Wheat Grass Chelates Iron and Treats Ulcerative Colitis

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.”

PS: My book, Dumping Iron, has lots more on this other diseases caused by iron.

PPS: Check out our Supplements Buying Guide for Men.

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11 comments
Cloudswrest says March 25, 2016

Nicotine also treats ulcerative colitis. Although the effective dose is apparently intolerable to non-smokers.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2014383/

Reply
jrm says March 27, 2016

off topic
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3630857

This suggests that zinc gluconate and zinc citrate are not good forms for supplementation.

Reply
John Gradoville says September 4, 2016

Hi P.D.

Does the form of the Wheatgrass matter, it terms of its effectiveness as an iron chelator? I have been looking at Wheatgrass as a chelator or the last couple of months. I can get both powder and capsule forms easily. I would prefer to use either powder or capsules, rather than the liquid Wheatgrass supplements that are available.

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says September 4, 2016

    Hi John, the short answer is that I don’t know. I saw another study in which wheat grass tablets were used, and the results were not quite as spectacular as in the studies that used liquid. So it’s possible that liquid is more effective.

    Update: It occurs to me that liquid may be more effective only because it’s a bigger dose. All speculation though.

    Reply
      John Gradoville says September 4, 2016

      P.D.
      Thanks. I will have a look at the studies and see if I can find out any further info.

      Regards,

      John.

      Reply
James says September 4, 2016

Had a look at wheatgrass at Holland & Barrett, which in the UK is the first port of call for nutritional stuff like this.

Saw this:

http://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/naturya-organic-wheatgrass-powder-60094362

Packaging boasts about all the iron it has! Product blurb: “a single serving contains more than a third of your recommended intake of iron. Iron contributes to normal functioning of red blood cells.”

No clue whether this is fortified iron or whether the product ‘naturally’ has iron.

Any thoughts?

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says September 4, 2016

    I see it says 100% natural, so no added iron. Probably little of that iron would be absorbed – I suspect that it’s the IP6 in the wheat grass that’s doing the job of iron chelation, though there may be other factors involved. The nutrition label doesn’t actually say how much iron is in it, and since iron requirements differ substantially between men and women, to say it has 1/3 of your iron and then not specify is kind of weird.

    Reply
James says September 4, 2016

Yes, although the product package and blurb talk about iron (and copper!), it doesn’t feature in the nutritional info label. So perhaps the iron levels too minor for it to be worth featuring in the nutritional info label, especially if the iron baseline using about “1/3 RDA” is female RDA. Perhaps this is simply a case of marketers thinking “iron is good and oh this has some iron so lets big that up”. And yet… this makes me wonder… on what basis do companies decide to put iron levels on nutritional info labels? Perhaps companies often omit this info, even when the iron contained is what readers of your website consider high, simply because iron rarely features in nutritional thinking? I wonder at what level the law obliges companies to report iron levels on nutritional labels, if at all?

I suppose all the more reason to move away from processed foods…

Interesting about the IP6/wheatgrass connection.

Reply
Jim Hambo says September 9, 2016

You mention IP6 here in the comments, but the citations don’t mention IP6 at all. The second attributes the iron chelation to mugineic acid.

Does wheat grass contain both substances? I’ve considered getting some powdered wheat grass for iron chelation, but don’t know if I should be looking for a form that preserves IP6 or mugineic acid. Do both remain after drying?

Reply
    P. D. Mangan says September 9, 2016

    Wheat and other grains do contain IP6, otherwise known as phytic acid or phytate. Whether that or mugineic acid is the main substance at work, who knows, good question. I would guess that both substances would be intact in dried wheat grass.

    Reply
Hormesis for Health and Longevity: A Guide - Rogue Health and Fitness says February 7, 2017

[…] of these compounds may also chelate iron, accounting for a great deal of their health benefits. Chocoalte appears to be a huge source of […]

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