They may not have had indoor plumbing, but some ancient civilizations got a lot of things right—at least when it came to using food as a medicine to care for your body. Take wheatgrass, for example. You can trace it back 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, where it was used to promote health and vitality. Wheat grass may have even been used in early Mesopotamia.
As far as the Western world goes, wheatgrass didn’t become popular till the 1930s. At that time, it came into the spotlight thanks to the efforts of a fellow named Charles Schnabel (he was acclaimed the “father of wheatgrass” for his labors). Ann Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute and an advocate of the raw food diet, was also a strong supporter.
So today I want to talk about why wheatgrass juice has become such a phenomenon and whether it really can help you treat or prevent cancer.
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We juice it for “plant blood”
Wheat grass is really just early growth from the common wheat plant. To make the juice, you take sprouting wheat seeds that have been soaked in water for a day. Once the wheat seeds have expanded in size and sprouted, you plant them in damp soil and leave them to grow till the grass reaches a height of five to six inches. Then you harvest it, juice it and (ideally) enjoy it.
If you’re avoiding gluten, there’s no need to worry. Gluten is found only in the seed of the wheat plant, not in the leaves.
But why go to the trouble of drinking this green superfood that really just tastes a lot like, well, grass? Mainly because the resulting juice consists of 70% chlorophyll. Chlorophyll has been nicknamed the “blood of plant life” and has a chemical structure nearly identical to hemoglobin.
So that’s interesting. But what are the benefits to consuming large amounts of chlorophyll? Advocates say chlorophyll cleanses your blood by helping to improve the supply of oxygen to the circulatory system. That’s a terrific thing for anybody fighting or working to prevent cancer, given that cancer can barely survive – let alone thrive – in oxygen-heavy situations.
Plus, in a study a few years ago from the Linus Pauling Institute, chlorophyllin (the widely used derivative of chlorophyll), was found to have chemoprotective effects. Along with that, natural chlorophyll itself functions as a potent anticancer agent.
In a separate study at Oregon State University, chlorophyll was found to offer protection against cancer following modest exposure to carcinogens. The mechanism is simple: Chlorophyll binds with and quarantines carcinogens in the gastrointestinal tract until they’re eliminated from the body.
In effect, chlorophyll takes on those carcinogens your body has trouble eliminating on its own, such as carcinogens from air pollution. By doing this, it keeps the toxins from damaging your DNA, effectively preventing cancer
Wheatgrass benefits don’t stop with chlorophyll…
Wheatgrass is also considered a complete protein and contains about 30 enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. More specifically, it’s a rich source of potassium, not to mention a good source of vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium.
Wheatgrass is touted as a treatment for a wide range of health issues, from the common cold to fevers and infections to inflammation. Its fans also say that wheatgrass prevents tooth decay, keeps hair from going gray, lowers blood pressure, and helps with treatment not only for cancer but for AIDS, too.
So why isn’t wheatgrass prescribed or at least recommended on a daily basis by all healthcare practitioners? Simple. Most of the claims aren’t supported by prize-garnering clinical studies. A lot of the evidence comes through personal testimony.
But lately we’re seeing more studies to buttress claims for wheatgrass as a cancer treatment. For example, in a 2006 study published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the effect of wheat grass juice on terminally ill cancer patients was measured. Patients ranged in age from 22 to 87 years old and had a variety of cancers, including lung, breast, colon, ovary, and esophagus cancers. Five-day old wheat grass was juiced and served fresh to 348 cancer patients for a period of six months.
At the end of the study, researchers found the patients’ levels of hemoglobin, total protein, and albumin had improved significantly. Platelet and white blood cell counts had not been affected, but the cells’ performance status improved between 50 and 70%.
The study authors concluded that wheat grass juice was an effective alternative to blood transfusions and recommended continuous use for terminally ill cancer patients.
Consider it a smart daily addition to your diet
It seems to me there’s a pretty strong argument for wheatgrass as a healthy food. There is less evidence that it qualifies as a cancer treatment. Many foods and supplements fall into this category – we know they’re good nutrition, we can’t really claim they have medicinal value.
Quite a few alternative cancer clinics and practitioners are ardent fans of wheatgrass juice. There are some individual case studies of patients who recovered from cancer and give wheatgrass juice a large share of the credit. Many practitioners also recommend chlorophyll – whatever the source — to cancer patients, and wheatgrass is one of the richest sources of chlorophyll available.
If you’re looking for best practices, our sources say you should drink wheatgrass first thing in the morning – that way you’re shored up for protection as you breathe air pollutants or find yourself exposed to other toxins throughout the day.
If you plan on eating something with potential toxins, like a charbroiled steak, then it’s recommended to drink wheatgrass juice 20-30 minutes beforehand so you have a fresh dose of chlorophyll in your digestive tract ready to bind with and eliminate any carcinogens that pass through.
