Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Triticum aestivum
Common Name

Agropyron, Couchgrass

Clinical Summary

Wheat grass is prepared by sprouting wheat seeds in water for 7–10 days before harvesting the leaves. Because the leaves are fibrous and difficult to digest, the juice from the leaves is extracted and consumed raw. Proponents believe the enzymes responsible for detoxifying the body are deactivated by the cooking process. Wheat grass is also marketed as a nutritional supplement in powder form.

Wheat grass juice has been claimed to neutralize toxins and carcinogens in the body, prevent tooth decay, reduce high blood pressure, and aid in the treatment and prevention of cancer and AIDS. It is also used to improve digestion, prevent hair from graying, for common colds, cough, rheumatic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, ulcers, and skin conditions. However, none of these claims are supported by clinical studies.

Wheat grass proponents also equate its major constituent chlorophyll to hemoglobin, and believe that wheat grass consumption can increase oxygenation in the body. However, these concepts are not supported by current scientific understanding.

Animal models suggest that wheat grass may have hypolipidemic (1) and antioxidant (2) effects. Wheat grass supplementation reduced plasma lipid peroxidation levels in healthy volunteers engaged in regular exercise (3). A small study and systematic review indicate that wheat grass juice may be helpful for ulcerative colitis (4) (5). Other studies are mixed on whether it can reduce the need for transfusions in patients with thalassemia major (6) (7) (8). Wheat grass juice may decrease myelotoxicity in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (9).  There is also a report that wheat grass juice can reduce serum ferritin in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (13). Larger studies are needed to evaluate these findings.

Nausea has been reported following consumption of wheat grass juice. Because it is consumed raw, microbial contamination is also a concern.

Purported Uses
  • AIDs
  • Cancer treatment
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Digestion
  • Immunostimulation
  • Tooth decay
  • Ulcerative colitis
Constituents
  • Chlorophyll
  • Vitamins A, C, E, K and B-complex
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Amino acids
  • Phenolic compounds (gallic acid)
  • Bioflavonoid (apigenin)
    (3) (9) (10) (11)
Mechanism of Action

Wheat grass is a natural source of vitamins and minerals. In animal models, hypolipidemic effects occur through increased fecal cholesterol excretion (1), decreased total cholesterol and malondialdehyde levels, and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (2). Some components may have antioxidant effects, as increases in glutathione and vitamin C levels have been noted (2) (4). Reductions in neutropenic fever and infection with wheat grass may relate to anti-inflammatory properties of the bioflavonoid constituent, apigenin, which can inhibit adhesion of leucocytes to endothelial cells (9) (12). Constituents in wheat grass may have iron chelation activity (13). Claims that raw wheat grass can “detoxify” the body and that chlorophyll can augment hemoglobin production are not supported by scientific evidence.

Adverse Reactions

Nausea, difficulties in swallowing the juice due to strong grass-like taste (9).

Because wheat grass is grown for a period of 7–10 days before harvesting leaves, microbial contamination is possible. This may cause harmful effects upon ingestion.

Literature Summary and Critique

Bar-Sela G, et al. Wheat grass juice may improve hematological toxicity related to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: a pilot study. Nutr Cancer. 2007;58(1):43-8.
A total of 60 patients with breast carcinoma undergoing chemotherapy were assigned to receive 60 cc of wheat grass juice (WGJ) orally daily during the first 3 cycles of chemotherapy, while those in the control group received only regular supportive therapy (n=30 each group). Response rate to chemotherapy was calculated in patients with evaluable disease. Researchers reported a reduction in myelotoxicity and dose reduction or need for granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (GCSF) support in the treatment group. The efficacy of chemotherapy remained unaffected. However, patients assigned to the treatment group were older and had poor hematological profiles compared with those in the control group. Further, 20% of patients (6 of 30 in the treatment group) did not complete the study due to worsening nausea. Larger, well designed studies are needed to evaluate these results.

Ben-Arye E, et al. Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2002;37(4):444-9.
In this study, 21 patients with active distal ulcerative colitis were randomized to receive either 100 cc of wheat grass juice, or placebo daily for 1 month. Rectal bleeding, number of bowel movements, a sigmoidoscopic evaluation, and physician evaluation were assessed to determine the efficacy of treatment. Researchers found that patients who received WGJ had significantly lower overall disease activity index and rectal bleeding compared with those taking placebo. They concluded that WGJ may be an effective treatment for distal ulcerative colitis. However, due to the small sample size of the study, these results are not generalizable. Future studies involving more patients are needed.

