Its juice looks like what you'd get if you put your lawn trimmings in a blender, but proponents of wheatgrass claim that it offers potent health benefits. They say it can strengthen the immune system, detoxify the body, and ward off disease. Folk medicine practitioners once used wheatgrass for everything from treating constipation to easing the pain of rheumatism.
The woman credited with bringing wheatgrass into the modern health mainstream was the late Ann Wigmore, a holistic practitioner who got turned on to wheatgrass and other natural foods while battling colon cancer and wanted to spread the word. Though Wigmore's credentials have been questioned, and her ideas are considered unorthodox by much of the medical establishment -- the Massachusetts Attorney General sued her in the 1980s for making false health claims -- wheatgrass caught on and became a sort of health food phenomenon.
What Is Wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is the young grass of the wheat plant, Triticum aestivum. It grows in temperate regions throughout Europe and the United States and can live indoors or outdoors. Many people grow their own wheatgrass by putting wheat seeds in water and then harvesting the leaves.
Wheatgrass is a natural source of vitamins and antioxidants, including:
- Vitamins A, E, and B-12
One ounce of wheatgrass juice is equivalent to the vitamin and mineral content of one ounce of fresh vegetables.
How Is Wheatgrass Used?
Most people don't eat the wheatgrass itself, because it's tough to digest. Most often, the leaves are crushed and squeezed to make wheatgrass juice. Wheatgrass leaves also can be dried and made into tablets or capsules. Some people mix wheatgrass with water and use it as an enema to cleanse the digestive system.
People who stick to the "wheatgrass diet" -- no meat, milk, or cooked foods -- eat it raw because they believe cooking foods destroys the natural enzymes that provide the real health kick. In fact, people on the wheatgrass diet avoid all cooked foods, dairy, and meats.
Can Wheatgrass Treat What Ails You?
People use wheatgrass to combat a number of everyday health conditions, including colds, coughs, fevers, digestive ailments, and skin conditions. Wheatgrass has also been used to prevent and treat more serious conditions, from cancer to AIDS. Some people even claim that a wheatgrass diet can shrink cancerous tumors and improve survival.
Many people who swear by it say that the potent ingredient in wheatgrass is chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green color. They claim chlorophyll acts like hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen) and increases oxygen levels in the body.
Does Wheatgrass Live Up to the Claims?
Despite all of the health claims, there is very little, if any, evidence that wheatgrass actually works to prevent disease, detoxify, or offers any of the other cures attributed to it. Most of what little research has been conducted focuses on the effects of wheatgrass on the digestive system. Here are some of the studies that have been published: