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Wheatgrass — sometimes called liquid sunshine or green blood because of its chlorophyll content — is popular in juice bars across the world.
Advocates say wheatgrass benefits your health by providing over 100 nutrients that humans need, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and proteins. They claim wheatgrass is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that can aid with detox, boost your immune system, and protect you from disease.
But are these claims based on real scientific evidence?
In this article, we’ll examine the research to assess the true health benefits of wheatgrass. We’ll also discuss potential side effects and risks, and the best way to include it in your diet.
What is wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is the young grass of the wheat plant (Triticum aestivum). It’s native to the United States and Europe and is commonly grown indoors as well as outdoors. The leaves are usually harvested 7-10 days after sprouting, then used in food, supplements, or juiced.
Wheatgrass has been used for centuries for its health benefits in addition to being grown for hay and for animals to graze.
Our ancestors knew about wheatgrass benefits as they used it for everything from constipation to pain relief. The ancient Egyptians used wheatgrass to boost health and vitality. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is used for the spleen, digestion, and to help drain “dampness” from the body.
In the U.S., the story of wheatgrass really begins in the 1930s when an agricultural chemist, Charles Franklin Schnabel, who was later called the “father of wheatgrass,” fed wheatgrass to chickens that were dying. They not only survived, but they began to lay better eggs than the other chickens.
Over the next 10 years, Schnabel carried on experimenting with wheatgrass and by the 1940s was selling a wheatgrass powder in drugstores across the U.S. for use by both humans and animals.
How to Grow Wheatgrass
It’s easy to grow your own wheatgrass. Plus, this is the most cost-efficient way of getting access to a daily dose of fresh wheatgrass.
Starter kits are available online, or you can buy the products and equipment you will need separately.
The soil you choose is especially important. If you get a soil rich in nutrients, you will grow the wheatgrass with the best health benefits. It’s also important that the soil is organic as grasses and sprouts have a high risk of bacterial contamination. For this reason, you should also clean all equipment thoroughly after contact with soil or raw wheatgrass.
Watch out for signs of mold, as wheatgrass plants can be susceptible to it. Discard any plants that taste bitter or look spoiled.
Once you have fresh wheatgrass, use a juicer to turn it into a wheatgrass shot or a liquid you can add to smoothies, water, or other recipes.
Here’s the best method of growing your own wheatgrass, according to the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Using certified organic wheat and fine organic soil:
- Soak two cups of wheat overnight.
- Fill a small seed tray with soil and pat down firmly with a board.
- Sprinkle wheat on the soil and cover with a fine sprinkling of soil.
- Water and cover with a few layers of paper (not newspaper).
- Keep it damp.
- Once the wheat starts to shoot, remove the paper and put the tray in a warm place out of direct sunlight.
- Water once or twice a day.
- It’s ready to cut when it’s 4–7 inches high. Cut only the amount you intend to juice at soil level.
- When all the wheatgrass is cut, compost the soil and remaining wheat and start again.
When juicing home-grown wheatgrass, put the grass into the juicer cut-end first to avoid it getting wound around the blades. The pulpy mass left behind can be diluted with water and passed through a muslin cloth to make more juice. Use it fresh as a wheatgrass shot, mixed with water, vegetable juice, or added to a smoothie.
Organic Wheatgrass Nutrition
Wheatgrass is an excellent source of nutritional value. It contains vital nutrients, such as:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin B6
Wheatgrass is also high in fiber and amino acids and is a source of healthy protein.
B-complex vitamins are important for your digestive system. Thiamin helps convert carbs to energy and riboflavin is essential for a healthy digestive tract.
This is good news if you suffer from digestive issues such as IBS, constipation, indigestion, bloating, and heartburn.
Is wheatgrass gluten-free?
Yes, wheatgrass leaves picked at the right time are gluten-free because gluten resides in the seeds of the wheatgrass plant. If you are allergic to gluten, it is a good idea to buy products containing wheatgrass that are certified gluten-free by the FDA — or grow your own.
