By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
What’s that in your drink? Is it wheat grass juice? If you’re one of the millions of Americans hit by the wheat grass craze, why exactly is it in your cup? So many health claims have been made about wheat grass juice, from its ability to prevent colds and treat skin disorders, to its power to shrink cancers. So many claims, so little evidence. What is the truth behind wheat grass? Is this natural juice a wellbeing wonder food or a health hoax?
Wheat Grass: The Facts
Wheat grass is a young grass in the Poaceae wheat family. It is grown outdoors or indoors in the US and Europe, and the roots and stems may be used for juicing, added to tea, or made into supplements. The wheat grass diet involves avoiding all meat, dairy, and cooked foods, and supplementing with wheat grass juice. Wheat grass is promoted as a treatment for the common cold, bronchitis, infection, cough, and inflammation. Some people claim wheat grass helps raise the oxygen levels in the blood, while others say that the wheat grass diet can cause the regression of cancer and extend life expectancy after a cancer diagnosis. Wheat grass, they say, strengthens the immune system and gets rid of toxins in the body.
Where’s the Evidence for Wheat Grass?
While it may be harmless to supplement your diet with the natural goodness of wheat grass - wheat grass contains calcium, magnesium, amino acids, iron, and vitamins A, C and E – it becomes more problematic when you consume wheat grass to cure or prevent certain conditions. The fact is, there is no real scientific evidence to support the belief that wheat grass can cure disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Individuals make claims concerning their own experiences with cancer shrinkage and regression but they are not supported by any major study.
Many people claim that the chlorophyll in wheat grass helps to increase oxygen flow in the body but there is no evidence that it benefits animals as it does plants.
Wheat grass contains superoxide dismutase (SOD), a substance used as part of an antioxidant body defense, but this substance cannot be properly absorbed when taken by mouth which means it would be of limited value to drink wheat grass juice for this purpose. Another substance, P4D1, is believed to bring health benefits but again, there is no real scientific evidence.
Researchers from La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia in 2006 looked at the potential benefits of wheat grass cream for treating plantar fasciitis, a painful foot condition. Wheat grass cream was seen as no more effective than placebo for bringing relief.
Wheat Grass for Ulcerative Colitis
However, one study did show that wheat grass juice had an important health benefit. A 2002 study from The Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, The Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa showed that wheat grass juice helped to control and lessen the symptoms of ulcerative colitis; inflammation of the colon. People drinking 3 ounces of wheat grass juice a day over the course of a month reported less diarrhea, pain, and rectal bleeding.
Is Wheat Grass Safe?
Wheat grass is generally considered to be safe for most people. However, it may cause hives, throat swelling, headaches, or nausea in the first few minutes after a sip of the juice. These are signs of an allergic reaction. In addition, the American Cancer Society warns that relying on wheat grass as a cure for cancer while avoiding conventional treatments can cause serious health consequences.
The Bottom Line
There have been practically no studies into wheat grass and its ability to cure disease or enhance your diet.
Wheat grass is a rich source of nutrients but it is no magic potion and it is not a cure-all. It is fine to drink wheat grass smoothies for the taste or the vitamins, and wheat grass can be a healthy addition to your diet.
But it is more important to eat a range of healthy foods including five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and to limit red meat and animal fats, if you want to prevent cancer or improve your immune system.