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Wheatgrass is the name of the young grass of a wheat plant. It is a thick, dry grass that looks like hay or straw but is bright green. It plays a role in natural and holistic medicine, and it may have some specific health benefits.

Farmers mainly grow wheatgrass for animals to eat, but it has become popular as a supplement and a superfood in recent years.

Wheatgrass comes from the family Triticum aestivum. People harvest it early in its development before it reaches full size. This is usually 7–10 days after sprouting.

Some people call wheatgrass green blood because it contains high levels of chlorophyll, which gives wheatgrass products an unusual green hue.

Wheatgrass contains few calories but is rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, and enzymes. One study indicated that it might have anticancer properties.

A 2018 study noted that the proteins and antioxidant agents in wheatgrass might help:

  • prevent diseases
  • reduce oxidative stress
  • boost the metabolism and storage of energy

People can consume wheatgrass fresh or in various other ways, such as fresh or frozen juice, tablets, and powder.

Wheatgrass may have various benefits.

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

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Wheatgrass may have anticancer properties.

Like many plant-based products, wheatgrass contains ingredients that act as antioxidants. These antioxidants may offer health benefits similar to many other plant based foods.

As the body carries out natural processes, it produces toxic byproducts. If the toxins remain in the body, oxidative stress can result. High levels of oxidative stress can lead to various health problems, including cancer. Antioxidants help the body to eliminate these toxins.

Antioxidants help fight chronic inflammation, which occurs when the immune system reacts to an unwanted substance. When the body mistakenly reacts to something that is not a threat, some health issues may arise. Rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis are all examples of autoimmune diseases.

Examples of antioxidants include vitamins, such as A, C, and E.

How can antioxidants benefit our health? Find out here.

Cancer prevention and treatment

Some scientists say that wheatgrass has a similar structure to hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen around the body. For this reason, they argue, wheatgrass can boost oxygen supply to the blood.

It contains enzymes that have antioxidant properties that can help prevent oxidative damage to the DNA.

In 2017, these scientists applied a wheatgrass preparation to mouth cancer cells (oral squamous cell cancer) in a lab. They found that the growth of cancer cells slowed down. They proposed that wheatgrass may one day form the basis of a drug to treat this type of mouth cancer.

Other studies have reached similar conclusions. One 2015 study, for example, found that wheatgrass slowed the growth of colon cancer and caused some cancer cells to die.

Authors of a 2015 mouse study concluded that wheatgrass might help defend the body against leukemia, especially in those who are at risk due to benzene exposure. The researchers believe that the flavonoids and polyphenolic compounds in the plant's methanol content may help prevent leukemia from developing in bone marrow cells.

Wheatgrass may also improve the effects of chemotherapy, according to a 2015 review. The researchers found evidence that when used alongside chemotherapy, wheatgrass may:

  • boost the effectiveness of treatment
  • reduce chemotherapy's adverse effects

What other foods have antioxidant properties? Learn more here.

Fighting infections

Some 2015 research found that wheatgrass can kill or slow the growth of certain infections. This can be especially helpful in treating antibiotic resistant infections, or people who are allergic to specific antibiotics.

The researchers published the results of an experiment carried out in a test tube. The findings indicated that wheatgrass has antimicrobial properties that can fight:

  • certain types of streptococcal (strep) infections
  • some forms of Lactobacillus bacteria

Lactobacillus bacteria play a role in many infections, including dental infections.

What is strep throat? Find out here.

Treating gastrointestinal distress

Practitioners of traditional medicine have long used wheatgrass to reduce stomach pain and manage minor gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea or digestive problems.

Wheatgrass has a high fiber content, and fiber helps to keep the gut healthy.

Authors of a 2014 review suggested that wheatgrass may help treat ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the large intestine. In a small study of 23 participants, some people consumed 100 milliliters (ml) wheatgrass juice daily for a month while others took a placebo.

Compared with those who took the placebo, those who consumed wheatgrass juice experienced:

  • less disease activity
  • reduced rectal bleeding

Learn more here about ulcerative colitis.

