Alfalfa: benefits, side effects, dosages and interactions

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Alfalfa ( Medicago sativa ) It is a perennial plant belonging to the Fabaceae family that has long been used in traditional medicine to treat various diseases. It has a sweet, bitter and herbaceous taste when consumed fresh as a sprout. When taken as a supplement, alfalfa is believed to be beneficial in treating diabetes , high cholesterol , arthritis , urinary tract infections , menstrual problems, and a variety of other disorders .

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What is alfalfa used for?

Alfalfa is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, a cup of alfalfa sprouts contains only 8 calories, but it contains 0.2 grams of fat, 0.7 grams of carbohydrates, 0.6 grams of fiber, and 1.3 grams of protein. . The rich soluble fiber content of alfalfa can help lower cholesterol levels and aid weight loss by increasing satiety (feeling full).

Alfalfa also contains a number of important vitamins and minerals, including:

Aside from its dietary benefits, alfalfa is often used in alternative therapies to treat metabolic disorders and diseases. For the most part, the scientific evidence supporting these claims is weak.

High cholesterol

Alfalfa contains saponins, a substance believed to bind cholesterol to bile salts and lower serum cholesterol levels . Animal studies have shown a direct link between increasing doses of alfalfa saponin extract and lowering blood cholesterol levels in rats .

It is not known whether the same effect can be achieved in humans. Alfalfa has not been adequately studied as a potential treatment for hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and it is unclear whether the same relative dose can be safely applied in rats to humans. More research is required.

Diabetes

Fiber-rich foods like alfalfa can help control blood sugar by slowing the absorption of glucose from the intestines. Therefore, alfalfa can help treat diabetes or prediabetes . Some evidence for this, although scant, comes from animal studies.

A 2015 study published in the journal Interventional Medicine and Applied Science reported that rats with chemically-induced diabetes experienced reductions in blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides , and “ bad '' low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. ) after ingestion of alfalfa extract in 21 days. There was also a significant increase in the level of "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol .

Currently, there is little evidence that the same benefits can be achieved in humans. More research is needed again.

Urinary tract diseases.

Alternative health professionals believe that alfalfa acts as a natural diuretic ("water pill") and can be used to treat urinary tract disorders, including kidney stones (kidney stones) and urinary tract infections (UTIs) .

Despite claims to the contrary, there is little evidence that alfalfa can help prevent or eliminate kidney stones, much less treat an acute urinary tract infection.

Premenstrual syndrome

Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens , plant hormones that mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen . Herbalists claim that alfalfa can be an effective remedy for menstrual irregularities like premenstrual syndrome (PMS) .

There is little evidence that the estrogenic effects are stable enough to offer any benefit. There is even less evidence to support claims that alfalfa can prevent or treat symptoms of menopause , osteoporosis in postmenopausal women, or breast cancer, according to some alternative health professionals.

Breast milk production

Alfalfa is considered a galactagogue of plant origin, which means that it can stimulate the production of breast milk. Alfalfa is in fact one of the most popular traditional medicines used as a galactagogue along with black seed ( Nigella sativa ) and fenugreek ( Trigonella foenum-graecum ) .

A 2014 review published in the journal Procedure suggests that Medicago sativa tablets can be used safely for this purpose, but provides little evidence on how effective the treatment might be or what dosage is needed.

Arthritis

Several test-tube studies have shown that alfalfa has powerful anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the production of inflammatory compounds known as cytokines .

Some alternative health professionals believe that this effect can reduce pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis . In fact, alfalfa is one of the most popular ingredients used in herbal remedies for arthritis.

To date, these benefits remain largely unproven. In particular, in rheumatoid arthritis, the main cause of inflammation is autoimmune (that is, the body's own immune cells attack healthy joints). Alfalfa does not affect this action in any way. In fact, there is evidence that alfalfa can cause acute symptoms of certain autoimmune diseases.

When it comes to osteoarthritis, there is no clear evidence that alfalfa in any form can help relieve joint pain or inflammation.

Possible side effects.

Alfalfa sprouts are considered safe and nutritious, but they can cause side effects in some people. Due to its high fiber content, consuming raw alfalfa can lead to gas, an upset stomach, and diarrhea.

Perhaps a bigger (and more frequent) problem is the infection of alfalfa sprouts with bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella or E. coli.

FDA Consumer Warning

In 2016, the FDA issued a warning for an outbreak of Salmonella infection in 12 states directly related to alfalfa sprouts. As a result, the FDA now advises some people not to eat raw sprouts, namely:

  • Children under five
  • Adults over 65
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients or people with untreated HIV .

