Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is used in Ayurveda for centuries as an effective medicine for arthritis and digestive and gastrointestinal issues. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, and certain bioactive compounds that offer several benefits. This medicinal herb can be taken as a supplement or in the form of dried leaves, seeds, and sprouts.
Alfalfa possesses antioxidant, diuretic, and cerebroprotective properties. It may help lower cholesterol levels, improve metabolic health, and relieve menopause symptoms.
In this article, we have discussed alfalfa in detail; we have talked about its nutrition profile, benefits, and the potential side effects it may cause. Scroll down to know more.
Alfalfa Nutrition Facts
Alfalfa is low in calories. It is rich in vitamins, amino acids, and fibre. It is usually consumed as sprouts or as a herbal supplement.
Alfalfa contains vitamins K and C, folate, manganese, copper, riboflavin, magnesium, and iron (1).
- Vitamin K: 10. 1 mcg
- Folate: 11.9 mcg
- Vitamin C: 2.7 mg
- Iron: 0.3 mg
- Copper: 0.1 mg
- Manganese: 0.1 mg
- Magnesium: 0.1 mg
- Riboflavin: 0.042 mg
A cup of alfalfa sprouts contains 1.32 grams of protein and 0.7 grams of carbohydrates. The sprouts also have bioactive plant compounds, such as saponins, folic acid, phytoestrogens, flavonoids, and alkaloids (2). All these nutrients offer certain health benefits.
Health Benefits Of Alfalfa
1. May Help Lower Cholesterol
Alfalfa is rich in plant compounds known as saponins. These may help reduce serum cholesterol levels by binding bile salts with cholesterol in the body.
A study conducted on monkeys found that saponins in alfalfa decreased the blood cholesterol percentage (3). However, long-term studies are needed to understand this benefit for humans.
Another study conducted on 15 patients with hyperlipoproteinemia found that eating 40 g of heat prepared alfalfa seeds for eight weeks helped lower total cholesterol and bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (4).
2. May Help Control Blood Sugar Levels
The anti-diabetic and diuretic properties of alfalfa keep the spiking sugar levels under control. A study conducted by Cairo University found that alfalfa sprouts decreased the high glucose levels in diabetic animals (5).
Alfalfa is a traditional plant used to treat diabetes. A mice study conducted by the University of Ulster shows that alfalfa has anti-hyperglycemic, insulin-like, and insulin-releasing properties that may help treat diabetes. The sprouts may also improve metabolic health (6). However, more studies are required to observe similar benefits in humans.
3. May Help Relieve Menopause Symptoms
Alfalfa is rich in phytoestrogens that can be used to counter the symptoms of menopause. These are chemically similar to the estrogen hormone and are available in two types, namely, alfalfa-coumestrol and genistein (7).
A study conducted by the University of Siena on 30 menopausal women found that a particular product based on alfalfa extracts was able to treat menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats (8).
Another study conducted by the Beckman Research Institute on breast cancer survivors found that alfalfa users were less likely to get sleep interruptions (9).
4. May Help Reduce Cellular Damage
The antioxidant effects of alfalfa may help reduce cellular damage caused by free radicals. It may be an effective cure for disorders associated with the central nervous system (CNS), heart, and metabolism. Alfalfa is an excellent compound with antioxidant properties that may reduce cellular damage caused by iron oxide nanoparticles (10).
A study conducted by the L.R. Institute of Pharmacy found that alfalfa may possess cerebroprotective properties. These, along with its antioxidant properties, help reduce the risk of cerebral ischemia (stroke) (11).
A rat study states that alfalfa may have an antioxidant effect against carbon tetrachloride-induced oxidative stress and liver damage (12). More human studies are required to understand this benefit of alfalfa.
5. May Treat Kidney, Bladder, And Prostate Problems
The diuretic properties of alfalfa may help ease kidney stones and relieve issues related to the bladder and the prostate. Some research states that alfalfa decoction may be of use in treating kidney stones (13). However, limited research is available to support these claims. We need more evidence in this regard.
