As alfalfa has long been a fodder plant used for livestock and horses, much of what has been studied in the scientific literature is based on its use in animals. It has been revered as a food for horses that gives increases strength and speed, and this has contributed to its folkloric use as an herbal supplement for increasing energy, lowering cholesterol, detoxification, arthritis and hot flashes associated with menopause.
Alfalfa truly is a nutritive food, with high levels of protein (up to 50%), B-vitamins, and minerals, and this could go a long way in explaining its claims for energy and reduction of fatigue. Additionally, alfalfa contains saponins which could explain some of its “adaptogenic” reputation, and antioxidants and its alkalizing nature could explain its detoxification claims. Its use in hot flashes and cancer may be explained by its high estrogenic activity.
Alfalfa is still lacking in clinical research to back up its many claims, but as a nutritive food it may add credence to its use in many kinds of wellness formulations. In a recent study on the estrogenic activity of several legumes, alfalfa sprout extract was found to increase cell proliferation above levels found for estradiol, and the authors concluded it to contain phytoestrogens with a high level of activity (Boue et al., 2003).
Supplementation of alfalfa seeds was clinically tested in patients with hyperlipoproteinemia (HLP) types IIA, IIB, and IV. All patients were given 40 g of alfalfa seeds 3 times daily with meals for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 week period, there was a 17% lowering of total plasma cholesterol, and an 18% decrease in the low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in patients with type II HLP. The largest decreases observed were 26% in total cholesterol and 30% in LDL. The authors concluded that the alfalfa seeds may be used to normalize serum cholesterol levels in patients with type II HLP (Molgaard et al., 1987).
Safety / Dosage
Although the dosage used in the clinical study on alfalfa’s use for lowering cholesterol was extremely high (120 grams daily!), typical dosages for alfalfa tend to range from 250-1000 mg 2-3 times daily with meals. In this dosage range, there are no known side effects of alfalfa except a possible mild blood thinning effect.
1.Boue SM, Wiese TE, Nehls S, Burow ME, Elliott S, Carter-Wientjes CH, Shih BY, McLachlan JA, Cleveland TE. Evaluation of the estrogenic effects of legume extracts containing phytoestrogens. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Apr 9;51(8):2193-9.
2.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 May;65(1-2):173-9.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This monograph can be found in The Health Professional's Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins) by Shawn M. Talbott, PhD and Kerry Hughes, MS.