Food – Celery – Stalks of Protection

This member of the parsley family contains compounds that may help lower blood pressure and perhaps help prevent cancer. Celery is also a good source of insoluble fiber as well as a number of essential nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, and calcium.

Chomp Down on Blood Pressure

Celery has been used for centuries in Asia as a folk remedy for high blood pressure. In the United States, it took one man with high blood pressure and persistence to persuade researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center to put this remedy to the scientific test.

The story began when a man named Mr. Le was diagnosed with mild high blood pressure. Rather than cutting back on salt as his doctor advised, he began eating a quarter-pound (about four stalks) of celery per day. Within a week his blood pressure had dropped from 158/96 to 118/82.

William J. Elliott, M.D., Ph.D., who was then assistant professor of medicine and pharmacological and physiological science at the University of Chicago, decided to put celery to the test. Researchers injected test animals with a small amount of 3-n-butyl phthalide, a chemical compound that is found in celery. Within a week, the animals’ blood pressures dropped an average of 12 to 14 percent.

“Phthalide was found to relax the muscles of the arteries that regulate blood pressure, allowing the vessels to dilate,” says Dr. Elliott. In addition, the chemical reduced the amount of “stress hormones,” called catecholamines, in the blood. This may be helpful because stress hormones typically raise blood pressure by causing the blood vessels to constrict.

If you have high blood pressure and would like to give celery a try, try this strategy recommended by Asian folk practitioners. Eat four to five stalks every day for a week, then stop for three weeks. Then start over and eat celery for another week.

But don’t overdo it and start eating celery by the pound, Dr. Elliott warns. Celery does contain sodium—one stalk contains 35 milligrams—and for some people this can cause blood pressure to go up rather than down. “Eating a ton of celery can be dangerous if you have salt-sensitive hypertension,” he warns.

Blocking Cancer Cells

Who’d have thought that crunching celery might help prevent cancer? Celery contains a number of compounds that researchers believe may help prevent cancer cells from spreading.

For starters, celery contains compounds called acetylenics. “Acetylenics have been shown to stop the growth of tumor cells,” says Robert Rosen, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Advanced Food Technology at Cook College, Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

In addition, celery contains compounds called phenolic acids, which block the action of hormonelike substances called prostaglandins. Some prostaglandins are thought to encourage the growth of tumor cells, says Dr. Rosen.

The Doctors Book of Food Remedies, by Selene Yeager and the Editors of Prevention Health Books, Rodale, pages 129–131.

Braised Celery
8 stalks of celery, scrubbed and ends trimmed (chop and reserve leaves) Pinch of salt or seasoning salt
1 Tbsp. oil ½ cup of vegetable stock
Cut celery into 1-inch slices on the diagonal. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add celery, along with salt and cook until it starts to become tender. Add broth, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover and cook for 5 minutes longer, allowing the broth to caramelize a little. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately, garnished with reserved chopped leaves. You may also add chopped tofu.