And yes, you can get wheatgrass in powder or supplement form. That works, but the fresh juice is likely the most nutritionally potent approach.
Our last issue talked about a green food that, in my opinion, is better supported by research – and tastes good, too. If you missed it, we’re running it again just below.
This Herb Turns off Cancer Cell Growth, Tops Kale as a Superfood
There’s a reason the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, built his first hospital in close proximity to a stream where watercress grew. He wanted his patients to have easy access to this healing food.
We’d be wise to follow his lead and plant it in our own gardens, or at least seek it out on a regular basis. That’s because this leafy-green nutritional powerhouse continues to impress the anti-cancer community – and I can see why.
I’ve written before about its many health benefits, but lately some research suggests it may be the most nutritious of all foods. It’s certainly high on the list. . .
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For starters, the Huffington Post listed watercress as one of the key foods you should add to your diet in 2015. They and other news outlets even go so far as to call it the superfood that will unseat kale. (I don’t know that it’s worth comparing the two; they’re both powerful in different ways — so I say eat them both.)
The rise of nutrient profiling
Part of this fanfare for watercress stems from landing the highest nutrient score of any fruit or vegetable. In an elaborate, cross-sectional study with a three-step identification process published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), watercress scored a clean 100 (out of 100) in terms of nutrient density (kale scored 49, if you’re curious).
The study measured 17 nutrients of public health importance, including potassium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, zinc, and vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K.
To win the distinction of powerhouse vegetable, the foods studied needed every 100-calorie portion to provide an average of 10% or more of the daily value of nutrients. Scores were based on nutrients and calorie density (calorie density is the number of calories in a certain weight of food, which was 100 grams for the purpose of this study).
What this score “officially” means is simple: Watercress can now be classified as a powerhouse food with the potential to significantly reduce your risk of chronic disease. Gram for gram, watercress has more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more calcium than milk. Translation: Eat it as often as you possibly can.
How watercress chokes the life out of cancer cells
In the world of cancer prevention, the logic is simple. Somewhere between 30 and 40% of cancers are linked directly to poor diet and related factors. Watercress — as the little-known cousin of cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts — has a staggering ability to bring high levels of antioxidants to your system.
This is why mounting evidence shows watercress may lower the risk of breast, prostate, and colon cancers, and may keep cancer from growing and spreading.
Watercress is loaded with many of the anti-cancer chemicals I’ve written about in the past, such as glucosinolates, phytochemicals, and nasturtiin. In fact, it’s exceptionally rich in nasturtiin, which is a precursor to phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). So what? Here’s what. . .
PEITC exerts an anti-carcinogenic effect by inhibiting the liver’s phase I enzymes, which can activate carcinogens. In a study where human prostate cancer cells were exposed to PEITC, tumor growth was inhibited and apoptosis occurred (death of cancer cells).
In another study, compounds from watercress and broccoli suppressed a strain of invasive breast cancer cells. Specifically, isothiocyanate compounds were shown to hinder an enzyme that promotes the progression of certain cancers by breaking down the body’s natural barriers. Watercress compounds brought this activity to a halt.
Even better, another study on the effects of eating raw watercress showed supreme DNA-protective effects. The study involved eating three ounces of raw watercress every day for eight weeks. At the end of the study, on average, basal DNA damage improved by 17%, beta-carotene levels rose by 33%, and lutein levels shot up by 100.2%.
But what’s really interesting is that half the study participants were smokers. And the smokers enjoyed more DNA-protective benefits on average than did the non-smokers in the study. Which means watercress doesn’t just go in and fix things by a certain percentage… its nutrients attempt to recalibrate your body to normal, no matter how bad things have gotten.
By the way, it’s not just cancer that’s positively affected by watercress. Growing evidence shows eating watercress daily may lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration (which leads to adult blindness). This isn’t surprising, considering the high levels of lutein referenced above.
Watercress also offers protection to the cardiovascular system by lowering levels of atherosclerosis in the arteries of the neck. Researchers believe these benefits are due to watercress being so densely packed with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which are beneficial to the eyes and heart.
No longer just a decorative garnish
Watercress is available at grocery stores year round, but its peak months are April through June (meaning it might be cheaper or taste fresher). When you go to buy it, look for a bunch with healthy green leaves that smell fresh and spicy. You can store it in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to four days.
The best way to incorporate more watercress into your life is to use it as you would lettuce. Trim the stems, rinse it in cold water, then dry it on a paper towel or with a salad spinner. Once cleaned, you can put it in salads, sandwiches, soups, or stir fry recipes, or you might sprinkle it over pizza.
But you’ll get optimum benefits if you eat it raw (think salads or smoothies), because heat exposure could affect some nutrients. Even cooked, I bet it will provide more nutritional benefit for you than most foods.