Clinical Abstracts: Wheat Grass Juice for Ulcerative Colitis

With Comments by Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD

Source: Ben-Arye E, et al. Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal alternative colitis. Scand J Gastroenterol 2002; 4:444-449.

Design/Setting/Subjects: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled multi-site study of 238 subjects with active distal alternative colitis (diagnosed via sigmoidoscope) in three major cities in Israel.

Intervention: Wheat grass (Triticum aestivum) juice (100 cc) or placebo juice, daily for one month. Sigmoidoscopy was performed within a week of starting treatment and within three days after treatment ended.

Main Outcome Measures: Disease activity was assessed via symptom diary (including rectal bleeding, stool frequency, urgency, pain, distension, mucus, general well-being, and appetite), sigmoidoscopy, and subjective improvement. Physicians also performed a global assessment.

Results: Twenty-one subjects completed the study; full information was available on 19. Three patients withdrew early; two in the treatment group (one could not tolerate the taste of the juice and the other was convinced she was receiving placebo); one in the placebo group withdrew after 14 days because of deterioration of her illness. Wheat grass use was associated with a significant reduction in the overall disease activity index (P = 0.031) and in the severity of rectal bleeding (P = 0.025), abdominal pain (P = 0.019), the physician global assessment (P = 0.031), and patients retrospective evaluation (P = 0.00533). Blinding was adequately maintained. The most common side effect reported by wheat grass juice users was increased vitality, reported by five subjects (41.6%), and nausea, reported by four subjects (33.3%); two subjects reported decreased morning appetite and one subject reported constipation. No serious adverse effects were noted.

Funding: Not stated.

Comments: If you’ve noticed what looks like patches of turf in the produce section of your grocery store, it’s probably wheat grass: wheat seedlings that proponents mow (oh, all right, clip) and blend into fresh juice purported to benefit a variety of conditions, including cancer. It’s sold in shot-sized portions at health food stores. Out of curiosity, I purchased a jiggerful. It tasted exactly as one might imagine juiced lawn would taste—revolting. At any rate, this is the first randomized controlled trial of wheat grass juice, and it appears to have found a benefit in ulcerative colitis. It is unknown what the active ingredients of wheat grass juice are; the researchers suggest that flavonoids, particularly apigenin, may be implicated. No serious adverse effects of wheat grass have been reported, and this seems a harmless adjuvant treatment, for those with no functional taste buds.