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Alfalfa is high in vitamin content—providing beta-carotene ; various B-vitamins ; and vitamins C , E , and K —and can be used as a nutritional supplement. 1 However, keep in mind that high doses of alfalfa may present some health risks. (See Safety Issues below.)
Numerous animal studies 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 and preliminary human trials 13 indicate that extracts from alfalfa seeds, leaves, and roots might be helpful for lowering cholesterol levels. However, there have not been any well-designed, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials demonstrating alfalfa useful for this (or any other) purpose. (For information on why double-blind studies are so important, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies? )
Studies using mice to investigate alfalfa's traditional use for diabetes found that it improved some symptoms. 14 Alfalfa has also been investigated in the laboratory (but not yet evaluated in people) as a source of plant estrogens, which might make it helpful for menopause . 15 Alfalfa may also have some use in fighting fungi. 16 Rats fed a disease-causing fungus were able to eliminate more of the fungus from their systems when fed a diet high in alfalfa. It has been suggested that one of the saponins from alfalfa causes damage to the cell membranes of fungi.
Finally, alfalfa has been proposed as a treatment for hay fever , but there is no scientific evidence that it is helpful for this purpose.
- Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998.
- Story JA, LePage SL, Petro MS, West LG, Cassidy MM, Lightfoot FG, Vahouny GV. Interactions of alfalfa plant and sprout saponins with cholesterol in vitro and in cholesterol-fed rats. Am J Clin Nutr. 39(6):917-29.
- Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Naito HK, Lewis LA, McNulty WP. Effect of alfalfa meal on shrinkage (regression) of atherosclerotic plaques during cholesterol feeding in monkeys. Atherosclerosis. 30(1):27-43.
- Malinow MR, Connor WE, McLaughlin P, Stafford C, Lin DS, Livingston AL, Kohler GO, McNulty WP. Cholesterol and bile acid balance in Macaca fascicularis. Effects of alfalfa saponins. J Clin Invest. 67(1):156-62.
- Esper E, Barichello AW, Chan EK, Matts JP, Buchwald H. Synergistic lipid-lowering effects of alfalfa meal as an adjuvant to the partial ileal bypass operation. Surgery. 102(1):39-51.
- Dixit VP, Joshi SC. Antiatherosclerotic effects of alfalfa meal ingestion in chicks: a biochemical evaluation. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 29(1):47-50.
- Malinow MR, McLachlin P, Papworth L, et al. Effect of alfalfa saponins on intestinal cholesterol absorption in rats. Am J Clin Nutr. 1977;30:2061-2067.
- Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Stafford C, Livingston AL, Kohler GO, Cheeke PR. Comparative effects of alfalfa saponins and alfalfa fiber on cholesterol absorption in rats. Am J Clin Nutr. 32(9):1810-2.
- Malinow MR, McLaughlin P, Stafford C, Livingston AL, Kohler GO. Alfalfa saponins and alfalfa seeds. Dietary effects in cholesterol-fed rabbits. Atherosclerosis. 37(3):433-8.
- Yanaura S, Sakamoto M. Effect of alfalfa meal on experimental hyperlipidemia [in Japanese; English abstract]. Nippon Yakurigaku Zasshi. 1975;71:387-393.
- Srinivasan SR, Patton D, Radhakrishnamurthy B, et al. Lipid changes in athersclerotic aortas of Macaca fascicularis after various regression regimens. Atherosclerosis. 1980;37:591-601.
- Malinow MR. Experimental models of atherosclerosis regression. Atherosclerosis. 48(2):105-18.
- Mölgaard J, von Schenck H, Olsson AG. Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia. Atherosclerosis. 65(1-2):173-9.
- Swanston-Flatt SK, Day C, Bailey CJ, Flatt PR. Traditional plant treatments for diabetes. Studies in normal and streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetologia. 33(8):462-4.
- Kurzer MS, Xu X. Dietary phytoestrogens. Annu Rev Nutr. 17():353-81.
- Polacheck I, Levy M, Guizie M, Zehavi U, Naim M, Evron R. Mode of action of the antimycotic agent G2 isolated from alfalfa roots. Zentralbl Bakteriol. 275(4):504-12.