by Brian Dunning
Filed under Consumer Ripoffs, Fads
November 9, 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
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, go have sex.
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
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
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.
In the meantime, I'll continue to enjoy my pineapple and banana smoothies,
no wheatgrass juice, bee pollen, or extract of ginseng needed.
By Brian Dunning
Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Wheatgrass Juice." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
9 Nov 2006. Web.
28 Nov 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4006>
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.
Shermer, M. "How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results." Scientific American. 21 Jul. 2008, Volume 299, Number 8.
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