Wheatgrass Beneficial to Chemotherapy Patients

Damage to bone marrow, leading to decrease in blood cell counts (such as a reduction in neutrophil count, a type of key blood cell) and anemia, is a common side effect in patients who receive chemotherapy for the treatment of any cancer. This may sometimes even prove to be fatal. It can, however be treated by using bone marrow stimulating drugs such as granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF) and epoetin, but the use of these drugs is not cost effective. Researchers, in their routine practice, had noticed that wheatgrass juice was very helpful in improving neutrophil count and hemoglobin content in patients who were treated with chemotherapy. They wanted to confirm their observations by carrying out a prospective matched control study. “It was found that wheatgrass juice taken during FAC chemotherapy may reduce myelotoxicity, dose reductions, and need for GCSF support, without diminishing efficacy of chemotherapy,” sat

FAC is a commonly used chemotherapy treatment in breast cancer patients and it consists of a combination of three drugs: 5-fluorouracil, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide usually given in a 21-day cycle. This treatment regimen commonly causes suppression of bone marrow resulting in severe neutropenia (severe reduction in blood cell count) and anemia that can sometimes be life threatening. Although GCSF and epoetin are quite effective in improving neutrophil count and anemia respectively, the cost of these drugs is very high and they cause substantial side effects. This study tried to examine whether wheatgrass juice can reduce the adverse effects to bone marrow produced by FAC chemotherapy.

•    Sixty women with breast cancer, aged above 18 years and who never received chemotherapy earlier were included in the study. All of them were going to be treated with FAC chemotherapy.
•    This study was conducted for a period of two years, February 2003 to March 2005.
•    Participants were divided into two groups of 30 members each, in such a way that both groups were comparable with respect to age of patient, stage of cancer and pretreatment blood cell counts. Both the groups were given the same standard FAC chemotherapy treatment except that one group received 60cc of frozen wheatgrass juice to drink every morning while the other group was given only supportive treatment. Blood cell counts were done prior to treatment, on first day of each cycle and at weekly intervals.

Key findings
•    After the first cycle of chemotherapy, while 17 percent of patients who were consuming wheatgrass juice had severe decrease in white blood cell count, as many as 43 percent of patients who did not consume the juice developed it.
•    Three people who consumed and five of whom did not consume the juice developed neutropenic fever for which they needed hospitalization. Bacterial infection was found in three patients among those who did not consume the juice, but none among those who did consume the juice.
•    Average reduction in hemoglobin level in patients who consumed the juice was 1.2g/dL, while it was 1.9g/dL in non-consumers at the end of three cycles of chemotherapy.
•    No any difference in response to chemotherapy was observed between the two groups.

In the present study, frozen wheatgrass was used as preparing fresh juice is a tedious process. But it is found that frozen juice contains 20 percent less amino acids compared to the fresh form of juice. Hence further similar studies are needed using fresh wheatgrass juice. Also the results need to be confirmed by a phase three study, so that such a treatment can be recommended to all patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Wheatgrass juice is a rich source of chlorophyll, various vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. It has a rich anti-oxidant property, because of which it reduces the bone marrow suppression produced by chemotherapeutic drugs. It has been found useful in reducing the symptoms in patients suffering from diseases such as ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is found to reduce blood requirement in thalassemia patients. Except for strong grass like taste which produces nausea, this juice has no side effects. So it can be a safe alternative to GCSF and epoetin therapy, for treating and as well as for preventing, hematological toxicity produced by FAC chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.

For More Information:
Wheatgrass Juice May Improve Hematological Toxicity Related to Chemotherapy in Breast Cancer Patients
Publication Journal: Nutrition and Cancer, 2007
By Gil Bar-Sela; Medy Tsalic; Division of Oncology, Rambam Medical Center and Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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