Alfalfa is the most widespread plant in the world from the legume family, which has been used by many peoples for a thousand years. Initially, this plant was grown only in Asia, but now the largest producer is the USA. The Arabic name for alfalfa is "Alfa Alfa" and means "father of all foods"
Today, alfalfa is especially popular among he alth-conscious people. It is unlikely that you will meet at least one speci alty store that does not have sprouts or alfalfa powder in its assortment. However, you will be surprised to learn that most alfalfa goes into the food industry where it is used as animal feed.
Today we rarely associate animal food with something he althy. Most of us think of industrial feeds as horrible, semi-synthetic compounds. However, in the case of alfalfa, things are quite different.
Before it found its way into Western grocery stores and farms, alfalfa was long used in Eastern countries as a medicine. Traditionally, this plant is considered to improve memory, stimulate lactation, and relieve kidney problems and arthritis. Alfalfa is held in high esteem in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine.
Useful properties of alfalfa
Rich in antioxidants and nutrients
Alfalfa is not only an excellent source of vitamin K, but is also rich in phytonutrients. It contains various antioxidants, including:
• Flavonoids: quercetin, myricetin, luteolin, apigenin
• Phenolic acids: coumaric acid, ferulic acid, salicylic acid, caffeic acid
• Phytoestrogens: coumestrol, formononetin, daidzein
The importance of antioxidants for he alth can hardly be overestimated. Systemic inflammation and oxidative stress are implicated in almost every chronic disease. Polyphenols in alfalfa and other foods help counteract inflammation and damage caused by free radicals.
Both laboratory and animal studies show that alfalfa helps reduce oxidative markers of stress. It reduces the production of free radicals, limits DNA damage and increases the level of the antioxidant glutathione. Alfalfa also helps protect the liver from damage.
Studies in rats show that alfalfa extract helps protect the brain. This extract limits the death of brain cells due to lack of oxygen (hypoxia). In addition, it increases the concentration of antioxidants inside cells, including glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD).
In summary, we can say that alfalfa is an excellent source of antioxidants for relatively he althy people who have encountered a high level of oxidative stress.
Helps Lower Cholesterol
In a pilot clinical study, alfalfa seeds successfully lowered total blood cholesterol. In addition, they contribute to reducing the absorption of cholesterol from food and increasing the excretion of bile acids from the body together with feces.
Another clinical study involving people with high blood fat levels showed that alfalfa seeds reduced total cholesterol and LDL. In addition, these seeds led to a decrease in the level of apolipoprotein B, a marker of heart disease.
Helps with diabetes
Alfalfa is traditionally considered an anti-diabetic plant. There are also a number of studies confirming this hypothesis. In diabetic rats, the aqueous extract of alfalfa significantly reduced the concentration of glucose in the blood. In addition, it contributes to the reduction of LDL and triglycerides. This extract also protects against liver damage and leads to a decrease in liver enzymes "Image" and AST.
In studies on mice, adding alfalfa to the animals' diets also reduced blood sugar levels. The aqueous extract increases insulin secretion. Interestingly, it increases sugar stores by partially mimicking the actions of insulin. This can be helpful in patients with type 1 diabetes and advanced type 2 diabetes.
Alfalfa can be a good way to lower blood sugar levels and increase the effect of insulin. More clinical studies are pending to confirm this hypothesis.
Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is a toxin produced by Gram-negative bacteria (such as E. coli) and causes inflammation. In people with leaky gut syndrome, such a toxin can enter the bloodstream. Both laboratory and animal studies show that alfalfa extract helps reduce inflammation caused by LPS. This extract leads to a reduction in several markers of inflammation, including nuclear factor kappa-B, interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and TNF-alpha.
Can relieve menopausal symptoms
In one clinical study, a combination of alfalfa and sage reduced hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal women.
The positive effect on menopausal symptoms is usually associated with phytoestrogens. There are three main types of phytoestrogens:
• Isoflavones (eg genistein, daidzein, formononetin).
• Cumestanes (e.g. coumerol).
Alfalfa contains a large amount of phytoestrogens from the second and (to a lesser extent) from the first group.
According to numerous epidemiological studies, phytoestrogens alleviate menopausal symptoms by mimicking the effect of estrogen.
A cell study has proven alfalfa's estrogenic effect and its ability to act on estrogen receptors.
Protects the heart
High cholesterol can lead to clogging and thickening of the arteries. As mentioned above, alfalfa can lower cholesterol. Several animal studies confirm that this plant helps to counteract the clogging of arteries, even in those animals whose diets contain high amounts of cholesterol.
In addition, the flavonoid antioxidants contained in alfalfa protect the heart:
• Lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
• They improve the elasticity of blood vessels.
• Increase the body's resistance to systemic inflammation and oxidative stress.
• Scientists have found that for every 100 mg of flavonoids we consume, the risk of stroke is reduced by 9%.
Side effects and precautions
Alfalfa is considered “generally safe” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, in certain situations this plant is still worth avoiding.
Alfalfa is not recommended in the following cases:
• Pregnancy and breastfeeding.
• Autoimmune diseases.
• Bacterial infection.
• Sensitivity to sunlight.
• Allergy to pesticides.