The Food and Drug Administration now requires that any product claiming to be “gluten-free” or “free of gluten” be batch tested and show the gluten content to be less than 20 parts per million (ppm). If you are allergic to actual wheat, however, you should not consume wheatgrass in any form.
Fiber, Protein, and Enzymes
Wheatgrass is high in fiber and enzymes, which are also essential for good digestion. In addition, enzymes help your body to absorb essential nutrients such as vitamin C and E.
Wheatgrass is a good source of protein and contains amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, including eight that must come from your diet because your body cannot produce them on its own.
Protein is essential for building and repairing cells. You need it to build bones, muscles, and cartilage, and it is an essential component of skin, blood, and chemicals such as hormones and enzymes.
A study carried out in 2018 and reported in the Journal of Food Science identified 297 proteins in wheatgrass and stated that “a majority of them were involved in preventing many diseases, oxidative stress, primary metabolism, storage, and energy-related mechanisms.”
Some advocates of wheatgrass say that it can be used as a source of all the vitamins and minerals you need, but research is not yet definitive enough to prove this.
Wheatgrass benefits include many proven nutritional benefits. But it’s best consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet that includes a wide range of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.
Champions of wheatgrass say that it is the chlorophyll in the young plant that makes it so good for your health. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that absorbs light from the sun to make energy through photosynthesis.
We know that the molecular structure of chlorophyll is almost identical to the molecular structure of hemin. Hemin is the molecule essential for the formation of hemoglobin, the protein in your blood that transports oxygen to your muscles and tissues. The only significant difference is that hemoglobin has a central atom of iron, whereas chlorophyll is built around magnesium.
Chlorophyll may benefit your health by acting like hemoglobin and increasing the oxygen levels in your blood. Other green plants, such as spinach, parsley, and arugula, also contain chlorophyll and may have similar health benefits.
Chlorophyll may also help cleanse your liver and aid detoxification, reduce damage from free radicals that can lead to inflammation, and boost your energy. Still, more clinical applications need to be observed before we know the extent of these benefits for sure.
You may still be skeptical about adding something to your smoothie that looks and smells like it came out of your lawnmower. So, what does science have to say about the health benefits of wheatgrass?
Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radicals that come from normal cell metabolism, or external sources such as pollution, medication, or cigarette smoke.
Too many free radicals in your body can build up and cause oxidative stress, which is thought to be the cause of many health issues including heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and some neurodegenerative diseases.
Research published in 2018 reported that wheatgrass is “a strong antioxidant due to its free radical scavenging activity and could be used in stress and nourishing human health.”
- In an animal study, wheatgrass decreased oxidative stress and increased levels of the antioxidants glutathione and vitamin C.
- A lab study found wheatgrass reduced oxidative damage to cells.
- In another animal study, wheatgrass was shown to have a beneficial effect on Alzheimer’s symptoms, probably due to its antioxidant properties.
More human studies are needed, but the available research suggests the wheatgrass could be an effective antioxidant.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to disease, infection, and injury, but prolonged or chronic inflammation is believed to contribute to many health conditions.
- Studies have suggested that the antioxidant properties in wheatgrass might help reduce inflammation, as high antioxidant levels lead to lower inflammation.
- A test-tube study found that this may be because the chlorophyll in wheatgrass helps to reduce inflammation by inhibiting a protein that causes inflammation.
Your body needs cholesterol for the production of bile — which is essential for digestion — and hormones that control most essential functions including hunger, mood, and reproduction. But your body makes all the cholesterol it needs naturally, so additional cholesterol from foods high in saturated fats can lead to health problems.
Too much cholesterol can narrow your arteries and make them less flexible, a condition known as atherosclerosis. This restricts blood flow and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
The results of animal studies suggest wheatgrass extract may have a positive effect on cholesterol levels by lowering total levels of total cholesterol, LDL (the form of cholesterol that is bad for you) and triglycerides that can increase your risk of heart disease.
