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Wheatgrass Therapy

William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

The notion 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, according to Wigmore, 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 insane years living like a wild animal eating the grass of the fields. Because he recovered, Wigmore presumed that the grasses had cured his insanity. [The Bible says that a prescribed seven years of insanity was visited upon the King as Divine punishment for his arrogance. (Dan 4:31-7)]

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 [1]. Wigmore theorized that rotting food in the intestine forms toxins that circulate in the bloodstream (aka, the intestinal toxicity theory) and cause cancer [2]. 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. Wheatgrass is prepared by sprouting wheat berries and growing them until they form chlorophyll. 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 [3]. (For information on exaggerations about the similarities between hemoglobin and chlorophyll see NCAHF's statement on chlorophyll.)

Enzymes are complex protein molecules produced by living organisms exclusively for their own use in promoting chemical reactions. Orally ingested enzymes are digested in the stomach and have no enzymatic activity in the eater. Enzymes do not fulfill the biological criteria for living things, because they do not: (1) consist of cellular units; (2) possess reproductive ability; (3) demonstrate irritability; (4) carry on metabolism; or, (5) grow. (Fuller HJ. The Plant World New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1956, pp.6-7).

Wigmore wrote at least 15 books and 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.

NCAHF Comments

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 [4]. 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). [5] In 1988, the Massachusetts Attorney General sued Wigmore for claiming that her "energy enzyme soup" could cure AIDS [6]. 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.

Nutritional Value of Wheatgrass

The Institute for Natural Resources calculated the food value of spirulina and blue green algae from manufacturer's information or labels, and compared them to common foods [7].

 

 Wheat Grass
(Seven 3.5 gm tablets)

 Amounts in Common Foods
 Protein

 860 mg

 2,300 mg in 1/2 cup cooked broccoli
 Beta carotene

 1,668 IU

 20,253 IU in one raw carrot
 Vitamin B12

 0.05 mcg

 1 mcg in 8 oz 2% milk
 Calcium

  15 mg

 89 mg in 1/2 cup cooked broccoli
 Magnesium

 3.9 mg

 47 mg in 1/2 cup cooked broccoli
 Phosphorus

 3.9 mg

 37 mg in 1/2 cup cooked broccoli
 Iron

 0.87 mg

 2.2 mg in one cup cooked macaroni

Answers to Questions about Wheatgrass Therapy

Question: What is responsible for the reported "rush" that users report?
NCAHF: There is no pharmacological reason why a user should experience a "rush." Possible explanations include the placebo effect (ie, enthusiasm for the therapy); route of administration (i.e., rectal applications may produce a "goosing" effect)

Question: Why do people report that they are better following use of wheatgrass therapy?
NCAHF: Since there is no scientific evidence that the therapy is effective, such reports could either be due to:

    • natural changes in the symptoms people experience
    • the placebo effect mentioned above
    • wishful thinking on the part of the desperate
    • lying by people who have a financial interest
    • something else that the patient is doing--especially if they are using psychoactive drugs, such as herbal uppers or downers.

Question: Is wheatgrass therapy intrinsically dangerous?
NCAHF: Not in the wheatgrass itself, but attendant risks include:

    • perforation of the bowel during enema tube insertion. This can introduce infectious agents into the bloodstream.\
    • It is possible that "organically grown" wheatgrass plants could become contaminated by soil constituents.

Question: Does NCAHF oppose the use of wheatgrass therapy? If so, why?
NCAHF: NCAHF opposes the use of all false or unproved remedies. This is because:

    • we object to cheating people for money
    • may divert patients from more responsible care
    • create false hope that eventually leads to greater despair
    • expose patients to charlatans and cranks who traditionally foster dependency relationships that permit further exploitation.

NCAHF representatives are sympathetic toward desperate sufferers of disease. We never blame the victims of quackery. We understand that people who are frightened will try anything that offers promise with little perceived risk. We regret having to be cast in the role of "doing away with Santa Claus" when it comes to fad remedies. However, NCAHF's dedication to providing reliable information on health and disease makes it impossible for us to do other than to tell the truth as we perceive it at the time.

Comments on Some Notable Proponents

  • Steven Haasz: Hungarian refugee who called himself a "healing science practitioner" operated the Temple Beautiful in Philadelphia. Lena Rosenberg testified that in 1979 she had taken her husband, who had colon cancer, to both Haasz's Temple Beautiful and to Wigmore's Hippocrates Institute which were "somehow connected." Rosenberg stated that because of her desire to help cure her husband that she had become "obsessed" with Wigmore's teachings. She testified that she felt "foolish" about having malnourished her dying husband on a raw vegetable diet [8]. Another of Haasz's followers, David Blume, died of self-imposed malnutrition in a vain attempt to become a breatharian, a holy man who could subsist upon air alone [9].
  • Edyie Mae Hunsberger: Hunsberger believed that wheatgrass had cured her of cancer and wrote How I Conquered Cancer Naturally (1975). A wealthy person, she also opened a West Coast version of the Hippocrates Health Institute (later known as Optimum Health Institute [OHI] of San Diego). OHI was subsequently by Raychel Solomon. The San Diego Union reported that Solomon doesn't believe in disease, and described OHI as "extremely unhygienic and unclean." [10] Hunsberger's died in 1984. Her death certificate indicates that (a) she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1973, (b) she developed carcinomatosis (widespread disease) about three years of death and (c) cancer was the underlying cause of her death.
  • Shu Chan, director of the Ann Wigmore Foundation, vowed to continue Wigmore's work following her death in 1994 [11].

References

  1. Wigmore A. Be Your Own Doctor.
  2. Cassileth B. "Contemporary unorthodox treatments in cancer medicine," Annals of Internal Medicine. 1984;101+, p.109.
  3. American Cancer Society, Medical Affairs Department, "Informal summary on wheatgrass therapy proposed by Ann Wigmore, DD, PhD," (c.1966).
  4. Bidlack WR, Meskin MS, "Nutritional quackery: selling health misinformation," Calif Pharmacist 1989;36:(8):34+.
  5. Knox RA. "Group ordered to halt claims of disease cures," The Boston Globe, 5/15/82, p.13C+.
  6. Medical World News 6/13/88.
  7. Alternative Medicine—An Objective View. Berkeley: Institute for Natural Resources, 1998, p.23.
  8. Pepper. Quackery: A $10 Billion Scandal. US House of Representatives, 1984, pp.148-150.
  9. Assoc1ated Press. "Temple Beautiful diet - death for David Blume," Sun-Telegram, San Bernardino, CA, 10/15/79, p.A-3).
  10. Wong J. "Some skeptical, but she sees miracles," San Diego Union (undated copy), p.B-1+.
  11. Brelis M. "Holistic health pioneer dies at 84 in fire at her Back Bay mansion," Boston Globe, Feb 17, 1994.

Copyright Notice

© 1998, National Council Against Health Fraud.
With proper citation, this article may be reproduced for noncommercial purposes

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This article was posted on January 15, 2001.