The Amazing Cancer Prevention Health Benefits of Parsley,
or, "Hey, I Shouldn't Be JUST a Table Garnish!"
© 2014 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Parsley is an easy-to-use, incredibly flavorful, nutrition powerhouse, yet, it is often regarded as a "throw-away" garnish on dinner plates. Derived from the Greek word meaning "rock celery" (because it's related to celery), parsley has been cultivated for 2,000 years, and was used medicinally long before that.
Just two tablespoons of parsley provide over 150% of the daily recommended value of vitamin K.
In fact, in ancient times parsley was regarded as sacred and was used to decorate tombs. It's believed that the ancient Romans were the first ones to begin popularizing parsley as a garnish.
Among its more than 30 varieties, the two most popular are flat-leaf parsley and curly-leaf parsley, both of which can be found in most supermarkets (and are simple to grow yourself).
Aside from adding a burst of fresh flavor to soups, vegetables, meats and a host of other dishes, parsley is full of valuable nutrients that have proven health benefits.
Parsley's Many Health-Giving Properties
Parsley contains three times as much vitamin C as oranges, and twice as much iron as spinach. It's an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A and folate, as well. But parsley's nutrition advantages do not end there.
For a quick look at parley's major nutrients (based on two tablespoons, which has only 2.7 calories!), check out the chart below, then keep reading to find out about more of parsley's health benefits.
||% Daily Value
|Folate (folic acid)
* Based on nutrient density and daily value.
Fights cancer. Parsley contains volatile oils that have been found to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, particularly those in the lungs. The oils are not only cancer-fighting, they're also known to neutralize carcinogens including those found in cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke. Parsley also contains folic acid, which has been found to help prevent colon and cervical cancers.
Good for the heart. The folic acid in parsley is a critical nutrient in cardiovascular health. Specifically, folic acid helps convert potentially dangerous homocysteine into harmless molecules, a process that protects blood vessels and reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Protects against rheumatoid arthritis. A study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that people who ate the least amount of vitamin-C-rich foods (like parsley) had a three times greater chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those who ate the most.
For an easy way to get more nutrients in your diet, make parsley a featured part of your meal -- not just a garnish.
Oxidative stress is now recognized as a leading cause of chronic disease and aging. It occurs when free radicals -- toxic oxygen molecules produced by normal body processes but also via external sources like stress and pollution -- spiral out of control.
Antioxidant-rich. Parsley contains beneficial antioxidant compounds called flavonoids. These compounds combine with oxygen-containing molecules and help prevent "oxygen-based damage" to cells. Parsley extracts have also been found to increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood in animal studies.
Why You NEED to Understand Oxidative Stress -- and How to Avoid It
Even the healthiest among us have free radicals in our systems. However, free radicals are normally kept under wraps where they cannot cause great harm to the body. When free radicals exist in your body in excess, the harmful condition known as oxidative stress occurs.
"There is evidence that free radicals are a predominant factor in the etiology of a wide range of diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease and rheumatoid arthritis," says free radical and antioxidant expert Li Li Ji, Ph.D. of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
How Free Radicals Take Over Your System
There are two major ways that free radicals can overwhelm your body. One is that you've been exposed to an abundance of them due to environmental pollutants and other toxins, including:
Antioxidants from healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are still your best line of defense against oxidative stress.
- Cigarette smoke
- Automobile exhaust
- Air pollution
- Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
The other is that your body is lacking in the healthy compounds it needs to fight free radicals: antioxidants. Antioxidants can be vitamins, minerals or enzymes, and they exist in foods and certain supplements. Because most Americans do not eat healthy diets -- ones that include fruits, vegetables and other whole foods -- and instead eat diets rich in processed fast foods, many are seriously lacking in these health-giving compounds.
In reality, most of us experience a combination of these effects in daily life. For instance, your diet may not be the best and you may be exposed to regular second-hand cigarette smoke and alcohol during your daily happy-hour meeting with co-workers, or to exhaust fumes on your drive home. The result is most assuredly oxidative stress.
