Alfalfa’s Nutritional Value
by Vic Shayne, PhD
We’re often asked why alfalfa is in NutriPlex’s GreenNutrients, WholeFood Complex and SuperGreens PhytoFood? Alfalfa has been described by many natural health care pioneers as a nutrient-rich food, high in chlorophyll, vitamins and micronutrients.
Alfalfa (scientifically called Medicago) has been around for centuries, and is an often overlooked wonder food, helpful for just about all kinds of health problems caused by nutritional deficiencies. Alfalfa was first discovered centuries ago by Arabian horsemen who, upon feeding it to their livestock, noticed a jump in energy and performance. People who eat alfalfa report similar benefits. But the benefits go deeper. Alfalfa contains protein and vitamins A, B1, B6, C, E, and K. Nutrient analysis demonstrates the presence of calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc. (1999 Healthnotes, Inc.) Alfalfa has more protein than most plant foods. (Davidson)
Alfalfa is well studied by scientific researchers. Animal studies indicate that nutrients within alfalfa can block absorption of cholesterol and prevent the formation of artery plaques. Alfalfa has also been shown beneficial for Hypoestrogen, Menopause, Hot Flashes, Hyperestrogen, Fibrocystic Breasts, PMS, and Breast Cancer.
Because it contains phytoestrogens, one of the most promising uses for alfalfa appears to be in the treatment of hormonal imbalances. Phytoestrogens are not true estrogens, yet they have molecular structures similar enough to estrogen to have balancing effects on hormone-related health issues whether the problem is estrogen levels that are too high or too low.
Alfalfa also appears to lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, low density lipoproteins, (LDL) and very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) while not significantly lowering desirable HDL . This leads to a significant reduction of the total cholesterol/HDL ratios, one of the major predictors of cardiovascular risk. This action appears to be due to the reduced intestinal absorption of both endogenous and exogenous cholesterol. (Reilly)
Alfalfa leaves contain approximately 2–3% saponins.3 Animal studies suggest that these constituents block absorption of cholesterol and prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaques.4 One small human trial found that 120 grams per day of heat-treated alfalfa seeds for eight weeks led to a modest reduction in cholesterol.5 However, consuming the large amounts of alfalfa seeds (80–120 grams per day) needed to supply high amounts of these saponins may potentially cause damage to red blood cells in the body.6 Herbalists also claim that alfalfa may be helpful for people with diabetes. But while high amounts of a water extract of the leaves led to increased insulin release in animal studies, there is no evidence that alfalfa would be useful for the treatment of diabetes in humans.7
Alfalfa leaves also contain flavones, isoflavones, sterols, and coumarin derivatives. The isoflavones are thought to be responsible for the estrogen-like effects seen in animal studies.8 Although this has not been confirmed with human trials, alfalfa is sometimes used to treat menopause symptoms.
Alfalfa contains protein and vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Nutrient analysis demonstrates the presence of calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc.
- Briggs C. Alfalfa. Canadian Pharm J 1994;Mar:84–5, 115.
- Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1991, 37–9.
- Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 13–5.
- Story JA. Alfalfa saponins and cholesterol interactions. Am J Clin Nutr 1984;39:917–29.
- Molgaard J, von Schenck H, Olsson AG. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis 1987;65:173–9.
- Malinow MR, Bardana EJ, Goodnight SH. Pancytopenia during ingestion of alfalfa seeds. Lancet 1981;1(8220 Pt 1):615.
- Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal. New York: Haworth Press, 1999, 23–5.
- Shemesh M, Lindrer HR, Ayalon N. Affinity of rabbit uterine oestradiol receptor for phyto-oestragens and its use in competitive protein-binding radioassay for plasma coumestrol. J Reprod Fertil 1972;29:1–9.
- Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 2–3.
- Malinow MR, Bardana EJ, Profsky B, et al. Systemic lupus erythematosus-like syndrome in monkeys fed alfalfa sprouts: Role of a nonprotein amino acid. Science 1982;216:415–7.
- Roberts JL, Hayashi JA. Exacerbation of SLE associated with alfalfa ingestion. New Engl J Med 1983;308:1361.
• Healthnotes, 1999.
• Reilly, ND, Paul, Clinical Application: Medicago sativa extracts, Volume 1, Number 1, 1999
• Davidson, Tish, Alfalfa, Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine , 2007