Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Wheatgrass?

by Ellen McGlynn

Though the therapeutic use of wheatgrass has been in practice for many decades and has gained almost a cult following among proponents of alternative medicine, it has received its fair share of negative commentary from conventional health professionals due to its lack of controlled scientific studies.  Fortunately, in recent years, various research institutions around the world have ventured to discover the truth about this mysterious green substance, all with supporting evidence that wheatgrass really “does a body good.”

What health benefits does fresh wheatgrass juice offer?

In a 2004 study conducted by researchers at an Indian pediatric unit, positive effects were found in 50% of anemic patients who took 100mL (3.38 ounces) of fresh wheatgrass juice daily for over a year, reducing transfusion requirements in some patients by as much as 40% (1).   In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study at a gastroenterology unit covering three major Israeli cities, significant reductions in overall disease activity and rectal bleeding were found in ulcerative colitis patients who consumed 100mL of fresh wheatgrass juice daily for a month (2).  In a 1999 Finnish study of rheumatoid arthritis patients who were subjected to a living foods diet that included wheatgrass juice, patients not only subjectively reported improvements in their conditions, but their serum parameters and fecal analyses confirmed it, suggesting that a living foods diet (of which wheatgrass is often a major part) may lead to a lessening of not just one but several health risk factors including cardiovascular diseases and cancer (3).

What makes fresh wheatgrass so effective?

It is still speculative as to what exactly makes fresh wheatgrass so effective.  While wheatgrass is full of vitamins and minerals, it is also very high in chlorophyll.  One ounce of fresh wheatgrass juice contains 4-12mg of chlorophyll (4). The effects of chlorophyll and its extracts have been studied extensively since the 1950’s and have proven beneficial for a wide range of health issues including wound healing and internal body odor (5), liver cancer caused by food-induced toxins (6,7,8), colon cancer caused by food-induced toxins (10,15), and the carcinogenic effects of environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke, coal dust, and diesel emissions (19).  Though scientists have tried to isolate the micronutrients and phytochemicals responsible for the effectiveness of high-chlorophyll foods, it is agreed that whole plant-based foods offer a healthier and more effective delivery system (10,11,12,14) as well as a more practical approach to disease prevention (6).

What are the main nutrients in wheatgrass juice?

Wheatgrass juice is actually 95% water.  On average, it also contains about 2% protein.  The remaining 3% contains over 80 other nutrients.  According to the Irvine Analytical Laboratory report courtesy of Optimum Health Institute in California, one ounce of indoor-grown fresh wheatgrass juice contains approximately 2.86mcg Biotin, 122IU Vitamin A, .3mcg Vitamin B-12, 4.3IU Vitamin E, 1mg Vitamin C, 8.3mcg Folic Acid, 21.4mg Phosphorus, 8mg Magnesium, .66mg Iron, 7.2mg Calcium, and 42mg Potassium (4). 

How does fresh wheatgrass juice compare with other vegetables and natural supplements?

In a 2006 study by the Chemistry Department at the University of Pune in Pune, India, antioxidant activity was measured in fresh wheatgrass grown under various conditions and extracted for comparison against a commercially available wheatgrass tablet.  A higher level of antioxidant activity was found in the soil-grown (3990 mmol/100g) as opposed to the hydroponically-grown (3740 mmol/100g) wheatgrass juice, although the variation was not considered significant.  Additionally, the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) on day 10 of growth for both hydroponically-grown  and soil-grown  wheatgrass was higher than ORAC units reported for the wheatgrass tablet (1380 mmol/100g) as well as many other high-ORAC fruits and vegetables. (13,16)

ORAC Units per 100 Grams (About 3.5 Oz.)
Wheatgrass Juice
3990

Kale
1770
Blueberries
2400

Strawberries
1540
Blackberries
2036

Spinach
1260
Garlic
1940

Raspberries
1220

High-ORAC foods are known to help raise the antioxidant power of human blood, provide protection from cell damage, and slow processes associated with aging (16,17,18).

Will wheatgrass interfere with my medications?

As chlorophyll has shown to have detoxifying and blood-clotting effects, wheatgrass juice may interfere with certain pharmaceuticals, particularly anticoagulants.  Consult your physician about the use of wheatgrass juice in combination with other drugs.   It may be best to reserve wheatgrass for use only BEFORE or AFTER specific drug treatments. 

Are there any side effects from fresh wheatgrass juice?

There are no known reports of wheatgrass or chlorophyll toxicity.  Some people may experience darkened stools or mild stomach upset when first starting a wheatgrass juice regimen.

How is wheatgrass prepared for consumption?

Humans do not produce the enzyme cellulase required to properly digest the cellulose structure of grass. Wheatgrass must be juiced.  This requires the use of a special wheatgrass juicer, which has a gentler extraction mechanism than regular juicers.  Wheatgrass juicers may also be used for juicing soft berries, which can be blended with wheatgrass juice to improve the taste.         

How often should I drink wheatgrass juice?

Taken as a preventative, an ounce a day may be sufficient.  Therapeutically, effects have been experienced by taking three to four ounces per day.  Juice should be taken on an empty stomach one hour before meals.  

