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Wheatgrass and Cancer: A Short Essay

Wheatgrass is generally perceived to be a nutritional supplement. True, it contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and other vital elements. It is widely taken as a health drink – green, nourishing and good for you. Many enjoy the taste, while others feel a pleasant “rush” immediately after ingesting the fresh juice. For those who can tolerate the taste and the smell (many cannot), just one daily shot will do them the world of good. But is that because of the nutritional value of wheatgrass, or the chlorophyll it contains? Most likely neither.

Wheatgrass can, in many conditions, be an effective healing agent – both for the body as a whole, and when applied to injured tissue. This is nothing new. History tells us that the grasses in general have been known to have healing properties going back several thousand years. Ann Wigmore in the 70’s reportedly cured many with terminal cancer and other chronic illnesses using freshly juiced wheatgrass.

In the US in the 1930’s, this simple, easily grown herb enjoyed a massive resurgence of interest and became widely used as a health supplement. Scientists also demonstrated its therapeutic value in post-operative wound healing, the treatment of burns and numerous other conditions. Frequently these therapeutic properties were put down to the effects of chlorophyll.

The Grass Juice Factor

In the late 1930’s, an agricultural scientist, Dr. George Kohler and his colleagues discovered there was something quite unexplainable about the cereal grasses. They had been comprehensively analysed and many of the components attributed with physiological properties. For example, vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting and protein synthesis in plasma, kidneys and bone.

But, Kohler and his team discovered something more important – something they could not explain. They found that cereal grasses greatly enhanced fertility, growth and the general health of laboratory animals. This could not be explained by any of the known bioactive substances in the grass, and, although they were able to determine some of its physical properties, to this day it remains unidentified. They called the substance the “Grass Juice Factor” (GJF).»»More

This Factor is known to exist not only in cereal grasses – wheat, rye, oats, barley etc., - but in green peas, cabbage and many other plants. However, the highest concentrations (determined by observing growth and fertility rates in laboratory animals) were discovered in the cereal grasses. I believe it is the GJF that accounts for the quite amazing, broad-spectrum healing properties of wheatgrass including some anti-cancer effects.

How Could Wheatgrass Work for Cancer?

It is known that at least one of the cereal grasses, barley, stimulates the production of growth hormone from the rat pituitary gland in the brain. There is a possibility that humans respond in the same way. (A hormone is a chemical substance produced in the body that regulates the activity of various cells and organs in the body.)

Growth hormone in turn stimulates the production of Growth Factors e.g. Insulin Growth Factor-1. These are also hormones which affect the development of every cell in the body. Responsible for growth in children, they also lead to regeneration of damaged tissues and organs throughout life. Research shows that cereal grasses can heal wounds and burns, stimulate production of blood elements, and kill some cancer cells, at least in the test tube. It is likely these phenomena are mediated via growth factor activation.

Growth Factors or cytokines play an important part in maintaining the body’s immunological status. There is no doubt that the immune system is of paramount importance in preventing the development of cancer and ridding the body of cancer cells. In other words, if the immune system is strong and robust, it is less likely that one will develop cancer, or the onset of cancer can be delayed. (See National Insitute of Health study below under "Prevention").

This does not mean that wheatgrass cures cancer, although there have been many reports of successful "cures" in individuals taking wheatgrass and other cereal grasses. (View a number articles about wheatgrass and various types of cancer.)

Wheatgrass in Cancer Prevention and Treatment

What follows is a very brief summary of some of the numerous medical studies into the anti-cancer effects of the cereal grasses.

Prevention

In 2001, the National Institute of Health in the United States funded a large double blind trial of 180 individuals in Quidong, China. (Egner. A. et. al.) This province has the highest incidence of liver cancer in the world that is most often caused by an aflatoxin, a type of fungus. Using modern assay techniques, researchers were able to demonstrate a doubling of the induction period (the time taken for the cancer to develop) from twenty to forty years in participants who took a daily dose of freshly juiced wheatgrass. Astonishing results indeed that the medical community for some reason prefers to ignore.

Mutation Inhibition

Benzo (a) pyrene is a highly carcinogenic substance. In one study (Peryt. B. et al. 1992) wheatgrass extract significantly reduced the production of benzo-pyrene metabolites in rats. In other words, cell mutation was reduced causing a reduction in the likelihood of cancer developing. So wheatgrass appears to be a natural cancer prophylactic.

In 1978 (Chiu-Nan-Lai et.al.) showed strong inhibition of carcinogenic substances “at a reasonably low level of (wheat sprout) extract which is non-toxic even at high levels while most known inhibitors are toxic at medium to high levels.” Unsprouted, soaked wheat seed did not demonstrate any inhibitory activity.

In 2005, a rye extract was shown to strongly inhibit growth by 55 to 89 percent in five different cancer cell lines using as little as 0.1 to 1 percent. These results, even though determined in a laboratory, are truly amazing.

Prostate Cancer

Dr. M. Badamchian of the George Washington University Medical Centre showed that barley grass extract directly inhibited growth of three different human prostate cancer cells. The extract also killed human breast and melanoma cancer cells both in vitro and in vivo. Human prostate and melanoma cancers were later grafted on to mice that grew into tumours. These were “significantly reduced” by the barley extract.

Chemotherapy

This is one area where I have had exposure to a considerable number of patients and users of wheatgrass. Most undergoing chemotherapy have done well during and after treatment, have not required hospital admission, and side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and mouth ulcers were uncommon. If the evidence suggesting bone marrow stimulation is correct, one might also expect a lesser degree of bone marrow suppression by the cytotoxic or cell killing drugs that are employed in chemotherapy.

Dr. Chris Reynolds. M.B.,B.S.

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