Friday, November 23, 2012

Wheatgrass: "Creat" your own reality!

Wheatgrass juice being made. Credit: Wikipedia.
Image available via Creative Commons license.
I've found the idea of wheatgrass funny for a while now. Pseudo-health stores that dress up fruit/sugar concoctions as 'health drinks' by throwing in a spoonful of nutritional supplement dust have become popular recently, and they all seem to peddle the privilege of drinking shots of wheatgrass juice. For a fee ($2-$3), you can get a bunch of grass squeezed into juice by a machine (itself a few hundred dollars) and then drink it. Cows consume grass, too, but it's free for them and then we turn them into delicious beef.

Proponents of wheatgrass juice basically think it's a nutritional panacea. But a lot of the health claims (i.e. it contains lots of vitamin B12, which is an important vitamin that is found in meat and so vegans don't usually get enough) are dubious (i.e. turns out the B12 content is negligible). There's not a lot of scientific literature on the effects of wheatgrass (PubMed lists only 2 random controlled trials involving wheatgrass, for instance). But most evidence seems to suggest that wheatgrass is no better or worse than any green vegetable. It's just trendier.

Lack of evidence doesn't stop the marketing people. One of my favorite wheatgrass companies is Pure Intentions, who not only sell the stuff to local smoothie shops but also operate a School of Energy (a "diverse spectrum of holistic and energetic facilitators and teachers for all ages and levels"). Their website contains all sorts of cringe-worthy pseudoscience/bad-science goodies.

Let's take a look at what Pure Intentions says about their product (red comments are mine)
"What is Wheatgrass?
Wheatgrass is the young grass of wheat grown from the red winter wheatberry seed. The fresh-squeezed juice of the grass produces high concentrations of chlorophyll, active enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is true that 1oz. of wheatgrass juice has the nutritional equivalent of 2-1/2 lbs. of green, leafy vegetables. [no--it doesn't--Dole, for instance, points out that spinach is much richer in nutrients. and pressing it into juice to concentrate it is kind of cheating] It is one of the richest natural sources of vitamins A, B complex, B-17, C, E, & K. Additionally, it is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, sulfur, cobalt, zinc, as well as 17 forms of amino acids and enzymes." [apparently 'excellent source' doesn't mean much, since it's got 1% DV of calcium/magnesium/phosphorus but 413% DV zinc]
Here is where it gets good:
"Why is Chlorophyll important? [why did you capitalize it? why?]  
Chlorophyll, which makes up over 70% of the solid content of wheatgrass juice, is the basis of all plant life and closely resembles the molecular structure of human red blood cells. [...] Chlorophyll is the first product of light, containing more light energy than any other element. [make it stop. make it stop.] It can be extracted from any plant, but wheatgrass is superior because it has been found to have over 100 elements needed by the human body." [it has over 100 elements? I'm pretty sure you're obligated to include thallium and lead and stuff by that point...]
What?

Chlorophyll A and human red blood cells
displaying remarkable structural similarity.
Credit: RBC Image is in the public domain.
Hey guys! Chlorophyll is THE BASIS of all plant life! Forget amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids.

And as depicted in the figure to the left, they're correct. Chlorophyll certainly does resemble human erythrocytes.

My favorite jam-packed sentence: "Chlorophylll is the first product of light, containing more light energy than any other element." Digest that one for a second. Pretty high cringe efficiency. Personally, I've never noticed the "element" chlorophyll on the periodic table, but then again--I'm an organic chemist, so if it's in the transition metals or lanthanides, I probably ignored it. And what is "light energy"? Photons? It has photons? In... a bucket? Where does it keep the photons? It's remarkable that chlorophyll is the "first product of light"; turning all those photons into carbon and nitrogen must be hard work.

Chlorophyll is important, of course, in the process of photosynthesis (which is a pretty cool process). It's what the authors are trying to hint at, though even if you fix the inaccuracies photosynthesis is irrelevant to human nutrition. We can't digest chlorophyll. So regardless what nice things you might say about it, it's useless as a supplement.

The website also proclaims the abundance of enzymes in wheatgrass:
"Enzymes play an important role in many bodily functions including vision, thought, reproduction, breathing, and digestion, just to mention a few. The enzymes found in wheatgrass have been found to supplement the indigenous enzymes manufactured in the human body."
This leaf also contains chlorophyll, and for $200 you can
probably make it into a trendy organic drink.
Source: my own work. I totally found that leaf.
This is, of course, nonsense. Enzymes are nature's catalysts, and with rare exceptions they are proteins. All organisms need enzymes to function--they catalyze diverse functions from translation of RNA to metabolism to immune responses to cell signaling. But we make our own diverse set of highly specialized enzymes, and each organism's enzymes are typically different from other species, genera, orders, and so on. So ingesting a bunch of wheatgrass enzymes doesn't give you mystical powers of wheatgrass. In fact, your body won't even use them. Since enzymes are proteins, they are digested indiscriminately in the stomach, along with all other protein. Congratulations: you've made some ordinary amino acids. Simply put, ingesting enzymes confers no health benefit.

I encourage you to read the rest of what they say; there's more delightful puzzles in there. The growers make a bunch of health claims, tell you that wheatgrass is so potent it'll give you nausea, and advise you to cleanse your palate with a lemon afterwards (maybe because grass is disgusting).

