Wheat grass is a supplement / cure-all touted by whole-earth, back-to-the-land types, the same people that use Dr. Bronner’s Castille soap. I’ve never used it myself, but according to the Mayo Clinic:
Wheatgrass is a nutrient-rich type of young grass in the wheat family. It’s sold as a dietary supplement in tablet, capsule and liquid forms. Wheatgrass is often used for juicing, or added to smoothies or tea. Proponents say that wheatgrass has numerous health benefits, but there are no significant research studies to support these claims.
Wheatgrass provides a concentrated amount of nutrients, including iron; calcium; magnesium; amino acids; chlorophyll; and vitamins A, C and E. Wheatgrass fans say that its rich nutrient content boosts immunity, kills harmful bacteria in your digestive system, and rids your body of waste. Some proponents tout wheatgrass as a treatment for cancer, anemia, diabetes, constipation, infections, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis and joint pain, among other health concerns. However, there are few research studies about wheatgrass, so it’s difficult to assess such health claims.
As far as its nutrient content goes, it may or may not be superior to greens and other vegetables – my inclination is to doubt that.
Wheat grass is definitely superior at something, though: it chelates iron: “Mugineic acid, active ingredient of wheat grass: An oral novel hexadentate iron chelator in iron overloaded diseases.”(1)
Iron chelation therapies are required for the treatment of iron overloaded patients; nonetheless, their side effects are also well known. We have evaluated iron-chelating activity of wheat grass extract (WHE) and its purified compound, mugineic acid in murine model with phenylhydrazine (PHZ) and dextran induced acute and chronic iron overload conditions… The efficacy of mugineic acid and WHE was compared with the potent oral iron chelator ICL670 (Exjade®). PHZ and dextran treatment followed by oral administration of WHE or mugineic acid significantly checked the rise of serum/plasma levels of iron as well as tissue iron and also, haemosiderosis in tissues. The results are highly comparable with known iron chelator ICL670. WHE and purified mugineic acid, both seem to have significant prospect to be the cheap, non-toxic, hexadentate and oral therapeutic agents to prevent or alleviate toxic iron overload in patients.
Wheat grass is as potent an iron chelator as the prescription drug deferasirox (Exjade), which is used in patients with hemochromatosis and transfusion-related iron overload.
That forms a mechanistic basis for the putative benefits of wheat grass.
Has scientific research actually found anything that wheat grass can treat? Indeed it has: ulcerative colitis.(2)
Wheat grass at 100 ml a day for one month significantly improved disease activity ratings in ulcerative colitis when compared to placebo.
It may also reduce toxicity of chemotherapy.(3)
In ulcerative colitis, iron is intimately involved in pathogenic lesions, and iron chelators reduce lesions.(4) Iron supplements can actually cause this disease.(5, 6) One way they can do this is by feeding bacteria what they need, which is iron, resulting in overgrowth of bacteria or in growth of pathogenic species.
A few decades ago, I knew a man about my age (at the time, in other words, young) who had a large length of his intestines removed because of ulcerative colitis. A terrible thing – maybe wheat grass could have spared him that.
So, wheat grass actually works in ulcerative colitis and may work in other gastrointestinal illnesses like Crohn’s disease. I would bet it would treat anything else characterized by iron-induced pathology, which encompasses many, many illnesses.
Addendum: Could wheat grass be the world’s most potent iron chelator? A group in India gave wheat grass to patients with myelodysplastic syndromes, in which the bone marrow fails and blood cells are produced in reduced number. These patients typically require many transfusions, and as a consequence suffer from iron overload.
In the study, the patients consumed 30 ml (about 1 ounce) of wheat grass daily for 6 months. Their average ferritin dropped from 2250 to 950, a greater than 50% decrease. Wheat grass was found to be as effective or more so as a prescription iron chelator.
The time needed between transfusions for these patients increased by 60 to 80% — so the wheat grass either had other beneficial effects besides iron chelation, or less iron in the bodies of the patients caused a lower rate of blood destruction or a higher rate of blood production. Remarkable.
The authors of the study believe that less iron in these patients caused decreased breakdown of red blood cells and hemoglobin. “We may conclude that wheat grass juice is an effective alternative of blood transfusion. It’s use in intermediate thalassaemia patients should be encouraged.”