I just love those beautifully manicured trays of wheatgrass that are for sale in my local organic shop. The sight of a tray of wheatgrass immediately transports me back to every health spa I have ever visited as wheatgrass shots are pretty much de riguer for health foodies.
That’s all very well on vacation. But not so practical for my everyday life. There are two reasons I don’t buy wheatgrass trays:
- firstly, the impracticality of lugging them back home on public transport
- secondly, I have no recollection of ever reading any research on the subject (and I am a self-confessed health and wellness research addict and conference attendee).
Time to see if there actually is any research on benefits of wheatgrass.
Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 What Is Wheatgrass?
- 3 Is There Any Research?
- 3.1 Does Wheatgrass Boost Metabolism?
- 3.2 Does It Improve Immunity?
- 3.3 Does It Lower Free Radical Damage?
- 3.4 Does It Help Prevent Cancer?
- 3.5 Does It Improve Skin Conditions Like Eczema and Psoriasis?
- 3.6 Does It Improve Eyesight?
- 3.7 Does It Help With Sleep?
- 3.8 Does It Reduce Cholesterol? Lower Blood Pressure?
- 3.9 Does It Help Plantar Fasciitis.
- 4 Is Wheatgrass Safe?
- 5 Conclusion
What Is Wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is a sprouting grass that comes from the Triticum aestivum which is a subspecies of the Poaceae family.
There is a fascinating backstory to the popularization of wheatgrass.
Ann Wigmore was a Lithuanian immigrant to the USA who believed that wheatgrass had medicinal benefits based on two observations:
- firstly, cats and dogs nibble on grass when unwell (tis true Ann, but they also vomit up the grass afterwards)
- secondly, the biblical figure, Nebuchadnezzar, recovered his sanity following 7 years of living in the wild when (among other things) he ate grass.
Wheatgrass is now used for respiratory tract infection, urinary tract infections, cancer, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and the hematological condition, beta-thalassemia and prevention of gray hair.
The FDA has reprimanded several leading suppliers of wheatgrass for making unsubstantiated health claims that violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
Wheatgrass is sold as:
- fresh juice
- forzen juice
- tablets powder
- shots and of course
- manicured trays
There are over 1000 wheatgrass related products for sale on Amazon.
The nutritional content of wheatgrass includes:
- vitamins (A, C, and E),
- minerals (iron, calcium, and magnesium), and
- 17 amino acids, eight of which are essential amino acids.
Wheatgrass is actually a poor source of nutrition as compared to other (more easily available and cheaper) sources.
A 3.5gm tablet of wheatgrass will give you 860 mg of protein. Or you could eat half a cup of cooked broccoli to get 2300 mg of protein.
A 3.5 gm tablet of wheatgrass would give you 1668 IU of beta carotene. Or you could eat one raw carrot and get 20,000 IU of beat carotene.
Wheatgrass is sometimes called ‘green blood’ because of its high content of chlorophyll, which bears a structural similarity to haemoglobin. Chlorophyll features prominently in all the dodgy hype that surrounds wheatgrass. Spoiler alert. Chlorophyll has no nutritional value in humans – so who cares?
Is There Any Research?
There are 553 publications on wheatgrass which includes 2 human clinical trials. Yes, two.
To put this into context, there are over 6000 publications on ‘orphan diseases’ which include 111 clinical trials. Orphan diseases are disorders than affect less than 200,000 people such as Gehrig’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome and are considered the bottom of the barrel when it comes to research . So wheatgrass is more neglected than orphan diseases when it comes to research. Not a good start, Ann.
Does Wheatgrass Boost Metabolism?
There are no studies linking wheatgrass to metabolism. Metabolism is not one of the two human clinical studies that we can draw on. Additionally, there are no laboratory or animal studies to extrapolate from. Finally, the known constituents of wheatgrass do not lend any plausibility to a role for wheatgrass in metabolism.
Wheatgrass does not boost metabolism.
Does It Improve Immunity?
Taiwanese investigators showed that wheatgrass can induce CD69 and Th1 cytokine expression in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells in a laboratory model (1). This is the first and only study to link wheatgrass to immunity.