How much juice can be had from 1 pound of fresh-cut wheatgrass? 

Ten to 12 ounces of juice per pound of cut wheatgrass can be expected from a good wheatgrass juicer. 

How long will the cut wheatgrass stay fresh?

Fresh-cut wheatgrass can stay fresh in the refrigerator  for up to two weeks. 

How long does wheatgrass juice stay fresh?

The chemical structure of fresh wheatgrass juice is very unstable.  Once the grass is juiced, its breaks down rather quickly and loses its nutritional value.   Fresh wheatgrass should be consumed or frozen almost immediately after juicing.



LITERATURE CITED

1.  Marawaha RK, Bansal D, Kaur S, Trehan A.  Wheat grass juice reduces transfusion requirement in patients with thalassemia major: a pilot study.  Indian Petiatr.  2004;Jul;41(7):716-20.

2..  Ben-Arye E, Goldin E, Wengrower D, Stamper A, Kohn R, Berry E.  Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2002;Apr;37(4):444-9.

3.  Hanninen O, Rauma AL, Kaartinen K, Nenonen M.  Vegan diet in physiological health promotion.  Acta Physiol Hung.1999; 86(3-4):171-80.

4.  Meyerowitz S.  Wheatgrass: Nature’s finest medicine.  6th ed. Summertown (TN):Book; 1999.

5. Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. Corvalis (OR); Updated 2005 Dec 21; cited 2006 Oct 3.  Chlorophyll and Chlorophyllin.  Available from: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/ infocenter/phytochemicals/chlorophylls/.

6.  Egner PA, Wang JB, Zhu YR, Zhang BC, Wu Y, Zhang QN, Qian GS, Kuang SY, Gange SJ, Jacobson LP, Helzlsouer KJ, Bailey GS, Groopman JD, Kensler TW.  Chlorophyllin intervention reduces aflatoxin-DNA adducts in individuals at high risk for liver cancer.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2001;Dec4;98(25):14601-6.

7.  Kensler TW, Egner PA, Wang JB, Zhu YR, Zhang BC, Qian GS, Kuang SY, Gange SJ, Jacobson LP, Munoz A, Groopman JD. Strategies for chemoprevention of liver cancer.  Eur J Cancer Prev. 2002;Aug;11Suppl 2:S58-64.

8.  Egner PA, Munoz A, Kensler TW.  Chemoprevention with chlorophyllin in individuals exposed to dietary aflatoxin. Mutat Res. 2003;Feb-Mar;523-524:209-16.

9.  Ouameur AA, Marty R, Tajmir-Riahi HA. Human serum albumin complexes with chlorophyll and chlorophyllin. Biopolymers. 2005;Feb15;77(3):129-36.

10.  de Vogel J, Jonker-Termont DS, Katan MB, van der Meer R. Natural chlorophyll but not chlorophyllin prevents heme-induced cytotoxic and hyperproliferative effects in rat colon. J Nutr. 2005;Aug;135(8):1995-2000.

11.  Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute. Corvalis (OR); cited 2006 Oct 3.  Plant-Based Foods.  Available from: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/ infocenter/foods.html.

12.  Fahey JW, Stephenson KK, Dinkova-Kostova AT, Egner P, Kensler TW, Talalay P. Chlorophyll, chlorophyllin and related tetrapyrroles are significant inducers of mammalian phase 2 cytoprotective genes. Carcinogenesis. 2005;Jul26(7):1247-55.

13.  Kulkarni SD, Tilak JC, Achaarya R, Rajurkar NS, Devasagayam TP, Reddy AV.  Evaluation of the antioxidant activity of wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum L.) as a function of growth under different conditions.  Phytother Res. 2006;Mar;20(3):218-27.

14.  Sarkar D, Sharma A, Talukder G.  Chlorophyll and chromosome breakage.  Mutat Res. 1996;Aug8;360(3):187-91.

15.  Diaz GD, Li Q, Dashwood RH.  Capase-8 and apoptosis-inducing factor mediate a cytochrome c-independent pathway of apoptosis in human colon cancer cells induced by a dietary phytochemical chlorophyllin. 2003;Mar15;63(6)1254-61.

16.  USDA Agricultural Research Service. Updated 13 Aug 2003.  Cited 6 Oct 2006.  Food & Nutrition Briefs.  Available from: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/np/fnrb/fnrb499.htm.

17.  Cao G, Booth SL, Sadowski JA, Prior RL.  Increases in human plasma antioxidant capacity after consumption of controlled diets high in fruit and vegetables. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68:1081-7.

18.  Cao G, Russel RM, Lischner N, Prior RL. Serum antioxidant capacity is increased by consumption of strawberries, spinach, red wine or vitamin C in elderly women.  J Nutr. 1998 Dec;128(12):2383-90.

19.  Ong T, Whong WZ, Stewart J, Brockman HE. Chlorophyllin: a potent antimutagen against environmental and dietary complex mixtures.  Mutat Res. 1986 Feb;173(2):111-5.

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