Alfalfa (generic name)
treats Atherosclerosis, High cholesterol, and Diabetes
Table of Contents
Top Learning Centers(Recursos en Español)
Alternate TitleMedicago sativa
CategoryHerbs & Supplements
Al-fac-facah, alfalfa weevil, arc, buffalo herb, California clover, Chilean clover, Fabaceae (family), feuille de luzerne (French), isoflavone, jatt, kaba yonca, Leguminosae (family), lucerne, medicago, mielga, mu su, phytoestrogen, purple medic, purple medick, purple medicle, sai pi li ka, saranac, Spanish clover, team, weevelchek, yonja.
Alfalfa is a legume that has a long history of dietary and medicinal uses. A small number of animal and preliminary human studies report that alfalfa supplements may lower blood levels of cholesterol and glucose. However, most research has not been well-designed. Therefore, there is not enough reliable evidence available to form clear conclusions in these areas.
Alfalfa supplements taken by mouth appear to be generally well tolerated. However, ingestion of alfalfa tablets has been associated with reports of a lupus-like syndrome or lupus flares. These reactions may be due to the amino acid L-canavanine, which appears to be present in alfalfa seeds and sprouts, but not in the leaves. There are also rare cases of pancytopenia (low blood counts), dermatitis (skin inflammation), and gastrointestinal upset.
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Atherosclerosis (cholesterol plaques in heart arteries):
Several studies in animals report reductions in cholesterol plaques of the arteries after use of alfalfa. Well-designed research in humans is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
A small number of animal studies report reductions in blood sugar levels following ingestion of alfalfa. Human data are limited, and it remains unclear if alfalfa can aid in the control of sugars in patients with diabetes or hyperglycemia.
Reductions in blood levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein ("bad cholesterol") have been reported in animal studies and in a small number of human cases. High-density lipoprotein ("good cholesterol") has not been altered in these cases. Although this evidence is promising, better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached.
TraditionWARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Allergies, antifungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, appetite stimulant, asthma, bladder disorders, blood clotting disorders, boils, breast cancer, cervical cancer, cough, diuresis (increased urination), estrogen replacement, gastrointestinal tract disorders, gum healing after dental procedures, increasing breast milk, indigestion, inflammation, insect bites, jaundice, kidney disorders, menopausal symptoms, nutritional support, peptic ulcer disease, prostate disorders, radiotherapy induced skin damage, rheumatoid arthritis, scurvy, skin damage from radiation, stomach ulcers, thrombocytopenic purpura, uterine stimulant, vitamin supplementation (vitamins A,C,E,K), wound healing.
Adults (18 years and older)
A dose of 5-10 grams of dried herb three times daily has been taken by mouth.
Two tablets (1 gram each) of Cholestaid® (esterin processed alfalfa) taken by mouth three times daily for up to two months, then 1 tablet three times daily, has been recommended by the manufacturer.
A dose of 5 to 10 milliliters (one to two teaspoonfuls) of a 1:1 solution in 25% alcohol three times daily has been taken by mouth.
For treating high cholesterol, 40 grams of heated seeds prepared three times daily with food has been taken by mouth.
Children (younger than 18 years)
Alfalfa supplements in children are not recommended due to potential side effects.
SafetyDISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Alfalfa should be avoided in people with allergies to members of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae plant families. Caution is warranted in individuals with grass allergies.
Side Effects and Warnings
Alfalfa appears to be well tolerated by most individuals, although rare serious adverse effects have been reported.
Mild gastrointestinal symptoms may occur, such as stomach discomfort, diarrhea, gas, or larger/more frequent stools. Dermatitis (skin inflammation/redness) has been reported and may be due to alfalfa allergy.
Blood sugar levels may be reduced. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugar. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare provider, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
Lupus-like effects have been associated with alfalfa use, including antinuclear antibodies in the blood, muscle pains, fatigue, abnormal immune system function, and kidney abnormalities. Therefore, people with a history of lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) or a family history of lupus should avoid alfalfa supplements.
Other rarely reported adverse effects include abnormal blood cell counts (pancytopenia) and lowered potassium levels (hypokalemia). In theory, thyroid hormone levels may be increased, gout flares may be stimulated, and estrogen-like effects may occur.
Contamination of alfalfa products with potentially dangerous bacteria (including Escherichia coli 0157:H7, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes) has been reported. In one case report, vomiting occurring after the consumption of seaweed and organic alfalfa was attributed to contamination of the capsules with high amounts of entospore forming and streptomyces-like bacteria. Copper, arsenic, and antimony have been found in alfalfa plants.
Many tinctures/liquid extracts contain high levels of alcohol and should be avoided when driving or operating heavy machinery.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Alfalfa supplements are not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to insufficient evidence and a theoretical risk of birth defects or spontaneous abortion. Amounts found in food are generally believed to be safe. Traditionally, alfalfa is believed to stimulate breast milk production, although this has not been well studied.
Tinctures/liquid extracts may contain high levels of alcohol and should be avoided during pregnancy.