There is one in vitro study linking wheatgrass to immunomodulation. However this is totally inadequate to make any claims linking wheatgrass to improved immunity.
Does It Lower Free Radical Damage?
Wheatgrass extracts were found to inhibit significantly ascorbate-Fe2+ induced lipid peroxidation in rat liver mitochondria with higher activity noted for ethanol based extracts (2).
Wheatgrass was shown to possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-apoptotic activity in addition to ameliorating liposaccharide-induced liver injury in mice in a 2017 study (3).
Two very small and preliminary basic science studies suggest that wheatgrass has anti-oxidant properties but there is no human science to see if this is true in humans.
Does It Help Prevent Cancer?
An Indian study showed that an aqueous extract of wheatgrass has an inhibitory effect on the oral cancer cell line proliferation (4). Another study from India showed that methanol extract of wheat grass demonstrated antileukemic potential in rats and that this might be due to the presence of flavonoids and polyphenolics (5).
Wheatgrass showed direct anti-cancer effects in breast and cervical cell lines in addition to synergistic effects with the chemotherapeutic agent, cisplatin (6). Israeli investigators found that wheatgrass reduced cytotoxicity of the chemotherapeutic agent, carboplatin, on cisplatin-sensitive ovarian cancer cells (7)
There are no human clinical trials to guide us on the benefits (if any) of wheatgrass in cancer prevention or treatment.
Does It Improve Skin Conditions Like Eczema and Psoriasis?
There are no studies looking at wheatgrass in dermatology.
Wheatgrass has not been tested for any dermatological conditions or skin health.
Does It Improve Eyesight?
There are no pre-clinical, animal of human studies looking at wheatgrass for eyesight.
There is nothing to link wheatgrass to improved eyesight.
Does It Help With Sleep?
There are no studies linking wheatgrass to sleep or insomnia.
There is no evidence to support a role for wheatgrass in sleep hygiene.
Does It Reduce Cholesterol? Lower Blood Pressure?
Finally, I get to showcase one of the two human clinical studies that we talked about. Indian investigators published a study last year which looked at the effect of wheatgrass on atherogenic lipoproteins, inflammation, and menopausal symptoms (8).
A total of fifty-nine hyperlipidemic women were randomized into two groups: a control with 30 participants and an intervention group of 29 women. The intervention group received 3.5 g of freeze-dried wheatgrass powder in encapsulated form daily for 10 weeks, while the control group received no intervention. S
ignificant reductions in Apo B, total cholesterol and triacylglycerols was noted in the intervention arm as compared to the non-intervention arm. No significant changes in HDL cholesterol was noted. Non-significant reductions in menopausal symptoms were noted vasomotor, 42%; somatic, 33%; and psychological, 50%, while urogenital symptoms remained unchanged.
A study in menopausal women showed a reduction in total cholesterol with 10 weeks of wheatgrass supplementation.
Does It Help Plantar Fasciitis.
Australian investigators studied the effect of wheatgrass on painful heels known as plantar fasciitis (9).
This was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. A total of 80 study participants with chronic plantar fasciitis were randomly assigned to a treatment group (wheatgrass cream) or a control group (placebo cream). All participants applied a cream twice daily for 6 weeks. Primary outcomes for the study were first-step pain and foot function at any time
Both the treatment and placebo groups improved significantly from baseline to 6 weeks, and these improvements were maintained out to 12 weeks. No significant differences were found between the two groups for the primary outcomes of the study.
Wheatgrass does not help plantar fasciitis.
Is Wheatgrass Safe?
Wheatgrass is classified as ‘generally regraded as safe’ when eaten in what would be considered to be food quantities.
Side effects include nausea, constipation and loss of appetite. It can be contaminated with mold and as such is contraindicated in pregnant and nursing women and also in immunocompromised hosts.
People with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease are advised to avoid wheatgrass products.
Dear Ann, I am really sorry but modern science simply does not back up your belief in wheatgrass (apart from a single study showing that wheatgrass lowers total cholesterol in menopausal women).
It is astounding that the huge wheatgrass industry is based on the belief of one immigrant woman and two human clinical trials. I feel a bit duped myself for all of those wheatgrass shots I slugged back over the years.