The Benefits of Alfalfa

What is Alfalfa?

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a plant native to the Mediterranean region but widely cultivated elsewhere. It has an age-old reputation as a nutritious food. Alfalfa contains chlorophyll, protein, minerals, and beta-carotene, B vitamins, and vitamins C, E, and K.

Alfalfa has a long history of use as a folk remedy in Europe, China, and India for indigestion, arthritis, bladder problems, high cholesterol, allergic rhinitis and hayfever, and irregular menstruation.

Sources of Alfalfa

Alfalfa is best known as a food. The raw sprouts can be found in the produce section of grocery stores and health food stores.

It is also available in capsule, powder, tablet, and liquid extract forms. Many of these supplements are made from dried alfalfa leaves and/or seeds.

Uses for Alfalfa

In alternative medicine, alfalfa is sometimes recommended for the following conditions:

  • Allergies
  • Diabetes
  • Menopausal Symptoms (e.g. Hot Flashes)
  • High Cholesterol

Caveats

The alfalfa plant, especially the seeds, contains an amino acid called L-canavanine. Excess consumption of L-canavanine may cause abnormal blood cell counts, spleen enlargement, or the recurrence of active disease in patients with lupus. Exposing the seeds to extremely high temperatures may prevent this, but it hasn't been confirmed.

People with lupus or a family history of lupus should avoid alfalfa in any form.

Pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with estrogen sensitive cancers should also avoid alfalfa because of its possible estrogenic effects.

Alfalfa has a high potassium content. People with chronic kidney insufficiency, hypoaldosteronism, or who are using potassium-altering medications should avoid alfalfa to avoid the risk of potentially life-threatening hyperkalemia (too much potassium in the blood).

Some health practitioners recommend that people who are immunocompromised should avoid the sprouts because of the risk of food poisoning.

Alfalfa may reduce the effectiveness of certain medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin®) because alfalfa contains vitamin K. Alfalfa should not be used with prednisone.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Using Alfalfa for Health

Due to the lack of research, it's too soon to recommend alfalfa as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using alfalfa for any health purpose, make sure to consult your physician first.

Sources

Colodny LR, Montgomery A, Houston M. The role of esterin processed alfalfa saponins in reducing cholesterol. J Am Nutraceutical Assoc. (2001) 3:6–15.

De Leo V, Lanzetta D, Cazzavacca R, et al. Treatment of neurovegetative menopausal symptoms with a phytotherapeutic agent. Minerva Ginecol. (1998) 50:207–211.

Hollander-Rodriguez JC, Calvert JF Jr. Hyperkalemia. Am Fam Physician. (2006) 73(2):283-90.

Kurzer MS, Xu X. Dietary phytoestrogens. Annu Rev Nutr. (1997) 17: 353–381.

Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Stafford C. Alfalfa seeds: effects on cholesterol metabolism. Experientia. (1980) 36: 562–564.

Molgaard J, von Schenck H, Olsson AG. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis. (1987) 65: 173–179.

Shemesh M, Lindrer HR, Ayalon N. Affinity of rabbit uterine oestradiol receptor for phyto-oestrogens and its use in a competitive protein-binding radioassay for plasma coumestrol. J Reprod Fertil. (1972) 29: 1–9.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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