Alfalfa is a plant also known as lucerne or Medicago sativa, that has been grown to feed livestock for centuries and is now available as alfalfa supplements. Recently, this perennial flowering plant has been gaining popularity because of its promising health benefits for its users.
In this article, we will dive deep into what alfalfa supplements are, their benefits, and the associated risks so you can decide if it’s worth trying to be part of your healthcare routine.
Table of Contents
What are Alfalfa Supplements?
Alfalfa is a legume plant that is also a herb. Oftentimes, alfalfa sprouts are often part of a meal as a garnish, and their dried leaves are now available as herbal supplements either in tablets or powdered form to be steeped as tea.
Furthermore, alfalfa sprouts are rich in vitamin K and other micronutrients which will also be explored in the next section. But because the leaves and seeds are now available as herbal supplements, there is no standard nutrition information available on its packages.
Let’s explore the promising benefits of alfalfa supplements in the next section.
Benefits of Alfalfa Supplements
The numerous health nutrients found in alfalfa made it promising as a herbal supplement. If you want to take the nutrient it offers through diet, a cup of alfalfa sprouts contain 8 calories. Furthermore, the plant contains high bioactive plant compounds like coumarins, saponins, phytosterols, flavonoids, alkaloids, and phytoestrogens .
Nutrient Content of Alfalfa
Additionally, alfalfa contains micronutrients such as Vitamin K, copper, riboflavin, folate, vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and thiamine making it so appealing to health enthusiasts that they are now used as a dietary supplement .
Aside from the micronutrient found in alfalfa, here are the potential benefits of this perennial flowering plant that started a buzz in the health community backed by several studies.
One of the most well-researched benefits of alfalfa is its ability to lower cholesterol. Many studies have reported that alfalfa can lower bad cholesterol (LDL), and triglyceride levels and increase good cholesterol (HDL). This resulted in decreasing the risk of heart disease [3 4 5].
The Science behind the benefits
The reason for alfalfa’s ability to reduce cholesterol is due to its high concentration of saponins, a class of plant components that are known to lower bad cholesterol levels . As a result, it reduces the gut’s absorption of bad cholesterol and increases the elimination of substances that produce new good cholesterol.
However, there has been no new research on alfalfa and cholesterol in people. In fact, the current studies showed alfalfa’s promising benefit as a potential cholesterol-lowering substance. But more human study is still necessary to prove this claim.
Lowers Blood Sugar
One of the many uses of alfalfa is for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes. Some might ask, “does alfalfa make you gain weight?” The short answer is no. The truth is that consuming alfalfa sprouts can help one to lose weight. In fact, alfalfa is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food source and has a low glycemic index making it an ideal part of a diet for diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Animal study improving cardiometabolic health
Animal studies proved that alfalfa might improve cardiometabolic health. And this happens by reducing blood fat and blood sugar levels in those animal subjects in the study [3 4 6 7].
The results are encouraging, but this needs to ensure that the same result would have a similar effect on people.
Reduces Menopausal Symptoms
Alfalfa has a lot of phytoestrogens, which are plant substances that resemble estrogen chemically . Consequently, they may have some of the same properties as estrogen in the body. Although phytoestrogens are controversial, they may offer many benefits, including reducing menopausal symptoms caused by low estrogen levels .
Although alfalfa’s benefits on menopausal symptoms require further studies, there is some indication that it can help women with hot flashes. However, there are some potential health risks. If you’re thinking about using it to address those symptoms, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider.
Alfalfa Supplements: What are Potential Health Risks?
Alfalfa is generally safe for most people, but some may experience potential side effects. Let’s look at the potential side effects in the next section.
For Pregnant Women
Pregnant women should avoid raw alfalfa sprouts and supplement products made from alfalfa seeds because they may pose a threat to food safety. For example, alfalfa may be acting as a storage for organisms like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria [10 11].
For Patients with Autoimmune Disease
Reported cases showed that alfalfa supplements might associate with some cases of lupus reactivation. This is because the amino acid L-cavanine found in alfalfa may have immune-stimulating properties that are responsible for this effect . Therefore, patients with lupus or other autoimmune disorders should avoid taking this supplement.
For Patients Using Blood Thinning Medications
The vitamin K content found in alfalfa and alfalfa sprouts is high . Although most people benefit from this, others may be at risk. This means that warfarin and other blood-thinning drugs may work less effectively when taken in high dosages of vitamin K. Consequently, it’s crucial for those who use these medications to avoid making substantial changes to their vitamin K dosage.
For Immunocompromised People
Alfalfa seed sprouting requires moist conditions that are perfect for bacterial growth. In fact, several bacterial outbreaks have been associated with alfalfa sprouts in the past . As a result, sprouts sold in supermarkets may be contaminated by bacteria.
What the FDA recommends
Anyone can get sick from consuming contaminated alfalfa sprouts, but most healthy individuals will recover without any lasting effects. On the other hand, an illness like this can be extremely damaging for persons with weakened immune systems.
Hence, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends avoiding alfalfa sprouts and dietary supplements made from alfalfa seeds for children, pregnant women, older people, and others with compromised immune systems .
Alfalfa has been shown to reduce cholesterol, and studies suggest that it may also help with blood sugar control and menopause symptoms. Furthermore, it contains minerals like vitamin K, copper, folate, and magnesium, in addition to antioxidants. Additionally, alfalfa is extremely low in calories.
Nevertheless, pregnant women, those who are using blood-thinning medications, and those who have autoimmune diseases, may need to avoid alfalfa. Although more thorough research is still necessary, alfalfa has a lot of potential as a food or supplement that can improve one’s health.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
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