Wheatgrass is harvested from the freshly sprouted first leaves of the wheat plant (Triticum aestivum). In this state is used as a food, drink, or in dietary supplements. Although the name may cause confusion, the grass itself does not contain gluten. Gluten is found in the seed kernels of the wheat plant, not in its grasses. Thus, wheatgrass is safe to consume on a gluten free diet.
Nutrients and Antioxidants:
Wheatgrass contains vitamins A, C and E, iron, magnesium, calcium and amino acids. There are 17 amino acids in wheatgrass. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, essential amino acids need to be consumed in food. Of the 17 amino acid in wheatgrass, 8 are considered essential [i].
Additionally, supplementing with wheatgrass increased levels of the major antioxidants glutathione and vitamin C in animal studies [ii]. Furthermore, another test-tube study evaluated the antioxidant activity of wheatgrass and found it reduced oxidative damage to cells [iii].
Wheatgrass contains high levels of chlorophyll; a type of green pigment found in green plants. Chlorophyll is associated with many health benefits [iv]. See our other article on chlorophyll for further details.
May reduce cholesterol:
Healthy amounts of cholesterol are needed to manufacture hormones in the body and produce bile. However too much cholesterol in your blood can caused issues with blood flow and increase risk of heart disease. Interestingly, the effects of wheatgrass were similar to those of atorvastatin, a prescription drug commonly used to treat high blood cholesterol [v]. Another study in animals found that after 10 weeks, supplementing with wheatgrass helped lower total cholesterol and increase “good” HDL cholesterol, compared to a control group [vi].
Anti-cancer effects were seen against oral cancer with wheatgrass juice application; the green pigment was seen to kill cancer cells [vii]. Health products containing wheatgrass were put forward as potential alternative supplement for leukaemia patients. Wheatgrass induced cell death and reduced the number of leukaemia cells by up to 65% within three days of treatment in a test tube study [viii].
One study found that wheatgrass juice decreased the risk of impaired bone marrow function, a common side effect of chemotherapy, in 60 women with breast cancer [ix].
Regulate Blood Sugar:
Over time, high blood sugar can have serious consequences like nerve damage, skin infections and vision problems. Some animal studies have found that wheatgrass may help keep blood sugar levels under control.
In one study, giving wheatgrass to diabetic rats modified levels of certain enzymes that help balance blood sugar [x].
Another study found that treating diabetic rats with wheatgrass extract for 30 days resulted in significantly decreased blood sugar levels [xi].
Inflammation is the body’s normal response to threats such as infection or physical trauma. It usually presents as swelling, redness, pain, heat and loss of function. However, chronic inflammation, meaning inflammation which lasts long periods of time, can lead to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and autoimmune disorders [xii].
Components of wheatgrass can help to calm inflammation, helping to keep long-term inflammation at bay. A small study of 23 people examined the effects of wheatgrass juice on ulcerative colitis, a disease characterised by inflammation in the large intestine. Drinking just under 1/2 cup (100 ml) of wheatgrass juice for one month reduced disease severity and rectal bleeding in patients with ulcerative colitis [xiii].
Being rich in chlorophyll, wheatgrass showed potential in a test tube study to inhibit the activity of TNF-α, which triggers inflammation [xiv]. Similarly, another test tube study on human calls from the aorta (the largest artery in the human body) found chlorophyll-related compounds to inhibit cell adhesion and inflammation; this is crucial to limiting heart disease [xv]. More studies are needed to measure its potential anti-inflammatory effects on the general population.
Thylakoids are the site of the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis. As they are contained in wheatgrass, a potential ink may be made to improving human weight balance. Studies have found thylakoids to increase satiety and decrease excessive appetite. A study in 20 moderately overweight women. thylakoids increased the satiety hormone CCK after consumption of a high carbohydrate meal. It was suggested from these findings that the dietary addition of thylakoids could help efforts to reduce food intake and prevent compensational eating later in the day, which may help to reduce body weight over time [xvi]. Animal studies to this effect also support these findings [xvii]. Additionally, it was found in a human study that dietary green-plant thylakoids promote growth in commensal (friendly) bacteria in the gut microbial flora. This change was also proposed to be a factor in reducing obesity [xviii]. Thylakoids are also found in many other green plants, vegetables and leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuce.
Introducing Wheatgrass into Lifestyle:
Wheatgrass is widely available on the UK market in powder, juice and capsule forms. Some people choose to grow and juice their own wheatgrass at home. However, wheatgrass is taken, it can be very easy to simply add to your daily smoothie.
Wheatgrass is also very susceptible to mould if you’re growing it at home. If it has a bitter taste or shows signs of spoilage, it is best to discard it. Finally, some people report symptoms like nausea, headaches or diarrhoea after consuming wheatgrass in juice or supplement form. If you experience these or any other adverse effects, it’s best to decrease your intake.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding:
Wheatgrass is a superfood supplement and moderate use should not be a concern, however there is not yet substantial evidence to suggest that higher, therapeutic doses are safe. It would be preferable to consult with a specialist before such use.
Wheatgrass may lower blood sugar in those with diabetes. It would be pertinent to monitor blood sugar levels in such cases to avoid hypoglycaemia.
Due to blood sugar interference, it is advisable to stop taking wheatgrass as a medicine at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Wheatgrass contains high levels of vitamin K. Vitamin K is used by the body to help blood clot, and in so doing, might decrease the effectiveness of warfarin (Coumadin). Be sure to have your blood checked regularly. The dose of your warfarin (Coumadin) might need to be changed.
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