Wheatgrass assists iron chelation

Investigation into iron chelating activity of Triticum aestivum (wheat grass) in iron-dextran induced iron overload model of thalassemia.

P. R. Tirgar1, T. R. Desai. J. Pharm. Res. 2011,4(9),3066-3069

Background:  Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder where an abnormal and ineffective form of the oxygen-carrying molecule, hemoglobin, is made.  The thalassemia hemoglobin, contained within the red blood cells, is inefficient at carrying oxygen and as a result, the red blood cells are destroyed.  There are a number of different forms of thalassemia, but the end result is some form of anemia.  When the red blood cells are destroyed, the body responds by trying to absorb more iron—but, since the red blood cells can’t incorporate the iron (Fe) into the defective hemoglobin, these patients end up with too much iron—a condition called iron-overload.  If the anemia is treated with blood transfusions, this condition can get even worse.  Symptoms of Fe-overload include fatigue, bronzing of the skin, the loss of libido, joint and abdominal pain and generalized weakness.
Wheatgrass, because of its high levels of the plant substances known as phenols and flavenoids—these substances are known to “chelate” or soak up excess iron—was thought to be potentially useful to treat the iron-overload (Fe-overload) in thalassemia patients.  The study summarized below looked at an animal model of Fe-overload to study the effectiveness of wheatgrass to soak up the excess iron.

Laboratory Study: Male rats were loaded up with Fe using injections of an Fe containing substance, Fe-Dextran.  This had been shown to produce a condition in rats that is very similar to Fe-overload in thalassemia patients.  During the 30-day period of the study, serum Fe, ferritin (an iron-binding substance that is used clinically to follow the progress of anemia) and the levels of iron in the urine and stools were determined. The rats were divided into a number of groups, with:
• Some receiving desferroxamine, a substance used to treat Fe-overload in thalassemia
• Some receiving either water- or alcohol-extracts of wheatgrass
• Some serving as various control groups

Conclusions:  These researchers found that both the water and alcohol extracts of wheatgrass were able to reduce the Fe-overload in these animals by increasing the excretion of iron in both the urine and the feces.  They found that wheatgrass was a very effective “sponge” for the excess iron. This could be an important finding for thalassemia patients because treatment with desferroxamine and other agents commonly used to treat Fe-overload can be complicated by serious adverse effects and side effects, and the use of wheatgrass is associated with very few side effects and no adverse effects.