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Alfalfa

Parts Used & Where Grown

Alfalfa, also known as lucerne, is a member of the pea family and is native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean region. Alfalfa sprouts have become a popular food. Alfalfa herbal supplements primarily use the dried leaves of the plant. The heat-treated seeds of the plant have also been used.

How It Works

While the medicinal benefits of alfalfa are poorly understood, the constituents in alfalfa have been extensively studied. The leaves contain approximately 2–3% saponins.1 Animal studies suggest that these constituents block absorption of cholesterol and prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.2 One small human trial found that 120 grams per day of heat-treated alfalfa seeds for eight weeks led to a modest reduction in cholesterol.3 However, consuming the large amounts of alfalfa seeds (80–120 grams per day) needed to supply high amounts of these saponins may potentially cause damage to red blood cells in the body.4 Herbalists also claim that alfalfa may be helpful for people with diabetes. But while high amounts of a water extract of the leaves led to increased insulin release in animal studies, there is no evidence that alfalfa would be useful for the treatment of diabetes in humans.5

Alfalfa leaves also contain flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives. The isoflavones are thought to be responsible for the estrogen-like effects seen in animal studies.6 Although this has not been confirmed with human trials, alfalfa is sometimes used to treat menopause symptoms.

Alfalfa contains protein and vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Nutrient analysis demonstrates the presence of calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

References

1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 13-5.

2. Story JA. Alfalfa saponins and cholesterol interactions. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917-29.

3. 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;65:173-9.

4. Malinow MR, Bardana EJ, Goodnight SH. Pancytopenia during ingestion of alfalfa seeds. Lancet 1981;1(8220 Pt 1):615.

5. Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler's Honest Herbal. New York: Haworth Press, 1999, 23-5.

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

7. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 420-1 [review].

8. De Leo V, Lanzetta D, Cazzavacca R, Morgante G. [Treatment of neurovegetative menopausal symptoms with a phytotherapeutic agent] [Article in Italian] Minerva Ginecol 1998;50:207-11.

9. Crawford AM. The Herbal Menopause Book. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1996.

10. Hudson TS, Standish L, Breed C, et al. Clinical and endocrinological effects of a menopausal botanical formula. J Naturopathic Med 1997;7(1):73-7.

11. Hirata JD, Swiersz LM, Zell B, et al. Does dong quai have estrogenic effects in postmenopausal women? A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril 1997;68:981-6.

12. Nestel PJ, Pomeroy S, Kay S, et al. Isoflavones from red clover improve systemic arterial compliance but not plasma lipids in menopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84:895-8.

13. Tice JA, Ettinger B, Ensrud K, et al. Phytoestrogen supplements for the treatment of hot flashes: the Isoflavone Clover Extract (ICE) Study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2003;290:207-14.

14. van de Weijer PHM, Barentsen R. Isoflavones from red clover (Promensil®) significantly reduce menopausal hot flush symptoms compared with placebo. Maturitas 2002;42:187-93.

15. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 420-1 [review].

16. De Leo V, Lanzetta D, Cazzavacca R, Morgante G. [Treatment of neurovegetative menopausal symptoms with a phytotherapeutic agent] [Article in Italian] Minerva Ginecol 1998;50:207-11.

17. Crawford AM. The Herbal Menopause Book. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1996.

18. Hudson TS, Standish L, Breed C, et al. Clinical and endocrinological effects of a menopausal botanical formula. J Naturopathic Med 1997;7(1):73-7.

19. Hirata JD, Swiersz LM, Zell B, et al. Does dong quai have estrogenic effects in postmenopausal women? A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril 1997;68:981-6.

20. Nestel PJ, Pomeroy S, Kay S, et al. Isoflavones from red clover improve systemic arterial compliance but not plasma lipids in menopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84:895-8.

21. Tice JA, Ettinger B, Ensrud K, et al. Phytoestrogen supplements for the treatment of hot flashes: the Isoflavone Clover Extract (ICE) Study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2003;290:207-14.

22. van de Weijer PHM, Barentsen R. Isoflavones from red clover (Promensil®) significantly reduce menopausal hot flush symptoms compared with placebo. Maturitas 2002;42:187-93.

23. Story JA. Alfalfa saponins and cholesterol interactions. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917-29.

24. Malinow MR, Bardana EJ, Goodnight SH. Pancytopenia during ingestion of alfalfa seeds. Lancet 1981;1(8220 Pt 1):615.

25. Briggs C. Alfalfa. Canadian Pharm J 1994;Mar:84-5, 115.

26. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 37-9.

27. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 2-3.

28. Malinow MR, Bardana EJ, Profsky B, et al. Systemic lupus erythematosus-like syndrome in monkeys fed alfalfa sprouts: Role of a nonprotein amino acid. Science 1982;216:415-7.

29. Roberts JL, Hayashi JA. Exacerbation of SLE associated with alfalfa ingestion. N Engl J Med 1983;308(22):1361 [letter].

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The information presented by TraceGains is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2020.

Copyright © 2020 TraceGains, Inc. All rights reserved.

The information presented by TraceGains is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2020.