Thalassemia in children: Wheatgrass induces fetal hemoglobin increase

Thalassemia: Wheatgrass Shows Promise As An Effective Inducer Of Fetal Hemoglobin

Reynolds, C. Australasian Integrative Med. Assoc. August, 2004.

Background: Thalassemia is a genetic disorder where haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body is not made correctly.  There are a number of different types of thalassemias, which can vary in how severe they are.  The symptoms can range from a mild anemia to needing regular blood transfusions to death.  One approach in treating thalassemia has been to “push” the body to go back to producing the type of hemoglobin we all produce while still in the womb.  This type of haemoglobin is called foetal haemoglobin (HbF) and is very effective at transporting oxygen to the tissues.

Laboratory Findings:  An earlier study was done in India (1) . This study showed that thalassemia patients increased the amounts of HbF in their blood after using wheatgrass juice.  The researchers in India based their work in part on the belief that the chlorophyll in the juice was the “active agent” in increasing the levels of HbF in these thalassemia patients. Because of this earlier work, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, headed by Prof. Panos Ioannou became interested in testing wheatgrass extract to see if it can “push” or induce an increase in foetal haemoglobin production in human blood cells.  This study  used three separate human blood cell lines and found that the wheatgrass extract caused a 3-5 times higher level of HbF over what is normally seen in these cells.

Conclusions:  While this study was done in the laboratory on cells in a test tube, the fact that the wheatgrass extract was able to increase the amount of HbF these cells produced is a promising sign that may assist patients with thalassemia and possibly other forms of anemia.  The fact that the wheatgrass extract did NOT contain any chlorophyll tends to lay to rest the idea that it is the chlorophyll that increases the HbF levels.  It must be another factor—one that is still waiting to be discovered.  While exact dosing is not known, Dr Reynolds recommends that the extract be held in the mouth for at least a minute before swallowing.  The reason?  The inside of the mouth is lined with cells that absorb substances much more quickly than can happen in the stomach and digestive tract.

1. Marwaha RK, Bansal D, Kaur S, Trehan A. Wheat grass juice reduces transfusion requirement in patients with thalassemia major: a pilot study. Indian Pediatr. 2004 Jul;41(7):716-20.