Alfalfa health benefits include improvements in blood sugar levels and treatments for various diseases. Clues to alfalfa health benefits lie in the plant's unique growth habit and ability to extract nutrients from the soil.
Father of Plants
Alfalfa is known in the Arab world as the 'father of plants' because of its unique growing habits. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is an herb that grows in all temperate climates. It sends its roots very deep into the soil, sometimes as deep as three or four feet. This unique ability helps the alfalfa plant draw mineral resources from deep within the layers of the earth, normally untouched by typical food crops and herbs. The result is a plant rich in many elements, including magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium.
Rich Source of Health
Alfalfa isn't just rich in minerals. It is also rich in many vitamins. Alfalfa plants and sprouts contain an unusually high amount of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and K. The plants are rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants too, which help reduce cell damage once consumed by people. Alfalfa is also rich in fiber, which aids digestion.
Alfalfa Health Benefits
Since ancient times, alfalfa seeds, sprouts and leaves have been used as herbal remedies. The Chinese first noted alfalfa health benefits over 1400 years ago. Since then, herbalists and scientists have explored numerous claims related to alfalfa.
Treatment for Edema
Edema means swelling, or fluid retention. Alfalfa is often recommended for people suffering from kidney problems because of its ability to reduce fluids. It acts as a diuretic. This reduces fluid retention and naturally flushes excess water from the body's tissues.
Many herbalists and alternative health practitioners recommend alfalfa to treat both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The prevailing belief is that alfalfa contains amino acids that reduce inflammation. The nutrients contained in alfalfa are also thought to aid the body's own responses and bring them into balance. Currently, no scientific studies back up this claim.
Blood Glucose and Cholesterol
Alfalfa is a traditional treatment to help regulate blood glucose. In 2009, the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Health (NCCAM) sponsored a clinical trial to observe the use of alfalfa and other herbal extracts to regulate insulin levels. Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City is the trial sponsor. Preliminary evidence suggests that a compound named NIC5-15, extracted from soybeans, alfalfa, pine cones and pine bark may be a useful extract to regulate blood glucose levels.
Other Benefits of Alfalfa
There are several other alfalfa health benefits. Alfalfa is used whenever inflammation is present, such as with joint pain, stiffness, and muscle pain. Alfalfa is also thought to contain substances that reduce menopause symptoms in women, such as hot flashes.
Using Alfalfa Safely
Alfalfa capsules may be purchased at health food stores nationwide. Alfalfa sprouts are easy to grow at home and can provide a safe daily dose of vitamins and minerals. The seeds and leaves are also used in herbal remedies including teas and tonics.
When using alfalfa products, keep the following in mind:
- Like any herbal remedy, alfalfa may produce allergic reactions or side effects. See your physician if you experience any side effects after taking alfalfa.
- Pregnant or nursing women should avoid alfalfa, since the effect on the unborn child or infant is unknown.
- Always follow label directions and dose recommendations on the package label for herbs. Never take more than the recommended amount. Just because a medicine is plant-based doesn't mean you can take an unlimited amount safely.
There are some reported side effects of alfalfa, mostly linked with excessive consumption. Alfalfa can aggravate lupus, so do not take alfalfa is you have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease called lupus.
One very serious side effect of excessive alfalfa consumption is a problem with the body's red blood cells. In very high doses, alfalfa can cause red blood cells to break down. This life-threatening side effect requires immediate medical attention. Unless your herbalist or naturopathic physician recommends it, don't go over the recommended amount of alfalfa on the manufacturer's label.