Is Celery Juice All Hype, Or Are There Legitimate Benefits?
From the time it came to our collective attention in 2018—thanks to an article written by the self-proclaimed "Medical Medium" Anthony William—celery juice has climbed the ranks of superfood trends with astonishing speed. With promises of weight loss, improved digestion and energy, restored nervous system functioning, detoxification, and the ability to kill off pathogens like Epstein-Barr and alleviate mental health conditions like PTSD, it sure sounded enticing. But many rationally minded people, like myself, tried to ignore it, thinking, how long will this strange trend started by someone with no nutritional background actually last?
With more than 150,000 #celeryjuice posts on Instagram and a brand-new book by William titled Medical Medium Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide, the answer to this question seems to be: It's not going anywhere soon.
Which raises another question: Does this proclaimed cure-all, with countless devotees singing its praises, actually offer some legitimate benefits—or are we being duped?
A brief history of the celery juice trend and its medicinal claims.
As mentioned above, the concept of celery juice as a modern-day cure-all came to prominence last year, but the trend's originator, Anthony William, has actually been preaching this health hack since 1975, according to his website.
While William readily admits he is not a licensed doctor or health care practitioner, he's garnered a large following in the wellness world as the Medical Medium. Basically, since William was 4 years old, he's claimed to hear a voice (or spirit) in his right ear that guides him to read people and figure out what's medically wrong with them. When he was a child, he supposedly announced that his grandmother had lung cancer at the dinner table, which her doctors later confirmed—and so began his current profession. Since then, he has gone on to write a number of New York Times bestselling books and acquired a huge fan base of believers in his work including Debra Messing, Robert De Niro, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Specifically, William says you can reap celery juice's benefits by drinking 16 ounces of fresh, pure celery juice (the amount you'd get by juicing an entire bunch of celery) every morning on an empty stomach—waiting at least 15 minutes after you drink it to ingest food. The numerous health benefits of celery juice are outlined in a comprehensive blog post on his website, but in a nutshell, William claims that regularly consuming this elixir can help address "all manner of ills—mental, physical, spiritual, emotional" because celery juice is "alkalizing, enzyme-rich, electrolyte-enhancing, liver-repairing, blood-sugar-balancing, antiseptic, and more."
Per the Medical Medium, the bulk of celery juice's benefits, which he says cannot be obtained by simply eating whole celery, come from powerful "undiscovered sodium subgroups" or "sodium cluster salts." According to William, "Eventually, research will reveal that these cluster salts work symbiotically and systematically to flush out toxins, dead pathogens such as viruses and bacteria, and pathogenic neurotoxins and debris from every crevice of the body."
Celery juice benefits: What's proven versus what's hype?
Let's start with what's probably hype.
If basing profound medical claims on undiscovered science sounds too good to be true, it might just be. "Frankly, claiming that there are 'undiscovered mineral cluster salts' in celery is, in a word, insane," says Rachele Pojednic, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition at Simmons College in Boston. "This is serious snake oil salesmanship of the worst kind. If this person knows about some kind of special salts, then they are by definition 'discovered.' However, he has not shown any data to demonstrate their existence or to demonstrate the health benefits he is claiming."
Others echo this sentiment, saying: Prove it. "We have the technology to look for this, so I say test it out and see what celery contains to prove or disprove his claims," says Vincent Pedre, M.D., integrative physician and author of Happy Gut. "Right now, they are not proven."
That said, people have not been discouraged from sucking down their morning celery-based green juice, claiming it has helped them alleviate a number of chronic health woes (brain fog, anxiety, Crohn's disease, acne, joint pain, psoriasis, and multiple sclerosis symptoms, to name a few). And when something—no matter how fringe—seems to be working for someone when nothing else has, it's hard to convince them otherwise.
"Unfortunately, there's really no evidence for such [claims] other than anecdotal stories," says Max Lugavere, health and science journalist and author of Genius Foods who recently posted this comparison of celery vs. celery juice on his Instagram. "I'm not saying they're wrong—I think it's important to listen to those stories and even to honor them—but when assessing the claims, they are simply very hard to believe from a mechanistic standpoint."
Others feel similarly: wary of unfounded claims yet not wanting to dismiss people's positive experiences. "I am not a convert or true believer, and anything that makes so many claims always worries me," says Frank Lipman, M.D., renowned functional and integrative medicine doctor. "Having said that, I have had tons of patients who say [celery juice] helps them."
So, what's causing people to make these grand claims, despite the fact that Williams' "sodium cluster salts" may not actually exist? While Lipman did not care to elaborate further (several doctors and researchers I contacted didn't want to comment on the celery juice trend), some experts did share their opinion on what might be giving people that celery juice high. One potential explanation—beyond simply improving hydration, which alone can boost focus and energy levels—is the good old placebo effect.
"People feel good when they feel like they are doing something good for themselves," says Pojednic. "I'm not sure if this is necessarily the placebo effect, but the fact that everyone on social media is saying that celery juice is all-powerful makes people expect to see good things happen. So they do. The power of persuasion is very real in the food and diet space."
But it might not all be the power of persuasion. When I asked physician-scientist William Li, M.D., one of the foremost experts on disease-fighting compounds in food and author of Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, whether he thought the success stories were due to the placebo effect, actual nutrients and compounds in celery juice, or a little of both, he said, "probably a little of both."
So, what are the science-backed benefits?
As Li alluded to, part of the reason people may feel better after drinking celery juice is from a legitimate nutritional boost—plus the fact that they may be crowding out less healthy, highly caloric morning fare for a low-cal drink that contains real nutrients.