Mental Stress Leads to Oxidative Stress
Your emotions and exposure to external stress also impact the amount of oxidative stress going on in your body. Take one study of 39 women, aged 20 to 50, who had been experiencing extreme, ongoing stress while caring for a chronically ill child. When compared with 19 similar women who were not undergoing stress, the stressed women had significantly higher levels of oxidative stress in their bodies.
This oxidative stress, the researchers pointed out, damages DNA, including telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that carry genes. As we age, telomeres naturally shorten and die; however, chronic stress accelerates this process. As increasing numbers of cells reach the end of the telomeres and die, physical symptoms of aging appear, including:
- Weakened muscles
- Fading eyesight and hearing
- Organ failure
- Diminished thinking abilities
"Everybody's trying to figure out what causes aging and premature aging. We all know that stress seems to age people -- just look at the aging of our presidents after four years," said Dennis H. Novack of Drexel University College of Medicine, who studies the link between emotions and health. "[The study] demonstrated that there is no such thing as a separation of mind and body -- the very molecules in our bodies are responsive to our psychological environment."
The Toll of Oxidative Stress on Your Body
Aside from being a direct influence on the way your body ages, oxidative stress has been linked to a wide array of diseases, including:
- Heart disease
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Alzheimer's disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Huntington's disease
- Lou Gehrig's disease
Oxidative Stress: Tips for Fighting Back
Although we all experience some level of oxidative stress -- it's normal and, in fact, necessary for our very existence -- this does not mean that you must sit idly by and let an excess level do its damage. Here are four key ways to help prevent oxidative stress and all of its related conditions:
Eat an antioxidant-rich diet. Antioxidants help prevent oxidation, but you must fortify your diet with them by eating fruits, vegetables (like Garlic, Lemon and "Parsley"), nuts and other whole foods regularly to gain these natural benefits.
- Exercise sensibly. Exercise does, in fact, cause oxidative stress in your body, which is why doing too much of it, or at too strenuous a level, can do your body more harm than good.
However, "If you build your fitness level gradually, your body's antioxidant defenses will improve faster than the rate at which free-radical generation increases," says Alex Sevanian, Ph.D, professor of pathology in the department of molecular pharmacology and toxicology in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California. "Exercise enhances the body's ability to handle stress more than it harms the body through stress."
Exercise does create oxidative stress, but while too much may be harmful, the right amount will improve your health in the long-run.
- Consider chiropractic wellness care. People who have received chiropractic care had higher mean levels of serum thiol, primary antioxidants that serve as a measure of health status, than those who received no chiropractic care, according to a study in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research.
"Going through life, we experience physical, chemical, and emotional stress. These stresses affect the function of the nervous system. We hypothesized that these disturbances in nerve function could affect oxidative stress and DNA repair on a cellular level," said Dr. Christopher Kent, one of the study's authors. "Chiropractic care appears to improve the ability of the body to adapt to stress."
Take time to relax. A stressful, anxiety-filled daily routine will wear you down, no matter how healthy your lifestyle may otherwise be. Said Elissa Epel, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) who helped conduct the telomere study mentioned above, "The findings emphasize the importance of managing life stress, to take it seriously if one feels stressed, to give your body a break, and make life changes that promote well-being."
How to Use and Enjoy Parsley
As you can see from the chart above, it only takes two tablespoons of parsley to yield a host of health benefits (but you can use as much as you like!). Fresh parsley is always more flavorful than the dried variety, so if you can get it, always use fresh. Generally, the flat version tends to have a more intense flavor than the curly-leaf variety, but pick the type that appeals to you the most.
Simply wash the parsley, chop it up and sprinkle it into your favorite dishes, from soups and salads to fish and meat dishes. Or, check out the tasty recipe below for a parsley sauce that works great on lamb, fish and chicken.
Garlic, Lemon & Parsley Dressing
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
- 6 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
- 6 tbsp. fresh breadcrumbs
- 6 tbsp. softened butter
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Make a smooth paste of the garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, butter and lemon juice
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spread the sauce on the desired entrée near the end of the cooking time (in the last hour for meat) and return to oven.
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