cancer through multiple mechanisms including impairing glucose uptake,7 triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death),8 and disrupting the cancer cell cycle.9
Other laboratory findings show that apigenin has inhibitory growth effects against thyroid, leukemia, lung, and prostate cancers.10
Luteolin, another celery flavonoid, has potent anti-cancer activity, particularly against colon cancer. Colon cancer cells secrete insulin-like growth factor II (IGF II), which plays a major role in signaling uncontrolled cell growth and replication. In a study published in the journal BMC Gastroenterology, researchers observed that luteolin suppresses the secretion of IGF II, thus halting the progression of colon cancer.11
Both apigenin and luteolin provide a powerful defense against breast cancer. Italian researchers discovered that the highest intake of both flavonoids reduced the risk of breast cancer by 19% compared to the lowest intakes.12
Cardioprotective EffectsThe heart promoting properties of celery are related to its ability to reduce the development of major risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease. In one study, researchers at the Ulleval University Hospital in Norway observed that increasing intakes of vitamin C rich foods, such as celery, led to less thickening of the carotid artery, thereby ensuring optimal blood flow and preventing atherosclerosis and subsequent heart disease.13
In a study published in the journal Pharmacology Magazine, scientists found that rats supplemented with celery seed extract daily for 60 days significantly reduced triglycerides levels by 22% and LDL cholesterol by 27%, along with a 28% increase in beneficial HDL cholesterol.14 The lipid lowering effects of celery are due to the increased conversion of cholesterol into bile acids, which are eliminated in feces.15
In addition to its beneficial effects on lipid levels, celery also shows promise in lowering blood pressure. In the laboratory, celery seeds exhibited potent inhibition of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), a protein responsible for constricting blood vessels and elevating blood pressure.16 This may partially explain the results reported in a study published in the Tehran University Medical Journal in which 37 hypertensive patients between the ages of 45 and 65 administered 6 grams of celery seed powder significantly lowered mean systolic and diastolic readings by 17.1 and 4.4 mmHg, respectively.17
Diabetes PreventionBy 2030, a projected 439 million adults worldwide will be living with diabetes.18 Emerging research indicates that consuming greater amounts of vitamin K, present in celery, can decrease the risk of developing this concerning disease. In a recent study, researchers at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands assessed the relationship between vitamin K intake and the risk of type II diabetes in more than 38,000 Dutch men and women aged 20-70 years over a 10-year period.19 Taking into account confounding factors such as age, waist circumference, smoking, and physical activity, researchers concluded that those with the highest intake of vitamin K were nearly 20% less likely to develop type II diabetes compared with those who had the lowest intake of the vitamin.19
Although the mechanisms are not yet clear, the research team noted that vitamin K might exert its protective effect by reducing inflammation, which in turn increases insulin sensitivity and improves glucose metabolism.
The anti-diabetic benefits of celery can also be attributed to its unique ability to fight Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium that leads to a near three-fold increase in the risk of type II diabetes.20 In a study reported in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, researchers identified an anti-microbial compound in celery seeds that is highly effective in blocking the growth of gastric H. pylori.21
Relieving GoutWhile research has focused primarily on finding safe treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, the incidence of gout has quietly risen in the past two decades.22 Gout is a form of arthritis characterized by elevated levels of uric acid, which causes the formation of crystals in joints that produce inflammation and pain.23 Celery might help treat gout by modulating uric acid levels. Egyptian researchers tested the effects of different plant extracts, including celery seed, on uric acid levels in rats induced with gout. At the end of the study, rats with gouty arthritis treated with celery seed extracts experienced a 56% reduction in uric acid levels, the highest of all the plant extracts.23
Additional research shows that celery seeds might have potential use in alleviating inflammation and pain associated with gout. A study reported in the journal Phytomedicine revealed that celery seeds can provide dramatic pain relief by suppressing cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2), an enzyme involved in the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cells.24
SummaryWhile celery is regularly added to soups and dishes as a complimentary component, its vast amount of nutrients, from vitamin K, potassium, folate, and magnesium, to its potent flavonoids apigenin and luteolin, make it a central player in any health-boosting meal. Celery's stalks, along with its seeds and leaves, offer tremendous protection against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, in addition to providing an effective treatment for gout. An easy way to incorporate celery into your diet is to eat the stalks with peanut butter or use it as a main vegetable in soups and salads.
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