Wheatgrass Juice

Is the magical mystery juice all it's blended up to be?

Filed under Consumer Ripoffs, Fads

Skeptoid #06
November 09, 2006
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The other day, I was getting a pineapple smoothie for lunch, when I happened to notice a poster extolling the virtues of wheatgrass juice. I didn't know too much about it, except that I've heard a lot of people talk about it as if it's the second coming. So out of curiosity, I began reading.

My friends, the English language does not contain adequate hyperbole to do justice to the tons of manure printed on this poster. If the average person can take even half of this poster seriously, then the ignorance and gullibility of the general public is much worse than even I would have ever guessed.

The poster was a list of claims, almost all of which centered around chlorophyll, of which it said wheatgrass juice is a rich source. Chlorophyll, as you know, is used by plants to synthesize proteins and sugars, using radiation from the sun to power a chemical reaction, converting carbon dioxide from the air and water from the ground into proteins and sugars, exhausting oxygen as a waste byproduct. Humans and other animals, not surprisingly, don't work this way. We get our proteins and sugars by eating food; our bodies have no special use for chlorophyll.

Now, I'm not saying that there's anything unhealthy or bad about wheatgrass juice. It's probably at least as healthy as just about any other plant that you could put in your juicer and blend into green syrup. I probably wouldn't rate wheatgrass as high on the nutrition scale as a proper vegetable, but I doubt very much that there's any harm in it. However, wheatgrass juice proponents don't merely claim that it's healthy. They've assembled the most outrageous list of vague medical conditions that it cures, and all sorts of types of wellness that it supposedly promotes. Since these claims are all entirely unsubstantiated, and sound far fetched to say the least, this is certainly a product you should approach skeptically. Let's take a look at some of these claims.

Wheat grass is high in oxygen like all green plants that contain chlorophyll, and the brain functions at an optimal level in a high-oxygen environment.

While it's true that if you cut off the oxygen supply to your brain, its function will be somewhat less than optimal, it's not true at all that chlorophyll is a good source of oxygen. I suggest you continue to rely on your lungs for that, which are probably better, since you don't have leaves. All types of chlorophyll have only trace amounts of oxygen. Chlorophyll is a carbohydrate, thus its makeup is overwhelmingly carbon and hydrogen. The molecule has as many as 127 hydrogen and carbon atoms, but only 5 or 6 atoms of oxygen, 4 of nitrogen, and one lonely magnesium atom. Incidentally, this also refutes another claim: that the high magnesium content of chlorophyll builds enzymes that restore your sex hormones. Interesting, given that enzymes are proteins made of amino acids, which contain no magnesium at all. I have no idea whether a single atom of magnesium restores sex hormones, whatever that means, but if so that's one hell of an atom. If you want magnesium, take a vitamin pill. If you want oxygen, take a breath. If you want sex hormones, get a girlfriend.

Wheatgrass juice has been proven to cleanse the lymph system, building the blood, restoring balance in the body, removing toxic metals from the cells, nourishing the liver and kidneys and restoring vitality.

The grammatical errors are from the poster, not from me. Let's take these one at a time. First, the claim that it's been "proven" to do any of these things. Notice that these claims are very vaguely worded: "restores balance", and "builds the blood". This is deliberate. If they tried to be specific, they would get into trouble with the FDA. If you make a claim that a product is intended to diagnose, mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent a specific disease, and your product has not been tested and is therefore unregulated, you're in violation of the law (21 U.S.C. 343(r)(6)). The wheatgrass people of course can't actually submit their product for testing against any particular diseases, because of course it would fail. So they are relegated to making only vague, untestable claims like it "builds the blood" and "restores balance".

As for whether the ingestion of wheatgrass will lower the levels of toxic metals in your cells, I wasn't able to find any research that supports this. However I did find research where living wheatgrass was found to be one of the grasses most susceptible to the absorption of zinc and cadmium from the soil through its root system, so it's more likely to be contaminated with these metals. If lowering your toxic metal levels is important to you, wheatgrass is the last thing you should put on your shopping list. And, of course, this is all founded on the assumption that you have toxic metal problems that need to be addressed. Before you seek out quack remedies for this unusual illness, first find out from a medical professional that this is indeed a problem you have, and don't go only on the assurance of a health food store owner who wants to sell you something. Probably the best thing you can do is stop chewing the lead paint off your windowsills.

It contains most of the vitamins and minerals needed for human maintenance, including the elusive B12.

Sounds compelling! But it sounded less compelling when I turned away from the poster, and looked at the store's own nutritional facts chart. The only vitamins present in a 2-ounce shot of wheatgrass juice are 15% of your daily allowance of Vitamin C, and 20% of iron. The rest of the vitamins and minerals, "elusive B12" included? Zeros, all the way down the board. The bottom line is that a shot of wheatgrass juice offers far less nutrition than a single Flintstones vitamin pill.

I would welcome a scientific test of wheatgrass juice. I challenge wheatgrass proponents to pick any supposed benefit of wheatgrass juice, and substantiate it in a real test. And by a test I don't mean a report from a hippie whose energy fields have been rejuvenated. I mean one of their claims that some sick people might actually believe and are avoiding important medical treatment as a result, such as the claim that wheatgrass juice will reduce high blood pressure. That's easy enough to test in a real, peer reviewed, double blind clinical trial. Take notice that the wheatgrass proponents have not done such a test, and there's probably a very good reason they've avoided it. Approach far fetched claims with skepticism, especially those that have not been, or cannot be, substantiated.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy my pineapple and banana smoothies, no wheatgrass juice, bee pollen, or extract of ginseng needed.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianDunning.

