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Cool Celery

The Crunchy Stalks Shed Their “No Nutrient” Reputation

by Rachel B. Levin

Once thought to carry little nutritional value, celery may in fact prevent against inflammatory brain disease

In many American kitchens, celery is the less glamorous companion of its constant partner, the carrot. Carrots steal the show with their vibrant orange color, a hint to their stockpile of flavonoid antioxidants. Celery, meanwhile, seems to pale in comparison, its stringy flesh apparently promising little more than a crunch and a quench of fiber and water.

Leafy green celery stalks

But recent research confirms what the ancients already knew: celery is a medicinal food chock full of powerful phytonutrients. Perhaps the most exceptional new finding is that an antioxidant compound present in celery called luteolin may help protect against inflammatory brain diseases and the dementia caused by such inflammation. A study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that treatment with luteolin reduced inflammation triggered by bacteria in the microglia, cells scattered throughout the central nervous system that are responsible for the brain’s defense against invading microorganisms. Specifically, the researchers noted a reduction in inflammation in the brain’s hippocampus, the area related to learning and memory. Thus, celery shows promise as a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Other phytonutrients found in celery have cancer-fighting benefits. A compound called apigenin was shown to reduce the size of human prostate tumors in mice and play a role in cancer prevention. Celery also contains compounds called coumarins, which help prevent free radicals from damaging cells and enhance the cancer-defending activity of certain white blood cells.

Health Benefits—Celery:

- could prevent inflammatory brain disease and dementia with
antioxidant compound luteolin
- plays a role in cancer prevention with apigenin, a compound found in celery
- may help lower blood pressure by reducing stress hormones, relaxing artery muscles and allowing dilation of blood vessels
- high water and cellulose content acts as a diuretic, aiding in removal of bodily toxins

Among vegetables, celery is known to be comparatively higher in sodium. As such, many with high blood pressure avoid this food. Yet recent research shows that celery can actually help lower blood pressure. Compounds in celery called pthalides can reduce stress hormones, relax the muscles around arteries, and allow these vessels to dilate, resulting in better blood flow and lower blood pressure.  When researchers injected pthalides into lab animals, their blood pressure dropped 12-14 percent. Celery is also a good source of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, minerals associated with reducing blood pressure. 

With its high water and cellulose content, celery is also a diuretic, aiding in the removal of bodily toxins. Researchers in Taiwan found that when liver cells were treated with celery extract, they produced more of a liver enzyme that helps flush contaminants from the body. Some studies even suggest that celery can help lower cholesterol.

Given its wide-ranging benefits, this leaf-topped vegetable should no longer be considered the wallflower on the crudités plate. It’s striking that celery was not even eaten as a food until the mid-1600s—and prior to that, it was used for strictly medicinal purposes. Luckily for us, celery’s culinary and curative merits have converged in this century.  Whether you enjoy a cool, crisp stalk on a hot summer’s day or stud your Thanksgiving stuffing with it, you can reap celery’s benefits—no strings attached.


(Updated: 09/24/12 SG)

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