Wheat grass - in English wheatgrass - is made up of the young leaves of soft wheat plants.
Transformed into a drink obtained from the fresh product, or pulverized, the wheat grass has acquired a considerable reputation in recent years thanks to the alleged properties attributed to it.
Unfortunately, as happens in many cases when we talk about natural supplements, scientific evidence supporting the potential benefits induced by wheat grass is not sufficient to confirm its efficacy and safety in use.
In some cases, the word "wheat grass" - in addition to being used to indicate the young leaves of the wheat plant - is improperly used to indicate the young leaves of barley and malt plants. In this article, however, we will only talk about wheat grass proper.
What is that?
What is the Wheat Grass?
Wheat grass is the name used to indicate the first leaves that are born after the seed germination of the soft wheat plant (scientific name: Triticum aestivum ).
Considered a rich source of nutritional elements, wheat grass is used as a food supplement in the context of particular diets (such as, for example, the vegetarian diet) and as a natural remedy that can contribute to maintaining the well-being of the immune system and of the organism as a whole. However, as we will see in the course of the article, the actual effectiveness of such applications is not currently supported by certain scientific data.
Although it is a dietary supplement of natural origin, it is always a good idea to consult your doctor before taking wheat grass, in order to exclude the presence of contraindications or potential risks for the patient deriving from the use of the product.
Which Nutrients Does Wheat Grass Contain?
Wheat grass is made up of different nutrients that can be useful to the body. However, this does not mean that it has miraculous-like properties as many claim.
Furthermore, the type and quantity of nutrients contained in wheat grass can vary depending on various factors, such as the place where the plant grew, the time it was harvested and the way the wheat grass it has been treated (fresh, or dried and powdered).
However, among the nutrients contained in the wheat grass that arouse the most interest, we find:
- Vitamins, in particular, vitamin A and its precursors, vitamin C and B vitamins (thiamine or vitamin B1, riboflavin or vitamin B2, niacin or vitamin B3, pantothenic acid or vitamin B5 and vitamin B6);
- Minerals, such as potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium;
- Chlorophyll ;
- Flavonoids .
In addition, wheat grass also contains carbohydrates, fiber and protein .
How do you eat wheat grass?
Wheat grass is taken orally and is available in different formats. It can be found as fresh juice obtained from freshly harvested grass, or in the form of frozen juice. Wheat grass advocates, however, prefer to consume their own fresh juice, since they believe that by doing so all the plant's nutrients and beneficial substances remain unaltered. The generally recommended dose is about 30 ml per day.
However, the form in which this product is most widespread is certainly the dried and powdered form (humidity below 4%). Before intake, the powder must be dissolved in water, juice or yogurt. The quantity to be taken can also vary greatly depending on the type of product used and its nutritional characteristics. Therefore, it is advisable to follow the instructions on the label or on the packaging of the purchased wheat grass.
Characteristics and Properties Attributed to the Wheat Grass
Many properties are attributed to wheat grass, some can be considered partially true, while others lack any scientific foundation.
Among the properties ascribed to this product, those that have certainly contributed to its success are the purifying and antioxidant ones.
The aforementioned activities are then supplemented by the alleged stimulating properties of the immune system, the anti-aging action, the "super-nourishing" activity and the ability to prevent and combat cooling disorders, digestive disorders and skin disorders. Indeed, according to some, the consumption of wheat grass could prove useful in treating more serious conditions, such as diabetes and hyperlipidemia.
Chlorophyll and Myths to Dispel
Many attribute to chlorophyll properties similar to those of hemoglobin, a protein essential for the transport of oxygen within the body.
Since chlorophyll has a chemical structure vaguely similar to that of the heme group of endogenous hemoglobin, the proponents of the green pigment contained in large quantities in the wheat grass believe that it too is able to carry oxygen in the blood, thereby improving the oxygenation of tissues and the body in general. Such a theory has no scientific basis and is absolutely false, not to mention that in its central nucleus, chlorophyll has an atom of magnesium and not of iron as, instead, occurs in hemoglobin. In addition to this, even if chlorophyll possessed such properties (and this is not the case), it would still not be able to reach the bloodstream since it is degraded by digestive enzymes.
Are there any studies that can confirm the properties ascribed to the wheat grass?