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References
  1. Kothari S, Jain AK, Mehta SC, et al. Hypolipidemic effect of fresh Triticum aestivum (wheat) grass juice in hypercholesterolemic rats. Acta Pol Pharm. Mar-Apr 2011;68(2):291-294.
  2. Sethi J, Yadav M, Dahiya K, et al. Antioxidant effect of Triticum aestivium (wheat grass) in high-fat diet-induced oxidative stress in rabbits. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. May 2010;32(4):233-235.
  3. Shyam R, Singh SN, Vats P, et al. Wheat grass supplementation decreases oxidative stress in healthy subjects: a comparative study with spirulina. J Altern Complement Med. Oct 2007;13(8):789-791.
  4. Ben-Arye E, Goldin E, Wengrower D, et al. Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Scand J Gastroenterol. Apr 2002;37(4):444-449.
  5. Ng SC, Lam YT, Tsoi KK, et al. Systematic review: the efficacy of herbal therapy in inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. Oct 2013;38(8):854-863.
  6. Marawaha RK, Bansal D, Kaur S, et al. Wheat grass juice reduces transfusion requirement in patients with thalassemia major: a pilot study. Indian Pediatr. Jul 2004;41(7):716-720.
  7. Choudhary DR, Naithani R, Panigrahi I, et al. Effect of wheat grass therapy on transfusion requirement in beta-thalassemia major. Indian J Pediatr. Apr 2009;76(4):375-376.
  8. Singh K, Pannu MS, Singh P, et al. Effect of wheat grass tablets on the frequency of blood transfusions in Thalassemia Major. Indian J Pediatr. Jan 2010;77(1):90-91.
  9. Bar-Sela G, Tsalic M, Fried G, et al. Wheat grass juice may improve hematological toxicity related to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: a pilot study. Nutr Cancer. 2007;58(1):43-48.
  10. Das A, Raychaudhuri U, Chakraborty R. Effect of freeze drying and oven drying on antioxidant properties of fresh wheatgrass. Int J Food Sci Nutr. Sep 2012;63(6):718-721.
  11. Shukla V, Vashistha M, Singh SN. Evaluation of antioxidant profile and activity of amalaki (Emblica officinalis), spirulina and wheat grass. Indian J Clin Biochem. Jan 2009;24(1):70-75.
  12. Gerritsen ME, Carley WW, Ranges GE, et al. Flavonoids inhibit cytokine-induced endothelial cell adhesion protein gene expression. Am J Pathol. Aug 1995;147(2):278-292.
  13. Mukhopadhyay S, et al. The role of iron chelation activity of wheat grass juice in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2009 ASCO Annual Meeting Proceedings (Post-Meeting Edition). Vol 27, No 15S (May 20 Supplement), 2009: 7012

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Wheat grass juice has not been shown effective in treating cancer or AIDS.

The juice extracted from the leaves of wheat grass is believed to prevent tooth decay, reduce high blood pressure and arthritis pain, and treat chronic fatigue syndrome and the common cold. It is also being promoted as a cure for cancer and AIDS. Proponents of wheat grass believe that the chlorophyll present in the leaves increases hemoglobin content in the blood because both molecules are similar in structure. It is also thought that the enzymes present in wheat grass help to rid the body of toxins and carcinogens. However, none of these claims is backed by scientific studies.

Wheat grass is not known to cause any serious side effects. However, the juice can be contaminated with mold or bacteria as the leaves are grown for 7–10 days before the juice is extracted.

Purported Uses
  • AIDS
    There is no scientific evidence that wheat grass prevents or treats AIDS.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
    No scientific evidence supports this use.
    Cancer treatment
    There is no scientific evidence that wheat grass prevents or treats cancer.
  • Strengthen immune system
    A small study showed that wheat grass juice reduced fever and infection in patients receiving chemotherapy, but some patients also had nausea from ingesting wheat grass. Larger studies are needed.
  • Reduce serum iron level
    There is a small study showing wheat grass juice can act as a chelator and help reduce iron level in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome.
  • Ulcerative colitis
    One small study has shown that wheat grass can relieve symptoms associated with chronic colon inflammation.
Research Evidence

Immune suppression caused by chemotherapy: A total of 60 patients with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy were assigned either to receive about 2 oz (one-quarter cup) of oral wheat grass juice daily during the first 3 cycles of chemotherapy or regular supportive therapy along with their chemotherapy (30 patients in each group). In the wheat grass group, there was reduced immune suppression and need for drugs that could cause additional side effects, with no apparent decrease in chemotherapy effectiveness. However, patients assigned to that group were older and had poor blood profiles compared with those in the supportive therapy group. Also, 20% of patients (6 of 30 in the wheat grass group) did not complete the study due to worsening nausea. Larger, well designed studies are needed to confirm these effects.

Ulcerative Colitis: A total of 21 patients with chronic inflammation of the colon were given about 3.4 oz (less than a half-cup) of wheat grass juice or placebo daily for one month. Researchers looked at rectal bleeding, number of bowel movements, colon examination, and physician evaluations to determine effectiveness of the juice. They found that patients who took wheat grass had reduced symptoms compared with those using the placebo.

Side Effects
  • Nausea, difficulties in swallowing the juice due to strong grass-like taste.
  • Contamination by microbials is possible as wheat grass sprouts are grown for 7–10 days before the leaves are harvested.
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