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Wheatgrass Health Benefits: The Nutrients and Uses of Wheatgrass

wheatgrass juice

Wheatgrass — sometimes called liquid sunshine or green blood because of its chlorophyll content — is popular in juice bars across the world. [1]

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 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 is native to the U.S. and Europe.

Wheatgrass is grown indoors and outdoors. The leaves are harvested seven to 10 days after sprouting. You can grow your own wheatgrass by planting wheat seeds in soil or water and harvesting the leaves. Or you can buy wheatgrass juice, powder or supplements online or from health food stores.

Wheatgrass has been used for centuries for its health benefits in addition to being grown for hay and for animals to graze.

 

Chlorophyll Benefits for your Health

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. This is the molecule that is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, the protein in your blood that transports oxygen to your muscles and tissues. The only significant difference is hemoglobin has a central atom of iron, whereas chlorophyll is built around magnesium.

So, 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 could have similar health benefits. [2]

Chlorophyll may also help cleanse your liver and aid detoxification, reduce damage from free radicals that can lead to inflammation, and boost your energy. [3]

 

History of Wheatgrass

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. [4] 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 where 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.

 

Wheatgrass Benefits

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?

 

Wheatgrass Nutrition

Vitamins, Minerals, and Nutrients

It is an excellent source of vitamins A, E, C, K, and B6 and the minerals calcium, selenium, magnesium, and iron. Wheatgrass is also high in fiber and amino acids, and it is a source of healthy protein. [5]

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.

 

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 vitamins 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.” [6]

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 advanced 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.

 

Wheatgrass as an Antioxidant

Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radicals that come from normal cell metabolism, or external sources such as pollution, medication, or cigarette smoke. If you have too many free radicals they can build up and cause oxidative stress, which is thought to be the cause of many health issues including heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and some neurodegenerative diseases. [7]

Research has shown that wheatgrass has higher antioxidant levels than other vegetables, and it is particularly rich in glutathione and vitamins A, C and E. [8, 9]  

Research carried out 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.” [10]

  • In an animal study, wheatgrass was shown to decrease oxidative stress and increase levels of the antioxidants glutathione and vitamins C. [11]
  • Another lab study found wheatgrass reduced oxidative damage to cells. [12]
  • In an animal study, wheatgrass was shown to have a beneficial effect on Alzheimer’s, probably due to its antioxidant properties. [13]

More human studies are needed, but available research suggests the wheatgrass could be an effective antioxidant.

 

Wheatgrass and Inflammation

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 including cancer and heart disease. [14]

  • Studies have suggested that the antioxidant properties in wheatgrass might help reduce inflammation as high antioxidant levels lead to lower inflammation. [15]
  • A test-tube study suggested that this may be because the chlorophyll in wheatgrass helps to reduce inflammation by inhibiting a protein that causes inflammation. [16]

 

Wheatgrass and Cholesterol

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. [17]

The results of animal studies suggest wheatgrass 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. [18]

In another animal study, wheatgrass supplements were shown to improve lipid levels and increase the amount of HDL (good cholesterol), which may be because the amount of the antioxidants glutathione and vitamins C also increased, reducing oxidative stress. [19]

More human studies are needed, but the studies suggest that wheatgrass could help lower cholesterol.

 

Wheatgrass and Acidosis

Acidosis (a condition caused by acid levels that are too high, leading to low alkalinity in your body) is often caused by underlying health conditions. Left untreated, acidosis can increase your risk of developing chronic diseases such as cancer as you get older. [20]

Chlorophyll in wheatgrass could help balance the pH levels in your body, reducing the acid levels. This could help protect you against diseases such as cancer, which cannot thrive in an alkaline environment. [21]

Related: 6 Alkalizing Super Greens You Probably Aren’t Eating Enough Of

Wheatgrass and Detoxification

Wheatgrass is a good friend for 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. [22]

Wheatgrass and the Immune System

Your immune system is your body’s natural defense system against infection from minor illnesses such as coughs and colds, to serious conditions like cancer. 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 have substantiated the claims that wheatgrass could be useful to fight infections, especially those that are antibiotic resistant or for people with allergies to some antibiotics. Studies show that wheatgrass helps by regulating the immune system and fighting oxidative stress. [23]

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. [24]

This could benefit people with immunity-related disorders such as hematological diseases, diabetes, obesity, and ulcerative colitis.

  • 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. [25]
  • 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. [26]

Wheatgrass and Cancer

Chlorophyll is known to aid effective detoxification by helping the body to rid itself of toxins, free radicals, and carcinogens, which may decrease your risk of cancer. Increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood also makes it more difficult for cancer cells to thrive.