6. May Help Relieve Asthma
Alfalfa was traditionally used to treat respiratory problems like asthma (14). However, more long-term research focused on the anti-asthmatic effect of alfalfa is required.
7. May Help Treat Osteoarthritis And Rheumatoid Arthritis
Pectic polysaccharides extracted from alfalfa stems were found to have anti-inflammatory properties. These may help in the treatment of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (15).
In another study, the ethyl acetate extracts of alfalfa were found to suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These could help treat inflammatory issues in mice (16).
However, more studies are required to understand this phenomenon at the molecular level in humans.
8. May Treat Liver Damage
Alfalfa extracts were found to help reconstruct damaged liver. The release of liver enzymes into the blood could be one reason for liver damage. Oral administration of alfalfa extracts (250 mg/kg) was00 found to reduce liver enzyme concentration in the blood (17).
9. May Treat Upset stomach
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the dietary fiber in alfalfa may help treat several digestive problems. Some of these may include constipation, bloating, gastritis, and nausea. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove this claim.
10. May Aid Weight Loss
The fiber in alfalfa sprouts may help with weight loss. It could keep one satiated and promote healthy weight loss when combined with regular exercise and proper rest. However, direct research is lacking in this aspect.
In the following section, we will explore the ways alfalfa may benefit your skin. None of these benefits have been backed by scientific evidence. Hence, use alfalfa for skin health only after checking with your doctor.
What Are The Benefits Of Alfalfa For Skin?
11. May Work As A Cleanser
The chlorophyll in alfalfa may help cleanse the skin.
12. May Prevent Dry Skin
Vitamin A in alfalfa may help treat dry skin. The nutrient may also improve complexion and skin texture. Alfalfa could also help in the maintenance and construction of skin.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that alfalfa may also promote hair health.
What Are The Benefits Of Alfalfa For Hair?
The vitamins B1 and B6 in alfalfa may promote hair health. Here are the other nutrients in alfalfa that may benefit hair.
13. May Offer Protein
The protein in alfalfa may promote hair growth. Including the grains, seeds, and sprouts of alfalfa in your diet may provide you with adequate protein needed for healthy hair.
14. May Offer Vitamins
Alfalfa contains vitamins B1, B6, and C that may promote hair health. Vitamin C, especially, fights free radical damage and may help slow down the associated hair loss (18). The nutrient may also help in improving the circulation of blood in the scalp and hair follicles.
15. May Offer Minerals
Alfalfa contains several minerals, such as calcium, iron, and zinc. These may help slow down hair loss. Zinc is known to stimulate hair growth (18). Iron deficiency is also one of the causes of hair loss (18).
16. May Offer Silica
The silica in alfalfa may slow down the process of hair loss. It may also help in the prevention of baldness.
Some benefits of alfalfa are yet to be studied. However, you may go ahead and include the sprouts in your diet. But before you do so, it is important to know about their ideal dosage and safety.
Dosage And Precautions
The dosage of alfalfa sprouts for regular use is not specifically identified. Please consult your doctor. For those with high cholesterol levels, 40 grams of alfalfa seeds taken thrice a day may help (4). Alfalfa can also be used in the form of strained tea or tincture.
Alfalfa sprouts may cause foodborne illness. Preparing and storing the sprouts in the appropriate way can prevent this.
Sprouts should be grown and stored in a safe place. Store them in a refrigerator at 40oF or below to avoid bacterial contamination.
Though alfalfa is generally safe for consumption, it does have a few side effects that you need to keep in mind.
What Are The Side Effects Of Alfalfa?
Alfalfa is possibly safe for most people. However, consumption of alfalfa seeds in the long run may cause some adverse effects in pregnant women, those with autoimmune conditions, and those taking medications. Hence, it is important to consult a doctor.
- May Cause Issues During Pregnancy
The intake of alfalfa supplements in excess amounts during pregnancy may cause adverse effects. Alfalfa acts similar to the estrogen hormone, potentially causing issues. Ingesting alfalfa may also promote menstruation. However, limited research is available in this regard.