Some studies have actually been carried out on wheat grass that could, at least in part, confirm some properties. However, these studies were mostly conducted in vitro or on animals and in any case on a small scale. For this reason, they are certainly not sufficient to support the therapeutic-like indications that are attributed to the plant.
Wheat Grass and Diabetes
A relatively recent study (2014) conducted on the use of wheat grass in the presence of diabetes mellitus has shown that this product could play an anti-hyperglycemic role. However, this study was conducted in rats and not in humans. Therefore, despite the positive result, it certainly cannot be thought that the hypoglycemic action can be exercised also on humans and, above all, it cannot be affirmed with certainty that the use of wheat grass in the presence of diabetes mellitus is of the all risk free.
Wheat grass and hyperlipidemia
Specific studies have also been carried out to assess the ability of wheat grass to counter high concentrations of lipids in the blood. In particular, some of these studies have shown that the plant could be useful as it can potentially reduce hyperlipidemia and the consequent oxidative stress induced by it. However, even in this case, these are researches conducted only on animals.
Wheat Grass and Immunostimulatory Activity
The immunostimulatory action of the wheat grass was effectively confirmed by an in vitro study that identified the molecules responsible for this activity in some oligosaccharides present inside the plant. However, this does not mean that the intake of the powdered wheat juice or herb can be really effective in increasing the immune defenses. To better clarify this point, further and more in-depth research would be needed.
Wheat grass and chemotherapy
Some of the most avid advocates of wheat grass are convinced that taking this product can improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy. In reality, this belief is in no way supported by scientific data.
On the other hand, however, a preliminary study carried out on women suffering from breast cancer and undergoing chemotherapy has shown that the consumption of wheat grass juice can be useful in reducing some of the side effects induced by anticancer therapy, but without changing them in no way the effectiveness.
Despite the results obtained from the various studies, if you suffer from any of the aforementioned diseases, you must consult your doctor before taking the wheat grass.
Also, remember that the juice of the plant, as well as the powdered wheat grass are food supplements and are NOT drugs . Therefore, they are NOT able to cure any kind of disease and should NOT be considered as an alternative to any treatments - pharmacological and non-prescribed by your doctor.
Is the Wheat Grass Really Effective?
With reference to the uses for which wheat grass is recommended and used by its supporters, its real effectiveness is still doubtful. In fact:
- As for the "super-nourishing" activity, it is also true that wheat grass contains many substances that are very useful to our body, however, these nutrients can also be taken following a balanced and balanced diet.
- As far as the antioxidant action is concerned, in fact, wheat grass contains vitamins and flavonoids with this activity that could be useful in this sense. Of course, the antioxidant capacity depends very much on the quality and quantity of vitamins and flavonoids contained in the wheat grass.
- The anti-aging activities for the skin attributed to wheat grass are due to the aforementioned antioxidant properties which, however, are not sufficient to counteract the inexorable advancement of age and the appearance of the signs of aging.
- As for the properties attributed to chlorophyll, besides not having been confirmed by any study and having no scientific basis whatsoever, let us remember that any green vegetable contains significant quantities.
- Finally, as regards the hypoglycemic, hypolipidemizing and immunostimulating properties - despite the encouraging results obtained from the studies conducted so far - it is necessary to carry out more in-depth and large-scale research before being able to state with absolute certainty that similar activities can also be performed on man.
Wheat Grass Can Cause Side Effects?
Although wheat grass is generally considered a safe product, there are many people who have experienced side effects after taking it, especially in high doses. The side effects may occur in a more or less severe form and consist mainly of headaches, nausea and other digestive disorders .
Furthermore, after the consumption of wheat grass, several cases of allergy have also been reported, manifested with symptoms such as hives and swelling of the throat.
Did you know that ...
When using fresh wheat grass it is necessary to turn to trusted retailers, since - if not properly cultivated and washed - there is a risk of possible contamination by harmful bacteria or molds that can be ingested and cause a potential infection .
When Wheat Grass should not be Used
Of course, the main contraindication to the use of wheat grass is the known plant allergy.
Furthermore, as a precautionary measure, it is generally not recommended to take it even to pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children.
Regarding gluten intolerant, this substance should not be contained within the young leaves of the plant. However, it is advisable to pay great attention and to seek the advice of the doctor before proceeding with the intake of wheat grass.