Alfalfa Uses, Benefits, Side Effects, Drug interactions and Contraindications

Alfalfa is an herb found in foothills and mountain areas of the Mediterranean region, North America, and western Asia. It is a medicinal plant and for therapeutic purpose whole dried plants including flowers are gathered at the beginning of flowering seasons.

Alfalfa tastes unpleasantly salty, bitter and dry. It is widely used in foods and is listed by the Council of Europe as a source of natural food flavoring. People use the leaves, sprouts, and seeds to make medicine. It is nutritive and is good source of vitamins and minerals.

Alfalfa has main action on cardiovascular, nervous, urinary and digestive system. Traditionally, it is used in the treatment of kidney conditions, bladder and prostate conditions, diabetes, malfunctioning of the thyroid gland, high cholesterol, and bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenic purpura. It is used in case of deficiency of vitamin A, C, E or K, deficiency in immunoreactive prothrombin (Factor II), and weakness while recovering from an illness or medical treatment. As a health supplement Alfalfa is available in form of teas, tablets and capsules.

Common Names of Alfalfa

Scientific name | Latin Name: Medicago sativa L.

Common names: Buffalo herb, medicago, purple medic, purple medick, Purple medic, Lucerne, Feuille de Luzerne, Grand Trèfle, Herbe aux Bisons, Herbe à Vaches, Lucerne, Luzerne, Medicago, Medicago sativa, Phyoestrogen, Phyto-œstrogène, Purple Medick, Sanfoin

Alfalfa Plant

  • Alfalfa is a perennial plant with a smooth, erect stem that reaches 2 to 3 feet height.
  • The leaves are grayish-green pinnately trifoliate with egg-shaped leaflets.
  • The clover-like flowers are yellow to violet-blue. They are 9 to 10 mm long and appear in oblong, many-blossomed racemes.
  • The fruit is a spiralled pod with 2 or 3 twists with hollow center and not thorny.

Alfalfa Classification

  • Kingdom Plantae – Plants
  • Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
  • Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
  • Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
  • Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
  • Subclass Rosidae
  • Order Fabales
  • Family Fabaceae/Leguminosae – Pea family
  • Genus Medicago L. – alfalfa P
  • Species Medicago Sativa

Constituents of Aerial Parts

The foliage parts contains the following:

  • Carotinoids: including among others, lutein
  • Triterpene saponins: sojasapogenols A-E aglycones medicagenic acid, hederagenin
  • Isoflavonoids: including among others, formononetin glycosides, genistein, daidzein
  • Coumestans: coumestrol, 3′-methoxy coumestrol, lucernol, sativol, trifoliol
  • Triterpenes: including among others, stigmasterol, spinasterol Cyanogenic
  • Acids: Lauric acid, maleic acid, malic acid, malonic acid, myristic acid, oxalic acid, palmitic acid and quinic acid.
  • Amino acids: Arginine, asparagine (high concentration in seeds), cystine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
  • Other constituents: Carbohydrates (e.g. arabinose, fructose, sucrose, xylose), vitamins (A, B1, B6, B12, C, E, K), pectin methylesterase, pigments (e.g. chlorophyll, xanthophyll, b-carotene, anthocyanins), proteins, minerals and trace elements.

Part(s) Used: Herb, Aerial parts

Biomedical Action of Alfalfa

  • Antidiabetic: stabilize blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
  • Antifungal: used to prevent fungal growth; active against fungi.
  • Antihemolytic: Preventing hemolysis (the rupture or destruction of red blood cells).
  • Antitumor: inhibiting the growth of a tumour or tumours.
  • Bactericidal: kill bacteria.
  • Cardio tonic: tonic for heat.
  • Diuretic: causing increased passing of urine.
  • Emmenagogue: a substance that stimulates or increases menstrual flow.
  • Estrogenic: promotes estrogen, the steroid hormones which promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body. Estrogen hormones are used in oral contraceptives or to treat menopausal and menstrual disorders.
  • Nutritive: relating to nutrition.

Indications of Alfalfa

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Bladder problems
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Kidney problems
  • Prostate problems
  • Upset stomach
  • Other conditions

Health Benefits of Alfalfa

Alfalfa is an herb with nutritive benefits. Alfalfa is an excellent source of beta carotene, potassium, calcium, and iron. Alfalfa counteracts the atherosclerotic effect of dietary cholesterol. Dietary intake of Alfalfa normalizes the distribution of plasma lipoproteins. It prevents hypercholesteremic and atherosclerosis.

Nutritive

Alfalfa contains proteins (25% by weight), minerals, trace elements, calcium, chlorophyll, carotene, vitamin K, other vitamins, flavonoids, amino acids, sugars, several saponins, many sterols, coumarins, alkaloids, other nutrients and plenty of fiber. People take alfalfa as a source of vitamins A, C, E, and K4 and minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron.

High in Vitamin K

Vitamin K plays key role in helping the blood clot and preventing excessive bleeding. It functions as a coenzyme for vitamin K-dependent carboxylase, an enzyme required for the synthesis of proteins involved in hemostasis (blood clotting) and bone metabolism, and other diverse physiological functions. Bleeding and hemorrhage are the classic signs of vitamin K deficiency, although these effects occur only in severe cases. Because vitamin K is required for the carboxylation of osteocalcin in bone, vitamin K deficiency could also reduce bone mineralization and contribute to osteoporosis.

Alfalfa is rich in Vitamin K and thus helps in bleeding disorders.

Reduces cholesterol

Alfalfa decreases cholesterol and plasma phospholipids without changing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol concentrations, decrease intestinal absorption of cholesterol, increase excretion of neutral steroids and bile acids, prevent atherosclerosis and induce the regression of atherosclerosis.