"All vegetables contain legitimate health benefits, and celery is no different," says registered dietitian Abby Cannon, R.D., explaining that both celery juice and whole celery contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants such as vitamins A and C, folate, beta-carotene, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Additionally, Li says, the science does show celery contains natural bioactive phytochemicals that have potential health benefits. The most notable: apigenen and luteolin, both of which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties in lab and animal studies.
While no research has been done on celery juice itself (most has been done on whole celery, celery seed, celery leaves, or celery extract), Cannon says celery also acts as a natural diuretic, which means it helps reduce water retention (and potentially bloating), and research suggests that consuming about four stalks a day may help lower blood pressure.
But still, Li says, "there are no miracle cure-alls for any disease, and celery juice is no exception to this rule." Plus, he adds, "celery is not higher in bioactives than other vegetables, so combining even more vegetables into the juice may provide even more benefits." Pedre agrees, adding that celery is alkalinizing for the body (and thus, anti-inflammatory), but all greens and even citrus fruits have this property. So, celery doesn't seem to be particularly special.
Even Pojednic thinks celery has some interesting properties that may result in reduced inflammation, antibacterial benefits, and possibly lower blood glucose and cholesterol. However, she says, "any current scientific studies we have demonstrate very small effects and only in cell lines and animals. We have almost no data in humans, and what we do have is mixed."
As of yet, we don't have any good data to show that juicing celery is better than just eating it whole either. In theory, it may seem like the nutrients from juices may be more easily absorbed than from whole vegetables or fruits but has yet to be proved.
"Drinking celery juice or eating the whole food are both ways to get its benefits, but the added benefit of eating whole celery is you also get the fiber, which can help digestive functions and feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome," says Li. "These bacteria break down fiber into SCFAs, or short-chain fatty acids, that have useful anti-inflammatory properties."
Pojednic adds that the fiber in celery also has loads of the phytochemicals stuck to it, so you'd lose some of them when you juice. "Honestly," she says, "I'd recommend a smoothie made with whole celery over a juice any day."
Could there be unintended side effects of drinking celery juice daily?
While celery juice isn't necessarily a cure-all, many experts say drinking it regularly is probably safe and healthy for most people. Others add the caveat that there's a lot we still don't know about celery juice—especially since it contains highly concentrated levels of certain compounds.
"The biggest problem is, we don't know what an optimal dose of these concentrated phytochemicals is because these studies haven't been done in humans," says Pojednic. "As with many other herbals, you need to be careful of excessive amounts, especially if you are taking other pharmaceuticals or supplements."
One thing we do know: Like grapefruit juice, celery juice contains natural chemicals called furanocoumarins at levels that may interfere with blood pressure, cholesterol, and anti-anxiety medications by blocking an enzyme needed to break down these medications, says Li. So if you're on any of these meds, you need to be careful.
Steven Gundry, M.D., author of The Longevity Paradox: How To Die Young at a Ripe Old Age, is even more cautious about the celery juice trend, citing compounds found in celery called psoralens, which, when concentrated, may potentially make you more sensitive to sunlight and negatively affect your thyroid. "One of the things I fear the most is that these people don't know how much celery potentiates sun damage. There are reports of people getting some pretty interesting burns following sun exposure after consuming large quantities of celery," says Gundry. "There's some interesting evidence that psoralens are actually goitrogens as well.”
Goitrogens, also found in raw cruciferous veggies like kale, can suppress thyroid function, so if you already have a thyroid condition, you should be extra cautious before jumping on the celery juice bandwagon. The quantity of psoralens you'd likely ingest by snacking on whole celery now and then, however, is not thought to be dangerous.
Additionally, celery consistently appears on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen produce list. So, if you're not making your celery juice with organic celery (or seeking out an organic premade juice), you may be ingesting a concentrated dose of pesticides, too.
Some of the potential dangers of celery juicing aren't necessarily due to the celery juice itself, though. "I have concerns whenever one particular food becomes sensationalized in the media. This perpetuates a diet mentality, reinforcing the idea that one style of eating will be appropriate for any and every body," says functional medicine nutritionist Megan Fahey, R.D., stating that much of her work revolves around challenging this concept.
This quick-fix mentality also goes against what we know to be true: No food in isolation will cure you. And suggesting that celery juice has this power isn't without consequence. "People believe they can drink celery juice while still continuing to eat all the other wrong foods. One right is not going to fix five wrongs," says Pedre. "I believe the Medical Medium is preying upon people's longing for a cure of any type for their ailments. His advice can be quite dangerous, as I have seen people make radical decisions about their health, abandoning prior treatments that were working to follow his advice to no good effect."
Finally, we can't fail to mention that juicing—especially when you're doing it every morning, and tossing the pulp—is pretty darn wasteful. "When we juice any fruit or vegetable and discard the solid waste, we've not only wasted good-for-you fiber, but also all the resources that went into growing, harvesting, and transporting the produce," says Cannon. "I'd much rather you eat whole celery and enjoy every moment of that gorgeous celery crunch."
The bottom line on celery juice.
As you likely suspected, there's not enough research to confirm that celery juice is the panacea it's being made out to be. Plus, while celery does have legitimate nutritional benefits, so do many other vegetables, often in greater quantities—celery is 95% water, after all. Right now, most experts seem to think consuming whole celery (fiber and all), or adding additional veggies into your juices and smoothies, is better than hyper-fixating on celery juice.
Of course, sometimes you just need to try a trend for yourself—and we get that. In that case, opt for organic celery juice, keep the potential side effects in mind (and slather on some sunscreen!), and consider consulting your doctor or a registered dietitian beforehand to help guide you through the process.
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