Wheatgrass is the young grass of the common wheat plant, Triticum aestivum. It contains high concentrations of chlorophyll, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Some proponents claim that wheatgrass has cleansing and detoxification properties, especially for the digestive system.
This article reviews the evidence on whether wheatgrass is good for your bowels and digestive health.
What Is Wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass refers to the young grass shoots of the wheat plant, Triticum aestivum. It is prepared commercially by sprouting wheat seeds until the shoot has grown to a height of 7–11 inches (18–28 cm). The grass is then harvested, freeze-dried and powdered.
Wheatgrass can be consumed as a juice, powder or tablet. It is loaded with nutrients, including:
- Chlorophyll: Wheatgrass contains up to 70% chlorophyll, giving it a bright green color. Chlorophyll is linked to anti-inflammatory effects and reduced oxidative stress.
- Amino acids: Up to 30% of its composition. Wheatgrass contains all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source.
- Vitamins: Particularly high in vitamins A, C and E.
- Minerals: Contains iron, magnesium, calcium and potassium.
- Enzymes: Abundant in enzymes like superoxide dismutase and cytochrome oxidase.
Some proponents state that consuming wheatgrass regularly can provide health benefits ranging from detoxification to cancer prevention. However, many claimed benefits are not well supported by studies.
Wheatgrass and Digestive Health
Wheatgrass enthusiasts believe it provides the following benefits to digestive health:
- Detoxification of the liver and gastrointestinal tract
- Reduced constipation
- Improved regularity
- Increased fiber intake
- Treatment of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases
Below is an overview of the evidence behind these claims.
Wheatgrass is thought to improve digestion by detoxifying the liver and colon. However, there is limited evidence to support this.
One study gave wheatgrass juice to 60 people with ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease. Consuming 100 ml (3.4 oz) daily for one month reduced disease severity just as well as the drug sulfasalazine (1).
Additionally, wheatgrass juice given to rats reduced markers of oxidative stress in the colon, indicating a possible anti-inflammatory effect (2).
More studies are needed before making conclusions about wheatgrass and detoxification.
Constipation and Regularity
Due to its fiber content, wheatgrass may help treat constipation when consumed daily.
Just 1 ounce (30 ml) of wheatgrass juice provides about 2 grams of dietary fiber, fulfilling 7–8% of the daily value (3).
Studies show that getting adequate fiber from foods or supplements can help reduce constipation (4, 5).
However, most studies use fiber intakes of 12–40 grams per day. Given the low fiber content of wheatgrass, it’s unlikely to make a major impact.
Some proponents claim that specific enzymes like sOD (superoxide dismutase) in wheatgrass help cleanse the colon by drawing water into the intestines. However, there is no evidence to support this.
Overall, the role of wheatgrass in preventing or relieving constipation is unclear.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are two common types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by chronic intestinal inflammation.
Some studies indicate that wheatgrass may benefit ulcerative colitis. Consuming wheatgrass juice for one month reduced disease severity and improved antioxidant levels in 60 people with ulcerative colitis (1).
Another study gave wheatgrass juice to 21 patients with ulcerative colitis. Almost half saw improvements in symptoms like rectal bleeding, bowel movements and need for drugs (6).
However, less evidence exists for its effects on Crohn’s disease. One study gave wheatgrass juice to 48 young patients with Crohn’s disease. Just 23% saw a reduction in symptoms (7).
Overall, wheatgrass appears more effective at managing ulcerative colitis symptoms than Crohn’s disease.
Other Potential Digestive Benefits
Here are some other ways wheatgrass may promote digestive health:
Better Nutrient Absorption
Wheatgrass juice is rich in antioxidants, which may help fight oxidative stress in your digestive system. Test-tube studies have found reduced oxidative damage to colon cells treated with wheatgrass extracts (2, 8).
Minimizing oxidative stress promotes better nutrient absorption. However, human studies are needed.
Gut Barrier Function
Some animal studies indicate wheatgrass may strengthen intestinal barrier function to prevent “leaky gut syndrome.”
In one study, wheatgrass extracts reduced intestinal permeability and tightened junctions between colon cells in rats with ulcerative colitis (9).
If these effects are confirmed in humans, wheatgrass may help promote gut health.
Healthy Gut Flora
The indigestible fiber in wheatgrass may function as a prebiotic by feeding beneficial gut bacteria.
No studies have examined wheatgrass’ effects on gut flora. However, research indicates that prebiotic fiber increases beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli (10).
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
Wheatgrass is generally safe when consumed in moderation. However, some precautions are advised:
- May cause nausea and headaches when taken on an empty stomach.
- Drinking large amounts may impact mineral absorption.
- Wheatgrass juice can become contaminated with bacteria during preparation.
- May interact with certain medications, including chemotherapy drugs.
- Not recommended for children.
- Pregnant or nursing women should exercise caution.
It’s best to start with a small dose and increase slowly. If you experience side effects, decrease your intake.
Some evidence suggests wheatgrass may benefit digestive issues like ulcerative colitis, constipation and gut inflammation.
It provides antioxidants, fiber, amino acids and chlorophyll. These may promote better nutrient absorption, defend against leaky gut and help detoxify your digestive tract.
However, human research on wheatgrass is lacking, and its effects at normal intakes are unlikely to be significant. Most studies use wheatgrass juice at a dose of 1–2 ounces (30–60 ml) per day.
While generally safe, wheatgrass can also cause side effects when consumed in excess on an empty stomach.
At the end of the day, wheatgrass is just one component of an overall healthy diet. Get most of your vitamins, minerals and fiber from whole foods first.
The Bottom Line
Some research indicates wheatgrass juice may benefit digestion due to its antioxidant content and ability to enhance detoxification. However, many claims about wheatgrass are exaggerated.
While wheatgrass supplements are unlikely to harm you, they’re also unlikely to be a cure-all. Focus instead on eating more whole vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds to maximize nutrient intake.
With smart dietary choices, you can enjoy all the health benefits of plant foods — including fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
At the end of the day, a healthy, well-rounded diet trumps any one particular food like wheatgrass.