Diuretic Action

Alfalfa is herb with diuretic action. It is beneficial in acute or chronic cystitis, inflammation of the prostate, and UTI. It is an alkalizing herb and gives relief in burning urination.

Gives relief in Constipation

Alfalfa has laxative action. The potassium found in alfalfa helps to reduce water retention within all parts of the body and decrease constipation.

Good for bones

Alfalfa contains calcium, vitamin K, vitamins D2 and D3 along with naturally occurring steroid-like molecules. Due to this combination of vitamins, mimerals and other nutrients it support bone density.  Genistein present Alfalfa has been shown to stimulate bone formation, inhibit bone resorption, and prevent bone loss.

Good for Skin and Hair

Alfalfa is rich in amino acids, protein, vitamins E and K, and minerals. It has significant antioxidant action.  The vitamins improve scalp health and thus strengthens hair. The nutrition is also helpful to keep the skin healthy.

Estrogenic Action

Alfalfa has estrogenic effects due to chemical components of coumetrol, daidzein, and genisten. It helps to alleviate menopausal symptoms due to phytoestrogenic activity. Genistein is effective in preventing bone loss in postmenopausal women.

Alfalfa Dosages

  • Alfalfa is available in tablet, capsule, and liquid extracts.
  • Alfalfa capsules are taken in dose of 3-6 capsules daily.
  • Alfalfa tea can be prepared by steeping 5 gram of dried herb in one cup of hot water. This infusion can be taken 2-3 times a day.
  • Liquid extract can be taken in dose of 5–10 mL (1 : 1 in 25% alcohol) three times daily.

Safety Profile

  • Alfalfa leaves are POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults.
  • But intake of Alfalfa seeds long-term is LIKELY UNSAFE.
  • Using alfalfa in amounts larger than what is commonly found in food is POSSIBLY UNSAFE during pregnancy and breast-feeding.
  • Alfalfa seed products may cause reactions that are similar to the autoimmune disease called lupus erythematosus.

Precautions and Side Effects

In Auto-immune diseases

Alfalfa might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases (such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or other conditions).

Both alfalfa seed and herb have been reported to induce a systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)-like syndrome in female monkeys.

There is one report of a kidney transplant rejection following the three-month use of a supplement that contained alfalfa and black cohosh. This outcome is more likely due to alfalfa than black cohosh. There is some evidence that alfalfa can boost the immune system and this might make the anti-rejection drug cyclosporine less effective.

Photosensitivity

Alfalfa might also cause some people’s skin to become extra sensitive to the sun.

Joint Pain

In view of the reports of arthralgia, alfalfa should not be recommended for the treatment of arthritis.

Hypotension

It can reduce blood pressure.

 Metabolism of vitamin E

Alfalfa root is hemolytic and may interfere with vitamin E metabolism.

Blood Sugar Control

Alfalfa may affect blood sugar concentrations in diabetic patients because of the manganese content.

Overdose of Alfalfa

Excessive ingestion should be avoided as many pharmacologically active constituents (e.g. canavanine, isoflavones and saponins) are present in Alfalfa, which may give rise to unwanted effects.

Consult doctor in case of bleeding, hot flashes, or lupus like symptoms.

Large doses of alfalfa might also increase your sensitivity to sunlight increasing the chances of sunburn, blistering or rashes on areas of skin exposed to sunlight. Be sure to wear sunblock and protective clothing when spending time in the sun.

Large amounts of alfalfa might have some of the same effects as estrogen and it might decrease the effects of estrogen pills. Taking alfalfa along with birth control pills might decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills.

Contraindications of Alfalfa

Alfalfa should not be used by persons who are hypersensitive to this herb.

Alfalfa should not be used by persons with lupus erythematosus.

Do not eat seeds of alfalfa. Alfalfa seeds are reported to contain substantial quantities of canavanine (8.33–13.6 mg/kg). Canavanine is toxic to all animal species because it is a structural analogue of arginine and may interfere with the binding of this amino acid to enzymes and its incorporation into proteins.

Alfalfa might have the same effects as the female hormone estrogen. In hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids, don’t use alfalfa.

Safety in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

There is some evidence that alfalfa may act like estrogen.

Alfalfa should not be used during pregnancy as it may act as a uterine stimulant.

Drug Interactions

Please note, while the coumarin content of alfalfa is not high at normal usage levels, coumarins can affect the action of almost any drug administered concurrently, particularly those with similar or opposing effects, such as medicines with hormonal activity, diabetes etc.

Anticoagulants

Vitamin K which helps the blood to clot is present in Alfalfa. Drugs warfarin, heparin, is used to slow blood clotting. This results in reduce effectiveness of warfarin.

Antidiabetics

Alfalfa may increase hypoglycemic action of antidiabetic medicines. If you have diabetes and take alfalfa, monitor your blood sugar levels closely.

Hormone Therapy

Alfalfa may interfere with hormone replacement therapy or hormonal contraceptives.

Alfalfa increases estrogen effect when taken with Black cohosh, blood root, burdock, hops, kudzu, licorice, red clover, soy, thyme, white horehound, and yucca.

Immunosuppressant

Alfalfa might increase the immune system and thus decrease the effectiveness of medications that lowers the immune system.

Tetracycline

  • Alfalfa is high in iron, which may cause it to interfere with the absorption of tetracyclines.
  • Alfalfa might lower the body’s absorption of dietary iron.

Vitamin E

Alfalfa might interfere with the way the body takes in and uses vitamin E.

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