Blueberries? Forget them. Turmeric? So passé. The latest health trend to take the wellness community by storm is celery juice. At the time of writing, a quick Instagram hashtag search reveals over 120 thousand Instagram posts tagged #celeryjuice or #celeryjuicebenefits. But what’s the science behind the ‘Global Celery Movement’? Nutritionist Nicola Shubrook examines the evidence.
Over the last few weeks, you can’t have failed to have noticed the latest craze for celery juice and its long list of apparent health benefits, from healing chronic and mystery illness to killing viruses and reducing your chances of suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. All it requires is juicing one bunch of celery every morning and drinking on an empty stomach. It’s as simple as that.
The trend was started by Anthony William, the ‘Medical Medium’ who says he “started the movement” – and has the social and celebrity following to prove it. Gwyneth Paltrow and Novak Djokovic are fans; and Kim Kardashian is the latest celebrity to enthuse about #celeryjuicebenefits. Yet William has no medical or nutritional qualifications, and his article on celery juice, for all its “miraculous healing powers”, has no scientific references.
Now, that doesn’t mean celery juice is all bad, but as the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Celery, is part of the parsley family, and it does have nutritional benefits. It’s high in vitamins, A, C and K, and contains some B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and zinc in smaller quantities. It is also high in fibre and low in calories.
As for all the health claims being made, these are largely attributed to celery’s phytonutrient content. Phytonutrients are biologically-active compounds (found in all fruit and vegetables, by the way) and each one has its own health properties. For example, antioxidants help protect our cells against damage from oxidative stress and are being looked at for their potential in protecting the brain against neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Some of the phytochemicals found in celery have been shown to offer protection against cancer, diabetes, gastric ulcers1, reduce pain, protect against the effects of some chemotherapy medication2 and act as an antidepressant.3 4
Sounds great, right? So what’s the catch?
When researchers look at these active compounds, they are in a very concentrated form. They extract the juice from the celery, as you would at home in your kitchen, but then they put it through various processes whereby they end up with a concentrated substance. Ultimately, they are looking to understand the properties of the phytonutrients with the goal to be able to compact it into a tablet which can then be sold as a supplement. (Remember the claim that red wine was good for you because it contains the phytonutrient resveratrol? You’d need to drink something like 1,500 glasses of red wine to get the same benefits as found in the concentrated form in research!) So, to get the same effect from celery juice you would need to drink gallons of the stuff to have the same impact and therefore juicing one bunch a day is not even scratching the surface! Not only that: a lot of the research at the moment has only been carried out on rats and mice, and so a lot more human trials are needed to verify these claims.
However, anecdotally, some people do feel better for adding celery juice into their routine and there have been reports of better digestion and more energy, for example. Now, whether this is purely down to the celery juice itself or because people have started to either add in more goodness or take more rubbish out of their diet, who knows? But if they feel better and are getting more vegetables into their diet, then that’s a good thing.
A word of warning though: celery juice is not for everyone. As much as there have been anecdotal reports of its benefits, there have also been a few stories of the negative side effects, which include heartburn, joint pain and increased skin sensitivity. Celery juice is also a natural source of certain compounds that, in some people, can actually slow down the liver’s metabolism which, if you are on any medication such as Warfarin or pain medications, is not a good thing and must be avoided.5
The Medical Medium claims on his website that “there is a myth that certain leafy green vegetables and herbs are high in oxalates and are therefore harmful” (there’s no cited evidence to support this claim). Research has shown that celery juice – or in fact any green vegetable juice – is high in oxalates, which for some will increase their risk of kidney stones (and even a published report of someone who suffered renal failure as a result of following a juicing diet for six weeks that contained large amounts of spinach).
The other thing to bear in mind is that when you juice any fruit or vegetable, you are losing the fibre and in the case of celery, over 40% of it’s natural goodness. Our bodies need fibre, as it helps to keep our digestive system regular, but it is also what our gut microbiome (the good bacteria) needs in order to thrive. As it stands in the UK, the average adult is only getting around 18g of fibre a day compared to the recommend 30g.6 Not only that, in order for our bodies to absorb all these amazing phytonutrients, they need to be metabolised by our gut microbes and so by stripping the fibre away through juicing, you may be affecting the absorption and reducing the potential health benefits further.
I have in fact tried to drink celery juice every morning on an empty stomach, as recommended. I always like to try these things to see what it is like and be able to inform my clients better. Personally, I got bored after four days not just because of the taste (it helps if you really like celery), but also of cleaning the juicer every morning!
So, from what I see and hear in the press and in my nutrition & functional medicine circles, juicing celery is great for some, but it is not for everyone. Eating celery sticks is actually just as, if not more, beneficial, because of the fibre that it adds to your diet. Celery juice has no more benefits than any other juiced fruit and vegetables. In fact, if you really want all the benefits that celery offers then you should be juicing parsley. It comes from the same family but has even more phytonutrients in it, offering up to x10 more power like for like than a bunch of celery every morning.
Nicola Shubrook is a registered nutritionist and clinical hypnotherapist, and founder of Urban Wellness working with women who have been so busy and stressed that their physical or mental health is now affecting their everyday life.