By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Foods are an integral part of health and medicine in Chinese culture. Nutritional therapy is a vital part of the Chinese medical model, and each food is seen to have a temperature, specific organs that it affects and healing properties making the art of food therapy an important aspect of Chinese medicine.
One of the many wonderful things about Chinese medicine is the use of ordinary things that we use in our everyday lives to combat health problems when they arise. Food or nutrition therapy is an integral part of Chinese medicine, and eating with the seasons and with foods wide array of healing properties in mind can build the immune system to keep us healthy, and also help to rebalance us when we are sick.
Celery is considered sweet, bitter and is cooling in nature. It is particularly beneficial to the spleen, stomach and liver. Celery is used to treat many conditions, but in particular, it has been used for centuries to effectively lower high blood pressure.
Blood pressure, or hypertension, is the measurement of the pressure exerted against the arteries as the blood leaves the heart. Fluctuations in blood pressure are normal, but it is when the blood pressure remains high that is can be dangerous to our health and increase the risk of problems like heart attack and stroke. One of the main concerns is that high blood pressure is often referred to as a silent killer because there are often no symptoms until the damage has already been done and it is too late, so anything we can do preventatively to keep our blood pressure at healthy levels is always a good idea!
Blood pressure is measured by two different numbers – the systolic and diastolic pressure. The first, the systolic, is the measurement of the pressure of the blood leaving the heart as it pumps. The second number – the diastolic, is a measurement of the pressure of the blood when the heart is at rest. A normal blood pressure reading is approximately 120/80.
Celery, a common vegetable and available at almost every grocery store is one of the best foods for lowering high blood pressure. Celery contains active compounds called phthalides (butylphthalide). These compounds naturally function to relax the muscles in and around the walls of the arteries, causing the vessels to dilate, thus creating more room for the blood to flow and lowering the pressure. Phthalides also are shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones (called catecholamines) in the blood. These stress hormones also raise blood pressure because they cause vessels to constrict. Celery has the added benefit of benefiting and soothing the nervous system and many patients with nervous system disorders in TCM are encouraged to add celery to their diets.
In a recent study by the University of Chicago Medical Centre, the father of a medical student who was diagnosed with hypertension decided to try the Chinese medicine remedy of eating celery to see if he could lower his blood pressure without medication. He ate 4 stalks a day for a week, and then taking 3 weeks off before resuming the regimen. Within a week his blood pressure fell from 158/96 to 118/82. The man and his son brought the findings to researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center where they isolated the compound (3-n-butyl phthalide) and injected it into rats to see if they could reproduce the results. Not only did the rat’s blood pressure drop 13 percent in a week, but the rats’ cholesterol levels also dropped by seven percent. The high fiber in the celery helped to lower the cholesterol levels in the animal experiment. *
The common wisdom is that 4 stalks of celery a day can significantly lower blood pressure in less than a week. It is important to note however, that having a healthy diet and trying to restrict the amount of processed salt that we eat will hopefully keep high blood pressure from getting out of control, but the addition of celery into our diets is an excellent preventative strategy that we can all use to keep our blood pressure at healthy levels.
Here is a delicious recipe for Spring Greens with Shaved Celery Salad from Bon Appetit. Enjoy!
*A note on the approach of science and how it differs from Chinese medicine. One of the things that makes Chinese medicine so effective is its view of the whole. The whole person, the relationship of the person to nature and the universe and that the body functions synergistically, as a whole, each part benefitting the other so that the entire organism may work in harmony. In my opinion, it is celery in its entirety that has the amazing healing properties it possesses, and extracting certain compounds, even if you can scientifically prove their efficacy, will undoubtedly diminish the effectiveness of their healing properties as a whole. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it sees the symbiotic relationship between people and the food they eat to be mutually beneficial, and we are only now being able to prove with science the ways that these mechanisms function, even though they have been used by the Chinese and other Asian cultures for thousands of years.