This study also suggested that wheatgrass may have a similar effect on cholesterol as Atorvastatin, a medication used to lower the amount of cholesterol made by the liver that is known to have unpleasant side effects including muscle pain, cognitive issues, fatigue, and weight gain.
In another animal study, wheatgrass supplements improved lipid levels and increased the amount of HDL (good cholesterol), which may be because the amount of the antioxidants glutathione and vitamin C also increased, reducing oxidative stress.
More human studies are needed, but the studies suggest that wheatgrass might help lower high cholesterol.
Dietary acidosis is a condition caused by the long-term consumption of very acidic foods with few alkaline foods. Like other forms of acidosis, dietary acidosis puts a lot of strain on your blood to work harder than it should to keep your body at proper pH levels. Left untreated, acidosis can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases as you get older.
That’s why it’s so important to follow an alkaline diet.
Chlorophyll in wheatgrass may help support the pH levels in your body, reducing acid levels caused by poor diet.
Wheatgrass is a good friend to your liver. This crucial organ processes everything you take into your body and helps rid it of toxins.
Because wheatgrass contains compounds that aid detoxification, plus enzymes and other nutrients, it may help restore the liver and even protect it against the harmful effects of alcohol.
Immune System Boost
Your immune system is your body’s natural defense system against infection from minor illnesses such as coughs and colds, to serious diseases. If you have a strong immune system, you are better able to fight back against free radicals, foreign bodies, and toxins that can cause illness.
Studies substantiate the claims that wheatgrass could be useful to fight infections, especially those that are antibiotic-resistant or for people with allergies to some antibiotics. Wheatgrass helps by regulating the immune system and fighting oxidative stress.
Advocates of wheatgrass say that it can strengthen your immune system as it is full of amino acids and enzymes that can protect you from carcinogens and pathogens, strengthen your cells, and neutralize pollutants.
This could benefit people with immunity-related disorders such as hematological diseases, diabetes, obesity, and ulcerative colitis. Check out these impressive examples:
- A small human study reported in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 2002 reported that wheatgrass juice led to reduced symptoms of ulcerative colitis with no side effects.
- A 2015 test tube study published in the Journal of Dental Research and Review found that wheatgrass was successful in treating strep infections and Lactobacillus bacteria, which is present in many infections, including dental infections that lead to cavities.
High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) causes symptoms such as headaches, concentration problems, increased hunger and thirst, fatigue, and vision problems. In serious cases, it can also lead to a rise in ketones and diabetic ketoacidosis.
In the long term, it can contribute to heart disease, kidney disease, loss of vision, and wound healing.
Wheatgrass was used in folk medicine to treat diabetes.
Although there is little evidence from human studies at present, the results of animal studies on the use of wheatgrass to reduce blood sugar levels are optimistic.
This may be because wheatgrass can boost enzymes that lower blood sugar levels. Wheatgrass has the added advantage of little to no side effects, in contrast to traditional diabetic medications.
With its high antioxidant properties, wheatgrass might possess the power to kill some cancer cells.
In test tube studies, wheatgrass extract showed the potential to reduce the spread of cancer cells in the mouth by 41 percent and decreased the number of leukemia cells — up to 65 percent in the body.
A pilot study showed a reduced risk of bone marrow suppression (myelotoxicity), a condition that decreases the amount of cells responsible for immunity.
A lot more research is needed before wheatgrass is proven to be an effective preventative or treatment for any cancers.
Some people swear by wheatgrass as a weight loss aid. There have been no studies into the use of wheatgrass specifically to support weight loss, but the results of human studies have shown that thylakoids in plants may help with weight loss.
Thylakoids could help by:
- reducing hunger
- controlling cravings
- slowing down the rate at which the stomach empties
- increasing the release of hunger-busting hormones
However, other foods contain much higher concentrations of thylakoids, particularly leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and lettuce. In order to get the same benefits from wheatgrass, you’d have to eat it in bigger quantities than the normal intake.
