Wheatgrass is considered a medicinal plant in India and is used in Ayurvedic medicine (an ancient India system that uses a natural, holistic approach). In the U.S., many individuals believe wheatgrass has health benefits, such as preventing tooth decay, lowering blood pressure and treating and preventing acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and cancer. Although some small human-based trials support certain wheatgrass benefits, insufficient research exists to support all of these claims, according to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Read on to learn more about wheatgrass, including expert insight into potential health benefits it may provide.
What Is Wheatgrass?
“Wheatgrass is the green leaves of a young wheat plant,” explains Gloria Xynos, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes education and health coach at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri.
To grow wheatgrass, wheat seeds are set to sprout in water for seven to 10 days, after which the leaves are harvested. Wheatgrass leaves are fibrous and difficult to digest, so a juice is typically made from the leaves.
“While there are many wheat species, the most common is known as triticum aestivum,” says Xynos. “The wheatgrass is cut and then turned into a juice or dried and made into a powdered form.”
Wheatgrass supplements in the forms of juices, tablets and powders are readily available online and in health food stores.
Health Benefits of Wheatgrass
Although wheatgrass has many potential benefits, research on its effects in humans is lacking, says Xynos. Individuals interested in taking wheatgrass should speak with a health care provider beforehand, especially if they’re taking other medications, advises Xynos. Some dietary supplements can alter the absorption, metabolism or excretion of a medication.
Contains a High Level of Nutrients
Wheatgrass contains B-complex vitamins, as well as vitamins A, C, E and K. “Wheatgrass is a great source of vitamins and minerals, antioxidant compounds and bioflavonoids, such as apigenin,” says Hannah Wolf, a registered dietitian at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Apigenin is a flavonoid (a phytochemical compound found in plants, fruits, vegetables and leaves) with anti-inflammatory properties.
Although wheatgrass contains a diverse nutrient profile, maintaining healthy eating habits outside wheatgrass consumption is important. “No single food, compound or supplement— including wheatgrass—can make up for a poor diet or replace a well-balanced diet,” says Xynos. “In general, trading processed foods high in sugar, fat and salt for a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds is a better way to improve health [than relying on a supplement].”
May Support Immune Health
“A small preliminary study demonstrated the potential benefit of wheat grass juice on immune function as well as mitigating side effects of treatment,” says Wolf. “Overall, more research is needed.”
The 2020 study in Pharmaceuticals examined 50 participants with colon cancer receiving chemotherapy following surgery. Researchers found those who consumed 60 cubic centimeters of wheatgrass juice daily during their chemotherapy showed signs of better immunity than participants who didn’t.
May Decrease Symptoms of Active Ulcerative Colitis
“A small study demonstrated improvement in symptoms among patients with ulcerative colitis, possibly related to the [potentially] anti-inflammatory properties [of wheatgrass],” says Wolf.
May Reduce High Iron Levels Caused by Certain Diseases
Myelodysplastic syndrome is a group of about eight disorders, such as refractory anemia, in which immature blood cells of a person’s bone marrow do not develop into healthy blood cells. One treatment for this syndrome is frequent blood transfusions, which can cause a damaging buildup of iron.
One small 2017 study by David M. Steensma, M.D., of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute showed that patients who had transfusion-dependent myelodysplastic syndrome were able to lower their iron levels by taking wheatgrass supplements, but he urged more formal research.
Myelodysplastic syndrome is diagnosed in about 10,000 people each year, commonly in those who are at least 70 years old.
Risks and Side Effects of Wheatgrass
Consuming wheatgrass may pose certain risks. “Potential side effects include nausea and constipation,” says Wolf. Some people may experience difficulty swallowing the juice because of the strong grass-like taste. Additionally, safe dosages of wheatgrass have not been determined for pregnant women.
Another potential concern is microbial contamination. “Wheatgrass is susceptible to mold depending on how it’s grown,” cautions Xynos.
“Many green powders contain wheatgrass, and, as with most dietary supplements, they’re not well regulated,” says Wolf. “Wheatgrass might also be a potential allergen for some people,” she adds.
The FDA does not approve dietary supplements or their labeling.
The Best Ways to Consume Wheatgrass
Research hasn’t established the optimal way to consume wheatgrass, according to Wolf.
It can be purchased in powder form, as tablets and as a juice. One way to consume wheatgrass is to take it as a juice “shot,” says Wolf. The powder or leaves can be mixed into a smoothie, and the powder alone can be mixed into a vinaigrette for salads. Wheatgrass juice can also be mixed with other juices.
- Avisar A, Cohen M, Katz R, et al. Wheatgrass Juice Administration and Immune Measures during Adjuvant Chemotherapy in Colon Cancer Patients: Preliminary Results.Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2020 Jun;13(6):129.
- Definition and Facts of Ulcerative Colitis.National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed 9/12/2023.
- Steensma, David P, MD. Wheatgrass Extract (Mugineic Acid): An Inexpensive and Effective Iron Chelator in Patients with Myelodysyplastic Syndromes. Volume 130, Supplement 1, 8 December 2017, Page 5305.
- Hassan N, Siddique M S. Wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum L.) Benefits Health in a Pandemic Scenario. Journal for Research in Applied Sciences and Biotechnology. 2022;1(1).
- Tsai CC, Lin CR, Tsai HY, et al. The Immunologically Active Oligosaccharides Isolated from Wheatgrass Modulate Monocytes via Toll-like Receptor-2 Signaling. Journal of Biologic Chemistry. 2015;290(19):11935.
- Wheatgrass: Purported benefits, side effects and more. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Accessed 9/12/2023.
- Six Tips to Enhance Immunity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 9/12/2023.
- Key Statistics for Myelodysplastic Syndromes. American Cancer Society. Accessed 9/12/2023.
- Myelodysplasic Syndromes Treatment. National Cancer Institute. Accessed 10/3/2023.
- Mixing Medications and Dietary Supplements Can Endanger Your Health. S. Food & Drug Administration. Accessed 10/3/2023.
- Rodríguez FC, Gallagher E, Rai DK, et al. Nutritional and physicochemical properties of wheatgrass juice and preservation strategies. Food Chemistry Advances. 2022;1(100136).
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