$3 worth of wheatgrass. Source:
Pure Intentions website
Like I said earlier, there's not a lot of scientific literature behind the wheatgrass juice phenomenon. So most of what is put out is hype--a mixture of novelty, optimism, and marketing. There may be health benefits (it's a vegetable, after all). But wrapping anything up in pseudoscience is dishonest and does a disservice to gullible customers. It's not the chlorophyll; in case your biology is rusty, humans can't photosynthesize or even digest the molecule. It's not the enzymes (hello, denaturing environment of the stomach).

Wheatgrass juice is an example of one of those areas where anecdotes carry more emotional weight than conventional medicine. This phenomenon has been written about before (see Denialism by Michael Specter for a good read in this area). It's interesting, and something we have to be aware of as scientists. As pitifully adorable as the glaring pseudoscience above is, it's actually effective in reaching people. We might have science on our side, but they have marketing.

Added note: check out their recently added "cat grass" (vets seem to support this) and "floral grass." I especially like the tagline: "Creat your own reality!"

Creat your own reality! Source: Pure Intentions website.




8 comments:

  1. here's your science- which states there are pretty incredible values of wheatgrass: http://journals.tubitak.gov.tr/medical/issues/sag-11-41-4/sag-41-4-13-0912-425.pdf

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wheres the study with spinach?

      Delete
  2. Chia sẻ cho các bạnCách làm kem dưỡng da ban đêm từ thiên nhiên
    để có làn da trắng bạn sử dụng nhiểu kêm dưỡng da cũng như dịch vụ sap, thẩm mỹ có bao giờ bạn tự tìm hiểuCách làm kem dưỡng trắng da toàn thân từ thiên nhiên
    Cùng tìm hiểu để có Cách phân biệt và công dụng của kem lót và kem nền trang điểm
    Sữa chua là sản phẩm giải khác còn là sản phẩm giúp làm đẹp hiệu quả. Cùng tìm hiểuCông thức làm trắng da mặt bằng sữa chua không đường hiệu quả
    Kem chống nắng được nhiều ngưởi sử dụng vậy có cung tìm hiểu7 cách sử dụng kem chống nắng được hiệu quả

    ReplyDelete
  3. Chia sẻ cho các bạnCách làm kem dưỡng da ban đêm từ thiên nhiên
    để có làn da trắng bạn sử dụng nhiểu kêm dưỡng da cũng như dịch vụ sap, thẩm mỹ có bao giờ bạn tự tìm hiểuCách làm kem dưỡng trắng da toàn thân từ thiên nhiên
    Cùng tìm hiểu để có Cách phân biệt và công dụng của kem lót và kem nền trang điểm
    Sữa chua là sản phẩm giải khác còn là sản phẩm giúp làm đẹp hiệu quả. Cùng tìm hiểuCông thức làm trắng da mặt bằng sữa chua không đường hiệu quả
    Kem chống nắng được nhiều ngưởi sử dụng vậy có cung tìm hiểu7 cách sử dụng kem chống nắng được hiệu quả

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dầu dừa là một loại thảo dược vô cùng tốt cho sức khóe,cũng như công cuộc làm đep của chị em phụ nữ.Nó được làm từ hoàn toàn tự nhiên,không độc hại,nhưng cách sử dụng dầu dừa đúng cách
    Dầu dừa là dược phẩm rất tuyệt vời để làm đẹp da, hạn chế rạn da, nám da hay tắm trắng. Bạn hoàn toàn có thể tự làm dầu dừa tại nhà để có được dầu dừa nguyên chất cho nhu cầu của mình. Chúng tôi sẽ hướng dẫn 2 cách làm dầu dừa nguyên chất tại nhà
    Tôi tình cờ xem một chương trình tọa đàm về nguy cơ mắc ung thư thời hiện đại trên VTV2 . Qua đó tôi được biết, những người có thói quen ăn mặn cũng có khả năng mắc bệnh ung thư vòm họng. Vậy xin hỏi bác sĩ, đối tượng nào nằm trong nhóm có nguy cơ cao bị ung thư vòm họng xin bác sĩ cung cấp thêm một sốtriệu chứng ung thư vòm họng
    Máu trong giấc mơ đại diện cho cuộc sống, tình yêu, niềm đam mê cũng như sự thất vọng. Nếu bạn thấy từ “máu” trong giấc mơ của bạn, thì nó có thể ám chỉ đến một số tình huống sắp tới trong cuộc sống của bạn mà không thể thay đổi.Vậynằm mơ thấy máu là điềm gì
    Dầu dừa là phương pháp hiệu quả giúp bạn nhanh chóng có một mái tóc mềm mượt và óng ả. Dưới đây là một số hướng dẫn cáchcách ủ tóc bằng dầu dừa hiệu quả
    Bạn vừa quan hệ với chồng và đang băn khoăn không biết mình đã thụ thai hay chưa? Và thử thai vào thời điểm này có chính xác hay không? Vậyquan hệ bao lâu biết có thai
    Kem dừa là món ăn vặt được nhiều người yêu thích với vị kem lạnh kết hợp với vị thơm, giòn và bùi bùi của dừa tạo nên một hương vị khó tả ở đầu lưỡi.cùng tìm hiểu cach lam kem dua

    ReplyDelete