In an editorial that accompanied a landmark study showing an extract of the spice turmeric could be used to fight ulcerative colitis, the authors congratulated the researchers on performing the largest study ever on complementary or alternative medicine approaches to treat inflammatory bowel disease. But that’s not saying much.
Two of the only other high quality trials tested aloe vera gel and wheat grass juice. No significant improvements in clinical remission rates or endoscopy findings on aloe vera were observed,. (And I would recommend against internal aloe use–see my aloe vera videos here). However the wheat grass findings were impressive, as I discuss in my video Wheatgrass Juice for Ulcerative Colitis. “The use of wheat grass…juice for treatment of various gastrointestinal and other conditions had been suggested by its proponents for more than 30 years, but was never clinically assessed in a controlled trial”…until now.
Wrote the researchers: “The use of wheat grass juice in the treatment of [ulcerative colitis] UC was brought to our attention by several patients with UC who attributed improvement to regular use of the extract.” So, in a pilot study, the researchers gave 100 cc of wheatgrass juice, which is between a third and a half cup, daily to ten patients for two weeks. “Eight patients described clinical improvement, one had no change, and one got worse.” Why had I never heard of this study? Because it was never published. They thought they were really onto something, so they wanted to do it right. Therefore, the “randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was designed to examine the effects of wheat grass juice in patients with active distal U[lcerative]C[olitis].”
The study found that treatment with wheatgrass juice was associated with reductions in overall disease activity and the severity of rectal bleeding. Ninety percent of the wheatgrass patients improved, and none got worse. The researchers concluded that wheatgrass juice appeared effective and safe as a single or added treatment of active lower ulcerative colitis.
No answer is available at present as to the site of wheatgrass juice action. Does the active substance get absorbed into the body and have some kind of general anti-inflammatory effect, or does it act locally right in the colon? How would you figure that out? Well, you could juice in the opposite direction (i.e. wheatgrass enemas).
A study like this raises so many questions. How would wheatgrass juice perform head-to-head against other treatments? Does it have any role in preventing attacks, or does it only work when you already have one? Should we be giving it to people with Crohn’s disease, too? What’s the best dose? It’s been over ten years since the publication of this study, yet nothing has been published since. How sad. Yes, no one’s going to make a million dollars selling wheat berries, but what about the wheatgrass juicer companies? I wish they’d pony up some research dollars.
Until then, the researchers “believe that wheat grass juice offers a genuine therapeutic advantage in the disabling disease of UC.” That is, if you can stand the taste.
The turmeric video I mentioned is Striking with the Root: Turmeric Curcumin and Ulcerative Colitis.
I think the only other video I’ve mentioned wheatgrass is How Much Broccoli Is Too Much? and that was really just for comic relief. This is one of the topics I get lots of questions about, but there just wasn’t any good science…until now! Please never hesitate to contact me with topics you’d like us to cover.
For more on ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease, see:
Michael Greger, M.D.
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