Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What's the deal with wheatgrass?

Many of my work connections (as well as personal friends) are people working in the addictions recovery field. Part of the challenge of being in recovery is developing comfort with emotions-all of them--comfortable and uncomfortable. Even if you're off the hard stuff, it can still be tempting to want to manage moods with external tools. So it's very common for people in recovery to look to nutritional supplements as mood regulators, rather than to learn to ride through the natural ups and downs of daily life.

It can be a slippery slope, because some supplements actually CAN help you to feel better. That's why I talk about fish oil so much--it has been proven in many research studies to actually help regenerate neurons and to improve aspects of all Axis I (psychiatric) diagnoses in measurable ways. I do make other recommendations as well, but only when I've been able to find peer-reviewed literature in the National Library of Medicine (PubMed) database that supports those claims.

Which brings me to the supplement in the title, wheatgrass. Most people who know about wheatgrass either own cats, or shop at health food stores. Wheatgrass got its comical five minutes of fame recently on The Apprentice, when one of the Backstreet Boys requested it in his dressing room, and Trace Adkins, the country singer who was managing this performance, had absolutely no idea where, in all of Manhattan, to find it. (I was throwing things at my TV, yelling..."DUDE! WHOLE FOODS!!!).

Back to my point.

This Backstreet Boy wanted a shot of wheatgrass juice before going on stage, because he felt it gave him an energy boost and helped him perform better. And that's what most people will tell you about it. In all of my training and all of my hours in PubMed, I've never, ever seen any research to back up or support wheatgrass as an evidence-based energy booster.

This morning on a professional listserve, a colleague posted a position statement on wheatgrass, published by the National Council on Health Fraud. You can follow this link for the entire report (, but in general, the author suggests that while feeling better on wheatgrass is a common report, this enhanced feeling is not evidence-based and is more likely due to one of the following:
--natural changes in the symptoms people experience
--the placebo effect mentioned above
--wishful thinking on the part of the desperate
--lying by people who have a financial interest
--something else that the patient is doing--especially if they are using
psychoactive drugs, such as herbal uppers or downers.

My cats love wheatgrass, but my observation is that not long after they eat it...they throw up hair balls. I don't know about you...but that's not anything I hope to achieve personally in my quest for better health.

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