History of alfalfa
Alfalfa products have been used for eons by divers groups of people. Records indicate that the Persians used it as far back as six thousand years. The Turks were apparently using it almost 4500 years ago. Renowned Chinese traditional medicine (TCM) and Indian Ayurvedic medical practices have used the leaf for various health conditions for centuries. In the Americas, the natives as well as the colonizers have used it also to address many health concerns.
What is alfalfa?
For many, alfalfa is better known as a fodder crop that has many benefits in animal health promotion. As already noted, it is a versatile herb that has proven human health benefits that have been tested by the passage of time and the wide geographical distribution of its use. Common names of this herb are:
- Buffalo herb
- Purple medic
- Purple medical and
- Purple medick
The leaves and the seeds are used directly as food or are processed into standalone nutritional supplements or are used as part of an ingredient in a multi-ingredient health product. Belisan’s Essential is a good example of such a source of alfalfa.
How it affects the body
Some of the active ingredients in alfalfa are saponins and alkaloids. Saponins have an effect on the heart, nerves, and the digestive systems. These are also known to affect the metabolism of cholesterol.
Alkaloids on the other hand affect menstrual and lactation physiology.
Other active compounds in alfalfa are a type of flavonoid antioxidant called biochanin-A. This compound is responsible for the herb’s anti-inflammatory properties.
Alfalfa supports the production of estrogen and so people with estrogen related issues and medications should be cautious when using its products.
One of the compounds in alfalfa that has undesirable physiological effects is called L-canavanine. This is a type of an amino acid that has been shown to promote blood cells breakdown (hemolysis) and also induces changes in the blood physiology. These effects are similar to the mechanism by which the painful health condition called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) occurs. People with a history of SLE should not use alfalfa and its products. Some of such patients who were in the condition’s remission state relapsed after using alfalfa supplements.
Benefits of alfalfa
In TCM, alfalfa is used to support a healthy appetite and in ulcers management. In Ayurveda, it is used as a diuretic (water pill), a joint health support product, and for ulcers. The early white settlers in America used it to counter the effects of vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), menstrual disorders, urinary problems and in the management of ulcers. For the Native Americans, one of the main uses of the herb was as a breast milk production promotion agent.
Today, there are many science based benefits of alfalfa. However, research is still going on to accumulate more supportive scientific data. These include:
- Supports better blood sugar metabolism. May benefit diabetic patients.
- Helps to reduce blood cholesterol
- Supports cardiovascular health. This may be due to the effects of alfalfa’s saponins and the effects of low bad cholesterol and subsequent healthy blood vessels.
- Promotes fluid elimination from the body.
- Supports health digestive system
- Reduces symptoms of respiratory allergic conditions such as hay fever and asthma.
- Supports thyroid health
- Promotes breast milk flow
- Contains high vitamin C levels. This is an important antioxidant among other uses in the body. Other vitamins include vitamins B, D, and E.
- Has a good percentage of proteins. This helps in body building and repair
- Supports healthy menstrual cycle
- Helps to detoxify the body
- Contains a variety of minerals that include calcium.
- Supports and boosts the immune system
- Helps to alkalinize the body. Today’s diet largely consists of acidifying foods. This situation increases the risk of many health problems.
According to a study published in the Pharmaceutical Biology. Of February 2011, the authors concluded that alfalfa has the potential to be used for the:
- Protection of nerves
- Treatment of ulcers
- Antioxidant effects
- Treatment of infections
- Anti-cancer properties
- Treatment of blood vessels clogged with plaque and menopausal disorders in women – among many other benefits.
Is alfalfa safe?
Some people may experience mild symptoms that include:
- Flatulence and
- General abdominal discomfort.
The first safety measure with the use of any supplement is to adhere to the manufacturer’s stated dosage. Never exceed the amount indicated on the label per serving. People can respond differently to the same nutritional product and this is true with alfalfa. Having said that, the leaves of alfalfa are considered generally safe. Alfalfa seed products on the other hand should not be taken for long as they are the ones more likely to induce an SLE-like reaction. Safety concerns depend on:
- Mode of preparation. Poor preparation can lead to contamination with harmful organisms such as E.coli and salmonella
- Raw alfalfa can disrupt the acid-base balance in the body,
- Exposure to the sun. It might cause skin hypersensitivity to light in some people. Wearing a skin block lotion and appropriate clothing may help.
Alfalfa in supplements form may be much safer than taking it in raw or sprouted form
- Take alfalfa products in moderation
- Purchase alfalfa supplements from a reliable source
- Avoid it if you have SLE and other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Do not use if you are pregnant
- Avoid if you have gout. The herb contains high levels of purines. These increase risk of exacerbating gout in susceptible individuals.
- Consult your health expert if you are on any medications such as anti-cholesterol, estrogen, hormonal contraception, chemotherapy or other supplements.
- Kidney transplant. If you have had this surgical procedure, avoid alfalfa supplements. Since it has an immunity boosting property, it can increase the risk of the body rejecting the donated kidney.
- Avoid if you have hormone sensitive cancers and conditions such as:
- Breast cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Uterine fibroids
Alfalfa can interact with the following.
- The blood thinning medication warfarin
- Contraceptive pills containing estrogen
- Estrogen therapy medications
- Immunity reducing medications
- Medications that induce light sensitivity as a side effect
- Antidiabetic medications.
Use with other supplements
Alfalfa can enhance some of the effects of the following herbal preparation:
- Devil’s claw
- Panax ginseng
- Siberian ginseng and
All these herbs have a blood sugar lowering effect and so using them at the same time with an alfalfa supplement could potentially lead to serious low blood sugar levels.
For more information about a reliable and safe alfalfa-containing multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement, click here now.
Roberts JL,.Hayashi JA. Exacerbation of SLE associated with alfalfa ingestion. N Engl J Med 1983;308:1361.
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. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998.
Kundan Singh Bora & Anupam Sharma (2010) Phytochemical and pharmacological potential of Medicago sativa: A review, Pharmaceutical Biology, 49:2, 211-220, DOI: 10.3109/13880209.2010.504732
Alcocer-Varela J, Iglesias A, Llorente L, Alarcon-Segovia D. Effects of L-canavanine on T cells may explain the induction of systemic lupus erythematosus by alfalfa. Arthritis Rheum. 1985;28:52-7.
Bora KS, Sharma A. Evaluation of Antioxidant and Cerebroprotective Effect of Medicago sativa Linn. against Ischemia and Reperfusion Insult. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:792167.