- May Aggravate Autoimmune Diseases
Long-term use of alfalfa may stimulate the autoimmune system and aggravate autoimmune diseases. Alfalfa seeds contain L-canavanine, an amino acid that may trigger systemic lupus erythematosus (an autoimmune disease) (19).
People with other autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, should avoid the consumption of alfalfa.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, people with a compromised immune system should avoid the intake of alfalfa. This is due to the possible contamination of the sprouts in some parts (20). Sprouts, in general, could be contaminated by bacteria (21).
- May Interact With Drugs
Alfalfa is rich in vitamin K that is responsible for blood clotting. People who are on blood-thinning medication, like warfarin, should avoid taking alfalfa (22).
Though the side effects appear severe, using alfalfa in the right way can minimize the risk.
How To Use Alfalfa
- Alfalfa Sprouts
You can add fresh alfalfa sprouts to salads or soups. These can be sprouted at home easily (though they take 5 to 6 days). Here is the procedure:
- Add 2 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds to a bowl and cover them with 2–3 times the amount of cool water.
- Let them soak overnight.
- Drain and rinse the sprouts well with cool water. Remove as much water as possible.
- Store the sprouts out of direct sunlight and at room temperature for 3 days. Rinse and drain them thoroughly every 8–12 hours.
- On Day 4, relocate the sprouts to an area with indirect sunlight to facilitate photosynthesis.
- On Day 5 or 6, your sprouts are ready to eat.
- Herbal Tea
You can make alfalfa herbal tea by using equal proportions of alfalfa, peppermint, and raspberry leaves. Add 1 tablespoon of tea mixture to 8 ounces of boiling water. Let this mixture steep for at least 5 minutes before serving. This herbal tea is also useful in nursing conditions.
- Multi-vitamin Tincture
Alfalfa multi-vitamin tincture is easy to administer and a safe option for both kids and adults. The process of making a tincture is similar to that of the tea. However, in the case of the tincture, the steeping time is nearly 3 weeks or more. A small drop of the tincture is enough for the benefits.
- Liquid Chlorophyll
Liquid chlorophyll is a concentrated liquid form of chlorophyllins from the fresh alfalfa plant. It is rich in nutrients and has detoxifying and purifying properties.
Buying alfalfa seeds from reputed manufacturers and growing them in safe and warmer temperatures is the safest bet.
Alfalfa is a medicinal herb with numerous benefits. It is said to possess many nutrients and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may help lower cholesterol levels and aid diabetes treatment.
However, long-term intake of alfalfa may cause adverse effects in some people. Individuals who are under blood-thinning medication or with an autoimmune disorder should avoid the intake of alfalfa.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Can humans eat alfalfa hay?
No, humans cannot eat alfalfa hay. But alfalfa in its sprouted form can be eaten by humans in sandwiches and salads.
Does alfalfa have iodine?
No, alfalfa does not contain iodine.
What is the pH of alfalfa?
The pH of alfalfa is between 6.5-7.0.
Does alfalfa contain gluten?
No, alfalfa grass does not contain gluten.
Does alfalfa contain selenium?
Yes, alfalfa contains 0.2 mcg of selenium (1).
Is alfalfa good for thyroid?
Alfalfa may trigger autoimmune diseases in some cases. Hypothyroidism is one such disease. Those with the condition must consult their doctor before taking alfalfa. There is insufficient information to know if alfalfa could help the thyroid gland.
What is the difference between alfalfa and clover?
Clover can grow in very low pH soils and contains more PPO (polyphenol oxidase) than alfalfa. However, its longevity and yield potential are lower than alfalfa.
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- Seida A, El-Hefnawy H, Abou-Hussein D, Mokhtar FA, Abdel-Naim A. Evaluation of Medicago sativa L. sprouts as antihyperlipidemic and antihyperglycemic agent. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2015;28(6):2061–2074.
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- Poluzzi, Elisabetta et al. “Phytoestrogens in postmenopause: the state of the art from a chemical, pharmacological and regulatory perspective.” Current medicinal chemistry vol. 21,4 (2014): 417-36.
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