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Alfalfa

Scientific names: Medicago sativa

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...Little exposure or very minor concerns.

What is Alfalfa?

Common cultivars include Weevelchek, Saranac, Team, Arc, Classic, and Buffalo.

This legume grows throughout the world under widely varying conditions. A perennial herb, it has trifoliate dentate leaves with an underground stem that is often woody. Alfalfa grows to approximately 0.9 m, and its blue-violet flowers bloom from July to September.

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What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Alfalfa has played an important role as a livestock forage. Its use probably originated in Southeast Asia. The Arabs fed alfalfa to their horses, claiming it made the animals swift and strong, and named the legume “Al-fal-fa” meaning “father of all foods.” The medicinal uses of alfalfa stem from anecdotal reports that the leaves cause diuresis and are useful in the treatment of kidney, bladder, and prostate disorders. Leaf preparations have been touted for their anti-arthritic and antidiabetic activity, for treatment of dyspepsia, and as an anti-asthmatic. Alfalfa extracts are used in baked goods, beverages, and prepared foods, and the plant serves as a commercial source of chlorophyll and carotene.

Cholesterol reduction

Alfalfa plant saponins and fiber bind significant quantities of cholesterol in laboratory tests; sprout saponins interact to a lesser degree. Results from one small human study showed that the plant might reduce cholesterol levels.

Other uses

There is no evidence supporting the use of various parts of the alfalfa plant for diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, or anti-ulcer purposes.

What is the recommended dosage?

Alfalfa seeds are used commonly as a supplement to lower cholesterol at doses of 0.75 to 3g/day. However, clinical trials have not been performed to validate this dosage.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

The FDA issued an advisory indicating that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts because of frequent bacterial contamination.

Pregnancy/nursing

Documented adverse effects. May cause uterine stimulation. Avoid use.

Interactions

The vitamin K found in alfalfa can affect the anticoagulant effect of warfarin, resulting in decreased anticoagulant activity and lowered prothrombin time. Based on the potential immunostimulating effect of alfalfa, it has been theorized that alfalfa may interfere with the immunosuppressive action of corticosteroids (eg, prednisone) or cyclosporine.

Side Effects

Alfalfa ingestion, especially of the seeds, has been associated with various deleterious effects. Alfalfa seeds and fresh sprouts can be contaminated with bacteria such as S. enterica and E. coli. The FDA issued an advisory indicating that children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts. In general, ingestion of dried alfalfa preparations does not cause serious side effects in healthy adults.

Toxicities

Alfalfa tablets have been associated with the reactivation of systemic lupus erythematosus in at least 2 patients. Changes in intestinal cellular structure were noted in rats fed alfalfa.

References

  1. Alfalfa. Review of Natural Products. factsandcomparisons4.0 [online]. 2005. Available from Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Accessed April 16, 2007.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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