Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) is a popular juicing ingredient made from the newly sprouted shoots of wheat grains. Rich in chlorophyll, beta carotene and antioxidants, wheatgrass is touted as a natural remedy for a number of health conditions.
Uses for Wheatgrass
Proponents claim that wheatgrass offers a broad range of health benefits. For instance, wheatgrass is said to boost the immune system, aid in detox, increase energy, improve digestion, reduce cravings, preserve eyesight, promote weight loss and stimulate the thyroid.
In addition, some proponents suggest that the chlorophyll found in wheatgrass can raise the body's oxygen levels and, in turn, treat or prevent cancer.
Wheatgrass is also purported to fight the following health problems:
- the common cold
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- ulcerative colitis
Benefits of Wheatgrass
To date, very few studies have tested the potential health benefits of wheatgrass. What's more, there's no evidence to support the claim that chlorophyll can combat cancer.
Still, preliminary research suggests that wheatgrass may hold promise for certain health conditions. Here's a look at some key findings from the available studies:
1) Wheatgrass and Ulcerative Colitis
Wheatgrass may help ease ulcerative colitis, according to a small 2002 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. For the study, 23 patients with ulcerative colitis were given either wheatgrass juice or a placebo beverage every day for a month. Looking at data on the 21 patients who completed the study, researchers found that treatment with wheatgrass juice significantly reduced disease activity and the severity of rectal bleeding.
2) Wheatgrass and Chemotherapy
Wheatgrass may help fight myelotoxicity caused by chemotherapy, suggests a 2007 pilot study in Nutrition and Cancer. A potentially life-threatening condition, myelotoxicity is marked by suppression of bone marrow activity.
The study involved 60 patients undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Among those given a daily serving of wheatgrass juice during the first three cycles of chemotherapy, researchers observed a significant reduction in myelotoxicity. Although wheatgrass juice did not appear to interfere with the effects of chemotherapy, six patients did experience a worsening of nausea that resulted in their discontinued use of wheatgrass juice.
3) Wheatgrass and High Cholesterol
Animal-based research indicates that wheatgrass may help lower cholesterol. In a 2011 study from Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica, scientists discovered that treatment with wheatgrass juice helped reduce total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol in rats with abnormally high cholesterol levels. However, it's not known whether wheatgrass might have the same cholesterol-lowering effects in humans.
Is Wheatgrass Safe?
Although wheatgrass is generally considered safe, it may trigger certain side effects (such as nausea, headache, hives and swelling in the throat). Since hives and a swollen throat can signal a serious allergic reaction, it's important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience either symptom after consuming wheatgrass.
Where to Find Wheatgrass
Wheatgrass is used as an ingredient at many juice bars. In addition, natural-food stores often sell bottled juices that contain wheatgrass juice. In many natural-food stores (and in stores specializing in dietary supplements), wheatgrass is also available in tablet, capsule and powdered forms. Some stores also sell wheatgrass kits that allow you to grow your own wheatgrass.
Should You Use Wheatgrass for Health Purposes?
There is currently a lack of scientific evidence to support the use of wheatgrass for any health problem. While drinking juices or smoothies containing wheatgrass may offer some nutritional benefits, wheatgrass should not be used as a substitute for standard treatment of any chronic condition.
American Cancer Society. "Wheatgrass". November 2008.
Bar-Sela G, Tsalic M, Fried G, Goldberg H. "Wheat grass juice may improve hematological toxicity related to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: a pilot study." Nutr Cancer. 2007;58(1):43-8.
Ben-Arye E, Goldin E, Wengrower D, Stamper A, Kohn R, Berry E. "Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial." Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 2002 37(4):444-9.
Kothari S, Jain AK, Mehta SC, Tonpay SD. "Hypolipidemic effect of fresh Triticum aestivum (wheat) grass juice in hypercholesterolemic rats." Acta Pol Pharm. 2011 Mar-Apr;68(2):291-4.