Wheatgrass also contains a healthy amount of selenium, a mineral that improves thyroid function. Because your thyroid gland is a key weight management tool, consuming wheatgrass might help you control your weight better.
Best Wheatgrass Supplements
Although some people believe it should be eaten raw in order to get the full wheatgrass benefits, the leaves are tough and hard to digest, so it is usually consumed as:
- Wheatgrass in pill form: Dried leaves are crushed into tablets or capsules.
- Wheatgrass powder: Dried leaves are made into a green powder that can be added to smoothies, health drinks, and salad dressings. It is better to choose organic wheatgrass powder to reduce the risk of contamination from the soil it is grown in.
- Wheatgrass enema: Wheatgrass mixed with water can be used to cleanse the digestive system.
Wheatgrass can be hard to take at first because of its strong taste. If you don’t like it, try adding it to drinks with other strong flavors, such as citrus or pineapple juice, which make it more palatable.
You can juice wheatgrass for drinking in a variety of methods:
- Juicing machine — easy with quick results
- Blender — need a good strainer
- Grinder — strain using muslin cloth
There is currently no doctor-recommended dosage for wheatgrass. If you’re using store-bought products, read the packaging carefully, and follow the dosage instructions.
If you’re using fresh wheatgrass, start with a low dose such as 1 ounce taken with plenty of water, and increase to 2 ounces after a couple of weeks.
Wheatgrass is considered safe when taken orally for 18 months and as a cream for six weeks. There is no information currently about long-term use.
Wheatgrass Dangers and Side Effects
What does wheatgrass do to your body? Wheatgrass may lower blood sugar, so if you have diabetes, you should talk to your doctor before taking wheatgrass. If you are about to have surgery, stop taking wheatgrass at least two weeks before your procedure.
Wheatgrass is best avoided by pregnant women, children, and people with immunological disorders.
If you are allergic to other grasses, you may have an allergic reaction to wheatgrass. Wheatgrass is also susceptible to cross-contamination and cross-pollination from other plants.
At any sign of an allergic reaction such as swelling of the throat or hives, stop taking wheatgrass immediately and consult your doctor. If you have plant allergies, check with your doctor before taking wheatgrass.
Some people experience mild side effects, including headaches, nausea and constipation or diarrhea, particularly when taking high doses of wheatgrass as a supplement or juice.
Chlorophyll side effects can include cramping and diarrhea. If you experience symptoms such as these, reduce your intake and build up slowly.
Wheatgrass is susceptible to contamination from bacteria or mold in the soil or water it grows in. Because of this, it is best to use organic wheatgrass. If you’re preparing it at home, wash the wheatgrass thoroughly first to remove contaminants.
Remember, although wheatgrass is generally considered safe, as yet no long-term safety studies have been carried out, so scientists don’t know how wheatgrass might interact with other meds. If you have an existing health condition or take medications regularly, it’s always safer to check with your doctor before starting any program of supplementation.
Is Wheatgrass Good For You?
While there have been few human studies on wheatgrass health benefits, the results of animal and test-tube studies are promising. As more studies are carried out and knowledge increases, it is likely that the use of this superfood will become more mainstream.
In the meantime, the good news is that there is very little chance that you will suffer adverse effects from taking wheatgrass, so if you feel like your nutrition needs a boost, why not give it a try?
- Wheatgrass is the young grass of the wheat plant (Triticum aestivum).
- One great way to get cheap organic wheatgrass for detoxifying is to grow your own.
- Young wheatgrass leaves are gluten free. Gluten comes from the seeds of more mature wheatgrass.
- Wheatgrass is high in enzymes, fiber, and protein.
- Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune system boosting properties are just a few benefits wheatgrass may offer.
- Juicing wheatgrass at home is easy with a juicer or blender.