In this article, we will look at what is known about the health benefits of wheatgrass juice. You need a masticating juicer to juice wheatgrass, so not just any product will work, and wheatgrass is nearly inedible without juicing.
Wheatgrass juice has a high nutritional content including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. You would expect it to be as beneficial as the juice of other green vegetables. Many people claim it is significantly better, and there is support for some of those claims.
In brief, there is some scientific support for wheatgrass juice being potentially useful for protection against
- oxidants, which cause
- chronic degenerative diseases
- ulcerative colitis
- colon cancer
- iron heavy-metal poisoning
and for improvements in
You can find a multitude of health benefits claimed for wheatgrass beyond those listed above. People claim wheatgrass can detoxify the body. People claim wheatgrass can increase blood flow and oxygenate the blood. People claim wheatgrass can both promote digestion and suppress your appetite. People claim wheatgrass can have an antibacterial effect and boost the immune system. Many of the benefits are attributed to the high levels of chlorophyll. There are, however, relatively few careful studies of these claims.
What scientific studies report about wheatgrass juice benefits
Wheatgrass provides the nutrition of a green vegetable.
Wheatgrass has the usual nutrients of a green vegetable, and so should be comparable in promoting good health. A table comparing wheatgrass juice, broccoli, and spinach is available in the Wikipedia Wheatgrass article. Wheatgrass wins the comparison for some nutrients, not others. Wheatgrass is 70% chlorophyll, which is attributed with many health benefits, as you will see below.
Wheatgrass helps remove excess iron from the body.
Studies have found wheatgrass to help remove iron from the body, or as the studies might say, wheatgrass has a significant iron chelation effect. Basically, it means wheatgrass has compounds in it that bind to iron to help remove the iron from the body. Iron is a heavy metal, and is poisonous unless included in the right compounds.
One study is “The role of iron chelation activity of wheat grass juice in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome” by S. Mukhopadhyay et al. They conclude, “Wheat grass juice is an effective iron chelator and its use in reducing serum ferritin should be encouraged in myelodysplastic syndrome and other diseases where repeated blood transfusion is required.”
Wheatgrass fights aging and cancer by supplying anti-oxidants.
Wheatgrass contains anti-oxidants, which eliminate free oxygen radicals from the body. Those oxygen radicals can cause tissue damage, aging, and cancer.
Jed W. Fahey et al. report that compounds structurally related to or derived from chlorophyll “induce mammalian phase 2 proteins that protect cells against oxidants and electrophiles.” They express the opinion, “Although chlorophyll itself is low in inducer potency, it may nevertheless account for some of the disease-protective effects attributed to diets rich in green vegetables…”
The paper explains the benefits of chlorophyll in helping to prevent cancer, chronic degenerative diseases, and aging. Or as they say, “Induction of the phase 2 response is being progressively recognized as an effective and sufficient strategy for protecting cells against oxidants and electrophiles, which are implicated in the etiology of cancer and chronic degenerative diseases and which contribute to aging.”
They conclude “Broadly viewed, the ability of the chlorophylls and carotenoids to induce phase 2 enzymes may, in part, explain the widely accepted protective effects of vegetable consumption against cancer.” [Emphasis mine.]
Their paper is entitled “Chlorophyll, chlorophyllin and related tetrapyrroles are significant inducers of mammalian phase 2 cytoprotective genes” and appears in Carcinogenesis (July 2005) 26 (7). They report that a chlorophyll derivative, chlorophyllin, is a better inducer of the proteins they studied, and chlorophyllin is water soluble, so it is more easily absorbed.
There is another study by Sunil D. Kulkarni among others on the anti-oxidant properties of wheatgrass. Its abstract is painfully opaque, but basically, they found that the anti-oxidant effects of wheatgrass can be higher than those reported for many natural extracts or vegetables.
Their study published in Phytotherapy Research (Volume 20, Issue 3, March 2006) is entitled “Evaluation of the antioxidant activity of wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum L.) as a function of growth under different conditions.” They grew the wheatgrass in several ways for various numbers of days, extracted the ingredients in two ways (with water and with alcohol), and tested the anti-oxidant effects in three ways. Growing the wheatgrass in soil with nutriments worked best — better than just growing it in tap water for example. Surprise. Surprise.
Wheatgrass reduces the risks of colon cancer associated with red meat.
“Diets high in red meat and low in green vegetables are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer,” report Johan de Vogel, et al. They studied the benefits of chlorophyll in reducing the risk of colon cancer associated with diets high in red meat and comparing it to a chlorophyll derivative, chlorophyllin, “a water-soluble hydrolysis product of chlorophyll that inhibits the toxicity of many planar aromatic compounds.”
