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"Wheat grass" is a variety of grass like barley, oats and rye, grown in fields across America. "Wheatgrass" refers to grass grown indoors in trays for approximately 10 days and is the kind that is squeezed into a fresh juice. The tray-grown grass is used primarily for therapeutic purposes. The 60+day old field grown grasses, available in dehydrated powder or tablets, are used primarily as nutritional supplements.

Wheatgrass juice, made from sprounted wheat berries, is said to be high in chlorophyll. Claims are that the juice "cleanses" the body, neutralizes toxins, slows the aging process, and prevents cancer.

The idea that wheatgrass can benefit serious disease sufferers was conceived by Ann Wigmore, a Boston area resident. Wigmore (1909-94) was born in Lithuania and raised by her grandmother who, Wigmore said, gave her an unwavering confidence in the healing power of nature.

Wigmore believed in astrology, and described herself (a Pisces) as a dreamer who saw life from the spiritual viewpoint to the neglect of the physical. Wigmore's theory on the healing power of grasses was predicated upon the Biblical story of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar who spent seven years, insane, living like a wild animal eating the grass of the fields. Because he recovered, Wigmore theorized that the grasses had cured his insanity. The common observation that dogs and cats nibble on grass, presumably when they feel ill, also strengthened Wigmore's belief in the healing power of grasses.

Wigmore theorized that rotting food in the intestine forms toxins that circulate in the bloodstream (aka, the intestinal toxicity theory) and cause cancer. She taught that the life span of the wheatgrass juice was less than three hours so it had to be cut from growing plants, juiced and consumed fresh. She speculated that the enzymes found in raw wheatgrass were alive and could "detoxify" the body by oral ingestion and by enemas.

It was the chlorophyll in wheatgrass that enthused Wigmore. She called chlorophyll "the life blood of the planet." Wigmore believed that cooking foods "killed" them because this deactivates enzymes. She held that the moment the "sacred" 7.4 acid-alkaline balance (the same as human blood) is "killed" that its effectiveness would be reduced.

The fact that grass-eating animals are not spared from cancer, despite their large intake of fresh chlorophyll, seems to have been lost on Wigmore. In fact, chlorophyll cannot "detoxify the body" since it is not absorbed. Although it is conceivable that enzymes present in rectally-administered wheatgrass juice could have chemical activity, there is no evidence that this is beneficial. In fact, when challenged legally, Wigmore backed away from healing claims stating that she merely had an "educational program" to teach people how to "cleanse" their bodies and make vegetable juices (she also offered for sale a variety of juicers and other "health" paraphernalia).

In 1988, the Massachusetts Attorney General sued Wigmore for claiming that her "energy enzyme soup" could cure AIDS. Suffolk County Judge Robert A. Mulligan ruled that Wigmore's views on how to combat AIDS were protected by the First Amendment, but ordered her to stop representing herself as a physician or as a person licensed in any way to treat disease. This was not the first time Wigmore had run afoul of the law. In 1982 the Attorney General of Massachusetts sued Wigmore for claiming that her program could reduce or eliminate the need for insulin in diabetics, and could obviate the need for routine immunization in children. She abandoned those claims after losing in court.

Wigmore wrote at least 15 books, established the Hippocrates Health Institute (c.1963) which later was renamed the Ann Wigmore Institute (AWI). Wigmore claimed to have a Doctor of Divinity (DD) from the College of Divine Metaphysics in Indianapolis. She also listed a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) degree at different times. None of her credentials appear to have been from accredited schools. Among other things, Wigmore also promoted "natural hygiene," spiritual healing, zone therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, color therapy, and spot therapy. A number of "Living Foods" groups around the world espouse Wigmore's teachings.

Popularized in the 1970s by Dr. Ann Wigmore and other natural food pioneers, tray-grown wheatgrass juice has become a familiar product in juice bars, natural food stores, and the homes of do-it-yourself juicers worldwide. The juice has been associated with many health benefits. However, many who purchase "fresh" wheatgrass juice don’t realize that it has not reached its full nutritional potential. Wheat grass grown outdoors in its natural climate has much higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll than tray-grown grass due to vast differences in the growth process.

Tray-grown wheatgrass is grown in a warm greenhouse or indoors under fluorescent lighting. After growing for 7-10 days, the plant is approximately 6-8 inches tall. It is then harvested and juiced for consumption. Because it grows so quickly in the warm conditions, the plant has a relatively high level of simple sugars and is not given time to convert these sugars into complex carbohydrates, vitamins, enzymes, and proteins. This may explain the quick burst of energy that some users experience immediately after drinking the juice. Said to be a complete food, wheatgrass is a source of beta carotene and the B vitamins, plus C, E, H and K, is said to contain 90 different minerals and 19 amino acids. 'More iron than spinach, more protein than meat, fish, eggs, beans or dairy produce', says one supplier. And the tablet form gives twice the fiber of bran. Wheatgrass has an amazing ability to concentrate nutrients from the soil - maybe why it has been such a successful plant in evolutionary terms. Scientists have established that it has to be cultivated carefully and harvested at the 'jointing' stage, when content of chlorophyll, enzymes and other nutrients is at its peak.

It turns out that wheatgrass juice is up to 70% chlorophyll, which in chemical composition closely resembles haemoglobin. It is said to heal tissues, help purify the liver, improve blood sugar levels and help flush out accumulated toxins. That makes it an ideal 'companion' for fasting and in weight control regimes - taking it in tablet form gives some sensation of fullness'.

In "The American Journal of Surgery" (1940), Benjamin Cruskin, M.D., recommends chlorophyll for its antiseptic benefits. The article suggests the following clinical uses for chlorophyll: to clear up foul-smelling odors, neutralize strep infections, heal wounds, hasten skin grafting, cure chronic sinusitis, overcome ear inflammation and infections, reduce varicose veins and heal leg ulcers, eliminate impetigo and other scabby eruptions, heal rectal sores, successfully treat inflammation of the uterine cervix, get rid of parasitic vaginal infections, reduce typhoid fever, and cure advanced pyorrhea in many cases.

Chlorophyll is antibacterial and can be used inside and outside the body as a healer. Gargle with wheatgrass juice for a sore throat. Wheatgrass juice is great for constipation and keeping the bowels open.

- Ellen Coleman, RD, MA, MPH. Wheatgrass HCRC FAQ Sheet. Health Care Reality Check. - WHEATGRASS THERAPY. NCAHF Newsletter Volume 17, Number 5 (September-October 1994) NCAHF, Inc.