Lately the vegetable juicing movement has gained tremendous momentum boasting it’s benefits from diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis, promising tremendous health benefits. It is afterall what our society needs, more self help and lifestyle therapies and less dependence on a disease oriented healthcare system. But is it truly the answer for everyone, and is it completely safe?
Let’s examine this further. Recently we had a patient come in claiming to be on a vegetable juice cleanse per a book she read, asking if these juices are ‘legit’. With the knowledge of Integrative Medicine we shared that celery juice has ingredients such as apigenin, luteolin, tannin, saponin, and kaempferol, all powerful antioxidants which may each have different healing effects 1. Such compounds have been shown to decrease instances of ulcers, improve the lining of the stomach, and help stomach secretions in animal studies.
Another study found that celery leaf extract reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, in animals with hypertension, or high blood pressure. We also did a search and found a human study which followed people that used vegetable juicing including various green vegetables in conjunction with a fasting regimen and observed remarkable decrease in swollen and tender joints, pain, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and C-reactive protein (CRP) at the 1 year mark. So that leaves us now with what can be the harm, right? Despite these benefits, there have not been large human studies done using celery juice but still appears to be a healthy choice, but with its limits.
This process of repeated, daily juicing, especially removing the pulp can accumulate what is known as oxalates which can cause harm to our organs such as the kidneys. As it is turning out the research is starting to support this. Spinach is actually one of the foods highest in oxalates but celery and cucumber are among foods that are moderate yet become more concentrated in it when processed in the form of juicing 2. In addition to painful kidney stones, oxalates affect mitochondrial function and can create inflammation; affecting every organ system. Juicing is the process of removing fiber which actually helps build a healthy gut microbiome, give you regular bowel movements, and slows the absorption of sugars as well as oxalates into our system.
A study of 59 women with recurrent vaginal pain were placed on a low oxalate diet and nearly a quarter of them experienced significant improvement on this alone. As we examine patients with a Functional Medicine approach and go deeper, we are seeing such juicers having high oxalate levels. In fact, the patient who came asking about how ‘legit’ these juice cleanses are happened to be one of them.
So what may be the solution to this dilemma? Everything in moderation and utilizing the fiber in vegetables sounds most appropriate here. Of course also getting your oxalate levels checked which can be done as part of something called an organic acids test. Think of this advanced test as similar to the annual service inspection for your car, it is a complete overview of how the body is functioning and if there are any lingering issues that need to be addressed. It is a simple urine test that examines your metabolism of fats, amino acids, key nutrients, and hidden sources of inflammation including oxalates.
We Americans spend thousands a year taking care of our belongings but only until recently have people started doing this for their health, the most important of all things. At the end of the day there are plenty of great fads like juicing, but being cautious of the long term effects is now apparently needed. This may be easily avoided through such testing and seeing a trained Functional Medicine physician to get access to it.
It is a great thing we as a society see wellness as the next big trend, optimizing health and reducing some of the highest risk factors for aging, chronic diseases, and Covid3. Remembering that a one size fits all approach is never right for everyone and exercising caution and moderation should always be considered. When in doubt or uncertain, test, don’t guess so you can uncover if something is causing your body harm as each individual’s unique genetics also play a role in both what we digest, accumulate, and benefit from which may help take your health to the next level.