They studied the effects in rats, and discovered that “in rats, dietary heme, mimicking red meat, increases colonic cytotoxicity and proliferation of the colonocytes, whereas addition of chlorophyll from green vegetables inhibits these heme-induced effects.”
Their conclusion is
In summary, our data show that the heme-induced detrimental effects were inhibited only by natural chlorophyll and not by water-soluble chlorophyll derivatives. Extrapolation of these results to humans suggests that dietary protection against the increased risk of colon cancer due to high consumption of red meat can be offered only by consumption of green vegetables, and not by chlorophyllin supplements.
This is to say, check your dietary supplements. If they contain chlorophyllin, they won’t be offering you the preventative benefits of chlorophyll from green vegetables against colon cancer. On the other hand, they will be offering better protection elsewhere in the body.
Wheatgrass may aid the production of hemoglobin.
Wheatgrass can reduce the need for blood transfusions in patients with thalassemia, a hereditary disease wherein the body produces defective hemoglobin. Their conclusion: “Wheat grass juice had beneficial effect on transfusion requirements in 50% patients of b-thalassemia major.”
This is according to a paper byR.K. Marwaha et al., “Wheat Grass Juice Reduces Transfusion Requirement in Patients with Thalassemia Major: A Pilot Study.”
How does wheatgrass juice reduce the need for transfusions? “The authors do not wish to speculate on the mechanism of beneficial action of wheat grass juice in transfusion dependent thallassemics.”
They go on to comment on a claim that chlorophyll is “green blood” and improves your blood as if it were extra hemoglobin:
Chlorophyll makes up >70% of the solid content of wheat grass juice. Both chlorophyll and hemoglobin share a similar atom structure. The only difference in the two molecules is that of the metallic atom element. Hemoglobin consists of iron, while in chlorophyll the metallic atom is magnesium. The believers of alternative system of medicine claim that as chlorophyll and hemoglobin are alike in atom structure, intake of wheat grass juice enhances hemoglobin production. This sounds too simplistic and needs to be proven. Wheat grass juice has iron and what consequences will this have on the iron overload needs to be evaluated.
Wheatgrass is safe and effective in treating colitis.
A very small study indicated wheatgrass is safe and effective in treating active distal ulcerative colitis.
The report by E. Ben-Arye et al. is entitled, “Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial.”
They report, in their charmingly technical way, “significant reductions in the overall disease activity index (P=0.031) and in the severity of rectal bleeding (P = 0.025). No serious side effects were found.”
The P-value, “P=…”, indicates the probability of getting as strong a result if there is really no connection between the treatment and the outcome. These P-values are acceptably small: P= 0.031 means about a 1-in-32 chance that the result is by chance, P = 0.025 means a 1-in-40 chance. Most studies are satisfied if the odds are 1 in 20.
Wheatgrass helps chemotherapy.
Wheatgrass has been found to help control toxicity during cancer treatment according to G. Bar-Sela, et al., in “Wheat Grass Juice May Improve Hematological Toxicity Related to Chemotherapy in Breast Cancer Patients: A Pilot Study.”
Myelotoxicity induced by chemotherapy may become life-threatening… According to non-established data, wheat grass juice (WGJ) may prevent myelotoxicity when applied with chemotherapy… In conclusion, it was found that WGJ taken during … chemotherapy may reduce myelotoxicity, dose reductions, and need for GCSF support [“granulocyte colony-stimulating factors” support, which causes significant side effects and increases in cost], without diminishing efficacy of chemotherapy.
What you need for juicing wheatgrass
We include a video on juicing wheatgrass on our page on that subject.
Why so little reliable information on the benefits of juicing wheatgrass
A lot of the claims are from people who want to sell you a wheatgrass juicer or a mail-order wheatgrass supply. They may, therefore, be passing on what they have gotten elsewhere without as much skepticism as an ethical scientific researcher or journalist would show.
There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence of people experiencing improvements in vigor and health following addition of wheatgrass juice to their diets. The benefits may simply be the results of improving their green vegetable intake, not the results of wheatgrass juice per se. We don’t know what their experience would have been if they added spinach juice instead of wheatgrass. The major benefit of juice consumption may be its convenience and that it makes it possible to fit a healthy diet into a hectic lifestyle.
It is almost impossible to find strong scientific studies of any of the health claims for wheatgrass juice. Double-blind experiments with a large sample size would be best, but they are expensive. Since wheatgrass is a food or a dietary supplement, it is not required to be exhaustively studied before it can be placed on the market. Moreover, no one can hold exclusive rights to it, so there is no way to recoup the costs of such a study. The most I can find are small pilot studies.
If convenient, when I recommend a product or service, I include an affiliate link to it. That means, if someone clicks on the link and makes a purchase, the vendor pays me something out of their advertising budget. I’d be a fool not to. If the product isn’t excellent, I won’t include a link; I probably won’t mention it at all.