Symptoms of Salmonella and E. coli infection include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. If you experience symptoms like these hours or even days after consuming fresh alfalfa, see your doctor immediately.

Due to its estrogenic action, alfalfa should be avoided in people with hormone-sensitive cancers, such as cancers of the breast, prostate, cervix, or uterus.

Alfalfa sprouts also contain an amino acid called L-canavanine, which can cause inflammation in people with certain autoimmune diseases, especially lupus . Eating alfalfa or adding it to food can cause symptoms of acute lupus .

Talk to your doctor if you have an autoimmune condition, including multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, before eating alfalfa sprouts or taking alfalfa supplements.

Drug interactions

Alfalfa supplements can interact with some medications. It is not known how persistent these interactions may be and if they may require dose adjustments or treatment changes.

Drug interactions of interest include:

The extent of drug interactions is unknown and may or may not be problematic. In general, higher doses tend to increase the likelihood of drug interactions.

To avoid interactions, tell your doctor if you are using alfalfa or any other supplement for medical purposes.

Get Drug Information / Anastasia Tretyak

Dosage and preparation

Alfalfa supplements are widely available in vitamin stores and many health food stores. It is also sold as herbal tea, tincture, tablets, powder, and dried herbs. Fresh alfalfa sprouts are available at many grocery stores.

Although there are no guidelines for the proper use of alfalfa, the herb has been used safely in medical research. According to the National Library of Medicine, alfalfa supplements have been used in doses of 5 to 10 grams three times a day with no reported harm .

If you are taking an alfalfa supplement in any form, never exceed the dosage indicated on the product label. Little is known about the long-term safety of alfalfa supplements.

Fresh alfalfa sprouts are generally considered safe for people with normal immune systems. Still, there is always a risk of bacteria contaminating store-bought sprouts.

What to look for

There are a number of things to consider when eating fresh alfalfa or taking alfalfa supplements.

Alfalfa sprouts

To reduce the risk of bacterial contamination, buy seedlings that have been properly refrigerated and are not slimy, wilted, discolored, or odorless. It's best to keep the sprouts refrigerated at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash and rinse sprouts well before eating to reduce possible exposure to bacterial contaminants. It's even better to cook the sprouts rather than eat them raw. The same goes for alfalfa juice. Cooking will change the flavor and texture, but will retain some nutritional value.

Alternatively, buy alfalfa seeds online or at a health food store and germinate at home.

Alfalfa supplements

Nutritional supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States and can vary in quality from brand to brand.

When purchasing nutritional supplements, tinctures, or powders, choose brands that have been independently tested by a certifying authority such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

Certification does not mean that supplements are safe or effective, but it does ensure that the ingredients on the product label are correct and clean.

It is more difficult to assess the quality of traditional Chinese medicine Mu Xu. In general, it is recommended to avoid imported medicinal herbs. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health, China's medicinal herbs sometimes contain drugs, heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful ingredients .

Get the word of drug information

Alfalfa sprouts can be delicious and healthy, but there is no evidence that they can treat or prevent any diseases or health conditions. Additionally, fresh alfalfa sprouts pose a potential risk to young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

If you intend to use alfalfa medicinally, tell your doctor so he or she can monitor side effects or possible drug interactions.

Frequently asked questions

  • To grow fresh alfalfa, you will need alfalfa seeds and a germination jar with a perforated lid (available online and at many horticultural centers).

    • Add two tablespoons of alfalfa seeds to the jar.
    • Pour 1/2 glass of water and let it steep overnight.
    • Drain the seeds through the mesh lid and rinse well. Repeat.
    • After eight hours, rinse and drain again. Store away from sunlight.
    • Drain and rinse two or three times a day. The small shoots will appear in about three days.
    • Once the stem tails have developed, move the jar. in indirect sunlight to help them turn green.
    • They are ready to harvest and eat when the shoots are three inches tall.

  • The alfalfa plant grows two to three feet tall. It has long, narrow leaves and purple flowers that can also be shades of yellow and white. Alfalfa sprouts consist of thin white stems with tiny leaves that vary in color from yellow to green.

  • Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens that can mimic the effects of estrogen. Phytoestrogens stimulate estrogen receptors in cells, although not as strongly as estrogen. Researchers have studied how phytoestrogens can affect conditions like cancer and heart disease, but the evidence is still unclear.

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