What foods should people eat with ulcerative colitis? Find out here.

Preventing and treating type 2 diabetes

People have used wheatgrass as a traditional medicine to treat type 2 diabetes, and some scientists have found evidence that it may help.

A 2016 study on rats, for example, found that wheatgrass raised insulin levels and helped lower blood glucose.

Experts believe that inflammation plays a role in diabetes. By fighting inflammation, wheatgrass may also help people manage both diabetes and some of its complications.

Obesity

Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes. Together with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other health problems, they make up a condition that doctors call metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome usually starts with obesity. Scientists believe that inflammation plays a key role.

A mouse study published in 2014 suggested that wheatgrass might help treat obesity. Mice who consumed wheatgrass extract gained less weight and had fewer obesity-related complications than those who did not.

Other benefits

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Consuming wheatgrass may improve digestion, balance the immune system, and lower blood pressure.

Wheatgrass might also benefit people with:

Traditional medicinal uses of wheatgrass include:

  • improving digestion
  • lowering blood pressure
  • removing heavy metals from the bloodstream
  • balancing the immune system
  • relieving gout

While evidence supports many of these uses, most researchers add that larger studies are needed before they can recommend wheatgrass as an effective treatment.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one 8-gram (g) tablespoon of organic wheatgrass powder contains:

  • Energy: 25 calories
  • Protein: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 6 g, or 2% of an adult's daily requirements or daily value (DV)
  • Fiber: 4 g, or 14% of DV
  • Calcium: 24 milligrams (mg)
  • Iron: 1 mg, or 6% of DV
  • Vitamin K: 86 micrograms, or 70% of DV

A 2018 study explains that wheatgrass is a good source of proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

According to the authors, the proteins in wheatgrass can help prevent various diseases and oxidative stress, as well as help the body metabolize and store energy..

Most studies report no significant adverse effects after consuming wheatgrass, but this may depend on the form of the product and the individual.

Some people may have a sensitivity or allergy that leads to an unwanted reaction. However, people with celiac disease, and those who are sensitive to gluten can still enjoy wheatgrass because only the wheat kernel and not wheatgrass contains gluten.

One study that looked at how wheatgrass affects children with thalassemia found that some users had gastrointestinal problems at first, but these resolved within a few days.

There is not enough evidence to prove that wheatgrass can cure any disease. Nobody should take wheatgrass as a substitute for medical treatment.

Anyone who is considering taking wheatgrass should speak to their doctor first, as some supplementary therapies can interact with other medications. A doctor may also be able to advise on the risk of allergies and intolerance.

Wheatgrass tastes like grass, and the taste can overpower other flavors.

How to make it taste better

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A person can add wheatgrass to smoothies or juices.

One way to consume raw wheatgrass or wheatgrass powder is in a smoothie or juice. However, it does have an overpowering taste. Mixing it with an ingredient that has a strong taste, such as pineapple, may make it more palatable.

Other options include mixing it with milk, honey, or fruit juice.

Wheatgrass is also available in capsule form, which almost eliminates the taste. Some flavored capsules are also available.

Various wheatgrass products are available from health food stores and for purchase online.

People should only buy wheatgrass supplements from a trusted source, as most types of herbal medicine in the United States are not subject to quality control.

Many studies have produced promising results about the benefits of wheatgrass, but these have mostly been small studies.

It is not yet possible to know whether wheatgrass can treat or prevent any specific medical condition by itself.

However, most people appear to tolerate wheatgrass well, and it may be a healthful addition to a nutritious daily diet and may complement traditional medicine treatments.

As research evolves, it may become clear that wheatgrass is an effective medical treatment for specific medical conditions. For now, however, the research is inconclusive.

Q:

Is it really worth taking a daily dose of wheatgrass, or should I concentrate on getting fresh fruits and vegetables through my diet?

A:

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is always the best choice, even if the wheatgrass research was more compelling. A serving of wheatgrass can’t replace the recommended daily 5–9 produce servings because it lacks the breadth of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that a varied diet can provide.

Natalie Butler, RD, LD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.