Brian Dunning

© 2006 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Alberts, B., Bray, D., Johnson, A., Lewis, J., Raff, M., Roberts, K., Walter, P. Essential Cell Biology: An Introduction to the Molecular Biology of the Cell. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998. 12-13, 432-434.

Bidlack, W., Meslin, M. "Nutritional quackery: selling health misinformation." California Pharmacist. 1 Feb. 1989, Volume 36: 34-43.

Jarvis, W.T. "Wheatgrass Therapy." National Council Against Health Fraud Resource Documents. National Council Against Health Fraud, 15 Jan. 2001. Web. 9 Nov. 2006. <http://www.ncahf.org/articles/s-z/wheatgrass.html>

Lister, C. "Wheat Grass Nutritional Analyses." Crop & Food Research. The New Zealand Institute for Crop & Food Research Ltd, 12 Sep. 2002. Web. 9 Nov. 2006. <http://www.barleyleaf.co.nz/rightpages/WheatGrass.html>

Ross, Sharon. "Functional Foods: The Food and Drug Administration Perspective." The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1 Jun. 2000, Volume 71, Number 6: 1735S-1738S.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Wheatgrass Juice." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 9 Nov 2006. Web. 19 Apr 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4006>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 396 comments

I just luv my proper food source , Barley and wheatgrass juice , so simple to grow and juice and also so glad it hasn't died out , we still have great soil and oxygen here in the states 😄

J.Smith, Mpls,Minn
October 11, 2013 1:12pm

You know Brian? That is a gem from October the 11th!

It should be in the Skeptoid hall of fame..

Marked Duopoly, sin city, Oz
October 15, 2013 5:37pm

No-one gets sick from wheatgrass juice, EXCEPT from bad food they may have to get due to being poor, due to paying lots of money on the aforementioned wheatgrass juice. You shouldn't buy thin air just because it is not dangerous.

Bill, Canberra
November 02, 2013 1:43am

After reading this article, I'm convinced that the sense of wellbeing I get immediately after drinking a wheatgrass shot is nothing more than a sugar rush from the carbohydrates in the juice. The energy that I get lasts for several hours, so it must be a relatively complex carb that my body doesn't metabolize as quickly as other more refined sugars. There could be something more going on here, including a simple placebo effect, but the simplest explanation is (usually) the correct one.

Mike Scarborough, Atlanta, GA
January 09, 2014 11:46am

it works for me. my good cholesterol was low for years, my EKG was abnormal; the chest pains are gone, bowel movements are more frequent and more productive; brain is sharper. Perhaps, it addresses the problems my body was experiencing. I have recommended it to many friends and relatives. The medical records from before and after i started using wheatgrass are evidence that it has helped me. Some things work for some people and not for others so the skeptics should not be so fast to judge.

chuck, nyc
January 10, 2014 4:26pm

Listen, I'm not gonna give you a tip, because you're also full of bs as we all people are (no offense!);)...
First, I'm not sure about the FDA, but I know for sure that science is always developing and it quite often provkdes contradictory info... So I'm not sure whom to trust anyway.
But, assuming that the poster was written deliberately to sell (which I'm quite sure of, judging from the sound of that), what on earth assures you that a "medical professional" and the FDA sometimes don't want to hide (or don't know) some known facts so as to sell you more of THEIR stuff and advice?
As for the sex hormones, I'm pretty sure that my endocrine and nervous systems are doing the job amazingly, even on their own.;)
As for the wheatgrass, I'm probably gonna try it in the future, hope it doesn't kill me, of course; and my dumbness is gonna get another big boost of hormones, no wait, vitamins, whatever, anyway I feel sorry for your dumbness, since you're so intellectually superior to all of us, are you not?
Oh, and I answered wrongly to the next question, I meant 14

dav, Italy
January 31, 2014 10:18am

Great review of wheatgrass and article, however i didnt agree with the comment about " a hippie whose energy fields have been rejuvenated" i think if you knew any real "hippies" you would find they are intellegent people and often quite educated in science, env science , permaculture etc and not the air heads you made them out to be with your crass stereotyping style description . cheers.

Tesla, Western Australia
February 16, 2014 3:20am

I have always been a skeptic of any one "super" food that can do it all. But I do drink wheatgrass juice. I view it as a green vegetable just like spinach of which I eat too. I usually drink it while exercising so if it is a complex carb with protein, bonus. My dog has skin cancer. A great big tumor turning into multiple tumors on her lip. Holistic vet suggested trying wheatgrass application directly onto tumors. Six months later, tumors gone. Quit applying wheatgrass, tumors started growing again. So back to applying wheatgrass and so far has inhibited further growth. Cured cancer? Not likely but has obviously created an environment where the tumors do not like to grow. Will see what the future holds. Would oatgrass work too? Maybe. Ground up spinach, maybe. Who knows? All I can say is I have seen the positive results of wheatgrass directly applied to the tumors.

Xhexer, Canada
February 18, 2014 5:21am

Really people. This guys sees one poster and now he's an expert. Talk to the thalassemics who have seen their hemoglobin level rise after taking wheatgrass and that has nothing to do with the iron content.

I find sites like this which are run by people who know very little other than how to be derogatory, have no value at all.

andy battaglia, NY
March 30, 2014 9:31am

I do not disagree with any comments made about Wheatgrass juice. I did want to clarify one point. Enzymes primary and secondary structures are composed of any amino acids. Enzyme tertiary and quaternary structures often do contain metal ions including, but not limited to, magnesium ions.

I love the website and the podcast. I donate every month. Thanks for everything.

Justin White, Tampa, FL
April 09, 2014 9:57am

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