Celery - If you have become accustomed to thinking about celery
as a crunchy, low-cal vegetable but not a key part of your health
support, it is time to think again. Recent research has greatly
bolstered our knowledge about celery's anti-inflammatory health
benefits, including its protection against inflammation in the
digestive tract itself. Some of the unique non-starch
polysaccharides in celery—including apiuman—appear especially
important in producing these anti-inflammatory benefits.
(Unlike starchy polysaccharides that provide plants with a way to
store simple sugars, these non-starch polysaccharides in celery help provide this vegetable with its unique structure and are not made from simple sugars but rather from pectins.)
In addition to well-known antioxidants like vitamin C and
flavonoids, scientists have now identified at least a dozen other
types of antioxidant nutrients in celery. These antioxidants include
dihydrostilbenoids like lunularin as well as furanocoumarins like
bergapten and psoralen. The antioxidant support we get from
celery is largely due to its phenolic nutrients that have been shown
to help protect us against unwanted oxygen damage to our cells,
blood vessels, and organ systems.
In addition to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients that help protect the digestive tract as a whole, celery contains pectin-based polysaccharides that can provide the stomach with special benefits. We've become accustomed to thinking about polysaccharides as starchy molecules that are used by cells as a way to store up simple sugars. But there are other types of polysaccharides in plants, including the non-starch, pectin-based polysaccharides found in celery. (Pectin is a sugar-related molecule that is largely formed from a substance called glucuronic acid.) The pectin-based polysaccharides found in celery —including apiuman—appear to have special importance in producing anti-inflammatory benefits. In animal studies, celery extracts containing apiuman have been shown to improve the integrity of the stomach lining, decrease risk of stomach ulcer (gastric ulcer), and better control the levels of stomach secretions. We look forward to future research that may confirm these stomach support benefits in humans based on dietary intake of celery in its whole food form.
Given the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of celery described earlier in this section, it's not surprising to see the interest of researchers in the cardiovascular benefits of celery. Oxidative stress and inflammation in the bloodstream are critical problems in the development of many cardiovascular diseases, especially atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, most of the studies we've seen in this area have involved animals. Still, we've seen promising connections between the pectin-based polysaccharides in celery and decreased risk of inflammation in the cardiovascular system. We've seen these same types of connections between celery flavonoids and decreased risk of cardiovascular inflammation.
Phthalides are a further category of phytonutrients found in celery that seems important to mention as providing potential cardiovascular benefits. Phenolic substances found in celery, phthalides are a major contributor to the unique flavor of this vegetable. (Sedanenolide and butylphthalides are examples of phthalides found in celery.) Researchers have demonstrated that celery phthalides can act as smooth muscle relaxants, most likely through their impact on the flow of calcium and potassium inside cells and related nervous system activity involved with muscle relaxation. Of course, relaxation of smooth muscles surrounding our blood vessels allows them to expand and the result is a lowering of our blood pressure. (This overall process is called vasodilation.)
Phthalides in celery may also act as diuretics, further helping to lower the pressure inside our blood vessels. Unfortunately, most of the research we've seen in this area involves celery seeds, celery oil, or celery extracts - not the whole food itself. So it's not yet clear if these muscle-relaxant properties and blood pressure-lowering properties of celery phthalides will be provided to us if we include celery in our meal plans in everyday food amounts.
Because chronic oxidative stress and excessive inflammation are key risk factors for the development of many cancer types, it's not surprising to see scientists interested in the potential benefits of celery intake for cancer prevention. While we've seen speculation about celery benefits for stomach cancer, colon cancer, and bladder cancer, we've been unable to find actual human research studies in any of these areas. Hopefully, future research studies will address the potential cancer-related benefits of celery much more closely.