Results of test tube studies also suggest that the antioxidants in wheatgrass might help destroy cancer cells, a process known as apoptosis.

  • In one study, wheatgrass was shown to reduce the number of leukemia cells by 65 percent in three days. [27]
  • The results of another study suggested that wheatgrass concentrate might reduce the spread of mouth cancer cells due to its high content of antioxidant enzymes. [28]
  • And yet another study, carried out in 2015, reported that wheatgrass slowed the growth of colon cancer cells and resulted in the death of some cancer cells. [29]

There is some evidence that wheatgrass might reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. In a study involving 60 women with breast cancer, the group who were given 60cc wheatgrass juice everyday during the first three cycles of chemotherapy showed signs of a reduction in some of the harmful side effects (including impaired bone marrow function) without reducing the effectiveness of the chemotherapy treatment. [30]

wheatgrass drink

Wheatgrass and Blood Sugar

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. [31]

Wheatgrass was used in folk medicine to treat diabetes. [32]

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. [33]

This may be because wheatgrass can boost enzymes that lower blood sugar levels. [34] Wheatgrass has the added advantage of few side effects in contrast to traditional diabetic medications.

Wheatgrass as an Energy Booster

Wheatgrass could help boost your energy due to its iron content. [35]

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells that carry energy through the bloodstream to your muscles and tissues. If your red blood count is low, your body may not get the energy it needs and you are likely to experience fatigue. Increasing iron levels may also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the boost to your adrenal system might help you manage stress better.

Related: Top 15 Vitamins and Supplements for Natural Energy

Wheatgrass and Fertility

By using wheatgrass to boost your energy and circulation, you may also increase your libido, stamina and the production of reproductive hormones. Increased blood flow to the genitals can help boost sexual activity. The compound, P4D1, which promotes healthy sperm cells and DNA, is also present in wheatgrass. [36]

Wheatgrass and Skin Conditions

Because of its chlorophyll content, wheatgrass may help with symptoms of skin conditions — especially those that involve outer and underlying skin layers such as eczema, psoriasis, and ivy poisoning.

Wheatgrass and Healthy Hair

Advocates of wheatgrass say it can do wonders for your hair. They say the antioxidant and catalase content of wheatgrass can slow aging including reversing graying. Applied topically, wheatgrass may help moisturize dry hair and reduce dandruff.

Related: Collagen Health Benefits (Plus, 7 Steps to Finding the Best Collagen Supplement)

Wheatgrass and Weight Loss

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 — the pockets in plants that contain chlorophyll and are used in photosynthesis to absorb sunlight — may help with weight loss by reducing hunger; controlling cravings; slowing down the rate at which the stomach empties; and increasing the release of hunger-busting hormones. [37, 38, 39]

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.

How to Take Wheatgrass

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 juice: The raw leaves are crushed and squeezed into a drink, often taken as a wheatgrass shot or added to other health drinks. It can also be purchased as frozen juice.
  • Wheatgrass supplements: Dried leaves are made 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.
  • You can also grow your own fresh wheatgrass and add it to smoothies, drinks, and recipes.

Wheat grass powder, juice, and supplements are available from grocery and health food stores or online.

Wheatgrass can be hard to take as the taste is strong. 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.

Wheatgrass Dosages

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. [40]

wheatgrass close-up

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.

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.

According to the American College of Healthcare Sciences, see below for the best method of growing your own wheatgrass.

Using certified organic wheat and fine organic soil:

  1. Soak two cups of wheat overnight.
  2. Fill a small seed tray with soil and pat down firmly with a board.
  3. Sprinkle wheat on the soil and cover with a fine sprinkling of soil.
  4. Water and cover with a few layers of paper (not newspaper).
  5. Keep it damp.
  6. Once the wheat starts to shoot, remove the paper and put the tray in a warm place out of direct sunlight.
  7. Water once or twice a day.
  8. It’s ready to cut when it’s 4–7 inches high. Cut only the amount you intend to juice at soil level.
  9. 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. [41]

Wheatgrass Side Effects and Risks

Even though wheatgrass comes from wheat it is generally safe for people with a gluten intolerance because only the grass is used rather than the seeds, which contain the gluten. However, if you have a gluten intolerance, celiac disease, or a wheat allergy, check with your doctor first. Because of the danger of cross-contamination, your doctor may advise you to avoid wheatgrass or at least to use a product that is certified gluten-free. [42]

Wheatgrass may also lower blood sugar, so if you are diabetic 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. If you experience an allergic reaction such as swelling of the throat or hives, stop immediately and check with 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.

girl drinking smoothie

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 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?

Have you experienced the benefits of wheatgrass? Do you take it as a juice, powder or supplement? Tell us in the comments!

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