Each month, I examine scientific or health-related claims that are outside of the mainstream to see how they hold up against the rigour of science. This month we are looking at…
Wheatgrass Juices and Powders
The local health store had a poster hanging in the window this weekend promoting wheatgrass juice, specifically the Naturya Wheatgrass Powder. Some of the claims boasted on the advertisement seemed somewhat unconvincing, so I took the time to research this brand of nutritional supplement.
Wheatgrass juice is a marketed health-drink made from a species of ground-up and compressed tall grass, much like what you see in your gardens. While its cloudy, murky green colour may not look appealing, the bottles come labeled with many claims of a healthy, beneficial drink.
Upon visiting the product’s page on the Naturya website, the claims get even more exaggerated. Before we get started, there is nothing immediately dangerous about wheatgrass juice or powders, apart from the obvious hazard of substituting your varied diet for large quantities of the product in question. It is the ambiguity and vagueness in the following claims which put me at ends with this particular supplement. Let’s have a look at the product features promoted on the site:
- Certified organic.
Saying your product is “organic” is an intentionally deceptive marketing ploy. It comes loaded with the implication that the alternative is in some way harmful. Organic food production is identified by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (regulators of organic certification bodies in the UK) as “Avoiding artificial fertilizers and pesticides” and “Using a limited number of approved products and substances where necessary in the processing of organic food.” Nothing there indicates the dangers of traditional farming methods which still delivers the majority of crops to our stores for our consumption. Be skeptical of any product that uses “organic”, or any other vague buzzword, in support of its benefits.
- Rich in chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals.
Chlorophyll is the photosynthetic pigments found in plants that syntheses proteins by absorbing sunlight, powering a chemical reaction, converting carbon dioxide from the air and water in the ground into sugars, and expelling oxygen as a result. Humans get their proteins and sugars from digesting food; not through the use of chlorophyll. Naturya does not explain why the chlorophyll in its wheatgrass product is beneficial (perhaps because there is no benefit for humans at all), some other more confident wheatgrass juice producers like to push the idea that the abundance of oxygen in chlorophyll can optimise the brain. The claim of abundance is false. All types of chlorophyll have only a trace amount of oxygen, as the pigment is a carbohydrate (a rather packed makeup of carbon and hydrogen atoms). If you want a little more oxygen circulating in your head, take a few deep breaths, not a tall glass of wheatgrass.
- Antioxidant properties.
Back in the 1990’s, scientists were beginning to understand how free radicals (the wide term used to describe the millions of threats to the human body) were being combated by antioxidants, the body’s defence to this onslaught of attacks. The supplement industry was quick to latch onto this potential marketing campaign. Even before supportive trials were published, branded goods had large “antioxidants inside” ribbons plastered on their labels. The Harvard School of Public Health has summarised these trials,
“Randomized, placebo-controlled trials—which, when performed well, provide the strongest evidence—offer little support that taking vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, or other single antioxidants provides substantial protection against heart disease, cancer, or other chronic conditions. The results of the largest such trials have been mostly negative.”
Hence, Naturya are just another one of those companies preaching the false claims of antioxidants, by appealing to the ignorance of the general public.
- Contains all eight essential amino acids.
The ribosome of the human cell synthesises proteins from amino acids. Although it can bring together amino acids from other substrates, there are a number of amino acids which cannot be synthesised by the body. These are referred to as essential amino acids. There has been great difficulty in the last two decades estimating the required amount of essential amino acids for protein synthesis. The World Health Organisation has listed the daily amounts for adult humans in this PDF, which are the accepted requirements at the moment. However, companies like Naturya exploit the controversy in essential amino acids by offering “all eight”, just to be safe if your regular balanced diet can’t cover the body’s demands.
As previously mentioned, the claims surrounding Naturya’s wheatgrass powder are vague. Too vague to support any real benefits. Consumers are pulled into buying products like these because of the natural and healthy appeal, when really the supplement adds nothing substantial which cannot already be found in a good, moderated diet.
[Cover image via Creative Commons]