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Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)

Alfalfa

Biological Name:
(Medicago sativa L.)

Family:
Leguminosae; (beans and peas)

Other Names:
Alfalfa, Chilean Clover, Father of All Foods (Al-fal-fa), Lucerne, Purple medic.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is a perennial herb found on the edges of fields and is widely cultivated by farmers for livestock feed. It grows to a height of about 30 cm or more. The erect, smooth stem of Alfalfa grows from an elongated taproot and produces blue to purple flowers during the summer months. It produces a characteristic spirally coiled seed pods.
Alfalfa is a legume with a long history of dietary and medicinal use.

Alfalfa supplements taken by mouth appear to be generally well tolerated. However, ingestion of alfalfa tablets has been associated with reports of a lupus-like syndrome or lupus flares. These reactions may be due to the amino acid L-canavanine which appears to be present in alfalfa seeds and sprouts, but not in the leaves. There are also rare cases of pancytopenia (low blood counts), dermatitis (skin inflammation), and gastrointestinal upset

Active Compounds:

Alfalfa is a medicinal plant used in traditional medicine due to being high in protein, calcium, and vitamins and its low percentage of cellulose. It contains many enzymes, including: amylase, invertase, and pectinase. Therefore it can be used as digestive aids [2]. More than 20% of dry weight of alfalfa is protein, and it is the best source of Arg, His, Asp, Phe, and Cys amino acids. Alfalfa has an extremely high nutritive value, containing vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, minerals, protein, and beneficial saponins [3,4].

Previous studies showed that adding alfalfa seed in human diet reduced triglycerides and LDL, improved HDL levels, and decreased blood glucose [5,6]. Therefore, alfalfa leaves are traditionally used as an effective treatment for diabetes [7,8]. Alfalfa causes stimulation of insulin secretion and also improves insulin function in reducing the plasma glucose, however, its effects on the blood lipids have not been investigated widely [1,9].

Uses based on scientific evidence:

High cholesterol
Reductions in blood levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”) have been reported in animal studies and in a small number of human cases. High-density lipoprotein (“good cholesterol”) has not been altered in these cases. Although this evidence is promising, better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached [1].

Atherosclerosis (cholesterol plaques in heart arteries)
Several studies in animals report reductions in cholesterol plaques of the arteries after use of alfalfa. Well-designed research in humans is necessary before a conclusion can be drawn.
Diabetes
Studies in rats showed reductions in blood sugar levels following ingestion of alfalfa.

Aqueous alfalfa extract significantly reduced glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in the diabetic rats but enhanced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. ALT and AST liver enzyme levels were also reduced in blood. Histological examination showed that the aqueous alfalfa extract caused reconstruction of damaged liver and enhanced Langerhans islets’ diameter in pancreas. Therefore, all signs of diabetes were improved by oral administration of alfalfa [1].

Traditional Uses in Herbal Medicine (some of these uses have not yet been scientifically tested and verified):

  • Immune disorders:
 Allergies, Breast cancer, Cervical cancer, Hay fever, Rheumatoid arthritis.


  • Digestive disorders:
 Appetite stimulant, Gastrointestinal tract disorders, Indigestion, Stomach ulcers.


  • Lung disorders:
 Asthma, Cough.


  • Skin disorders:
 Boils, Insect bites, Skin damage from radiation, Wound healing.


  • Uro-genital disorders:
 Bladder disorders, Diuresis (increasing urination), Kidney disorders, Prostate disorders.


  • Nutritional uses:
 Antioxidant, Convalescence, Nutritional support, Scurvy, Vitamin supplementation (vitamins A,C,E,K).


  • Gynaecological / Mestrual / Pregnancy:
 Increasing breast milk, Estrogen replacement, Menopausal symptoms, Uterine stimulant.


  • Cardio-vascular disorders:
 Blood clotting disorders.


  • Hepatic / Liver problems:
 Jaundice.


  • Other:
 Convalescence, gum healing after dental procedures.

References

1. Amraie, E., Farsani, M. K., Sadeghi, L., Khan, T. N., Babadi, V. Y., & Adavi, Z. (2015). The effects of aqueous extract of alfalfa on blood glucose and lipids in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Interventional medicine & applied science, 7(3), 124–128. https://doi.org/10.1556/1646.7.2015.3.7

2. Elakovich SD, Hampton JM. Analysis of coumestrol, a phytoestrogen, in alfalfa tablets sold for human consumption. J Agric Food Chem. 1984 Jan-Feb;32(1):173-5. doi: 10.1021/jf00121a041. PMID: 6707329.

3. Zargari A. Therapeutic Plants. 1st. Tehran: Tehran University Press; 1996. pp. 642–646.

4. Hong YH, Chao WW, Chen ML, Lin BF. Ethyl acetate extracts of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) sprouts inhibit lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation in vitro and in vivo. J Biomed Sci. 2009 Jul 14;16:64. doi: 10.1186/1423-0127-16-64.

5. Asgary S, Moshtaghian J, Hosseini M, Siadat H. Effects of alfalfa on lipoproteins and fatty streak formation in hypercholesterolemic rabbits. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2008 Oct;21(4):460–464.

6. Mehranjani MS, Shariatzadeh MA, Desfulian AR, Noori M, Abnosi MH, Moghadam ZH. Effects of Medicago sativa on nephropathy in diabetic rats. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2007;69:768–772.

7. Lust JB. The Herb Book. London: Bantam Books Inc.; 1986.

8. Gray AM, Flatt PR. The traditional plant treatment, Sambucus nigra (elder), exhibits insulin-like and insulin-releasing actions in vitro. J Nutr. 1997;78:325–334.

9. Winiarska H, Dworacka M, Borowska M, Bobkiewicz-Kozłowska T, Gorecki P. The effects of plant extracts of Medicago sativa and Trigonella foenum-graceum on postprandial glucose levels in type 2 diabetic rats. Herba Polonica. 2007;53:34–44.

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Page last updated: 26th June 2020

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