With its mild flavor, its delicate, pale color, and its (undeserved) reputation as a food with ‘little nutritional value,’ celery just might be the Clark Kent of the produce aisle. The reality is: this underappreciated vegetable is a nutritional superhero that is just beginning to get its due.
Not only is celery packed with essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, but researchers are crediting it with impressive power to prevent – and even treat – cancer as well.
Properties in celery target cancer cells at the molecular level
Although celery is rich in many beneficial compounds, its premier cancer-fighting constituent is an antioxidant flavonoid called apigenin – which has been impressing researchers with its powerful chemopreventive effects. Again and again, in both cell and animal studies, apigenin was found to inhibit the initiation, progression and metastasis of tumors.
And, apigenin fights cancer at every stage – with multiple mechanisms of action. This versatility is important because it may help to overcome the natural genetic variations that make some patients unable to benefit from a single chemopreventive compound.
Apigenin prevents, suppresses and even reverses cancer in several distinct ways
Angiogenesis – the growth of new blood vessels to nourish tumors – is an important process in the proliferation of cancer. Apigenin has been found to inhibit angiogenesis, thus depriving tumors of blood, oxygen and nutrients they need to survive.
In a cell study, apigenin helped to “starve” human pancreatic cancer cells by depriving them of glucose, which is needed to fuel cancer’s rampant growth.
Apigenin also interferes with molecular signaling, decreasing the production of chemicals needed by cancer cells. In a 2008 study published in Carcinogenesis, apigenin inhibited the expression of focal adhesion kinase – or FAK – a protein essential to cancer’s ability to break down and invade healthy tissue – thereby inhibiting the metastasis of human ovarian cancer cells.
In another study, researchers found that apigenin protected pancreatic cells from inflammatory and cancer-causing damage induced by the NF-kappaB cytokine. And, finally, apigenin promotes apoptosis – the programmed death of cancer cells. Researchers have found that the ability of apigenin to induce apoptosis reduced the incidence of early lesions in rats with laboratory-induced colon cancer.
New review of research confirms anti-cancer effects
In an extensive and recent review of cell and animal studies on apigenin published in 2016 in Journal of Cancer Protection, the authors credited the flavonoid (in celery) with diverse and powerful chemoprotective qualities and effects.
These include suppressing the progression of prostate cancer, causing a marked reduction in carcinomas, slowing cancer cell proliferation, reducing levels of pro-inflammatory molecules that can trigger cancer, promoting apoptosis and decreasing blood vessel growth to tumors.
Concluding that apigenin is beneficial in both the prevention and treatment of many types of cancer, the review authors called for more clinical studies. Of course, research on apigenin’s stunning anti-cancer effects is ongoing.
Low-calorie celery is a nutritional powerhouse
Celery is often reputed to be a “negative calorie” food – meaning that the act of eating and digesting it burns more calories than the food provides. This is untrue – although it is true that at a mere 6 calories a stalk, celery is a true low-calorie food. But, it is probably this false belief that has led to the perception of celery as a food with no nutritional value.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Celery, scientifically known as Apium graveolens, is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, folic acid and vitamin K – as well as the minerals calcium, copper, iron, zinc and potassium. It also contains potent antioxidants, including caffeic acid, ferulic acid and quercetin, along with healthy amounts of dietary fiber.
And, apigenin is not celery’s only chemopreventive constituent. Like its close relatives carrots, parsley and fennel, celery contains cancer-fighting compounds called polyacetylenes. Celery is also water-rich as well as nutrient-rich, meaning it can help stave off dehydration.
Obviously, celery is worthy of being used as far more than just a decorative garnish in a glass of tomato juice. Aside from using it lavishly in salad and serving it with dips or hummus, you can braise celery and serve it as a side vegetable – leaves and all.
So, don’t be fooled: Despite its reputation as a nutritional “lightweight,” celery can be a powerful weapon in your arsenal of natural cancer-fighting foods.