Alfalfa sprouts are considered a super food. Rich in nutrients with a long history of use both as a culinary and medicinal remedy. Known in Arabic as “the father of all foods” it was believed to make humans and animals much stronger and healthier. It also has a long history of use in both Chinese medicine and Indian ayurvedic medicine.
The entire alfalfa plant is edible including its leaves and seeds. Also known by the names Lucerne, Purple Medick and Phytoestrogen, alfalfa offers many surprising health benefits. This article discusses the nutrient properties of alfalfa, the health applications and associated side effects.
Nutritional Properties of Alfalfa
Nutritionally alfalfa is packed with nutrients; it is one of the richest nutrient dense food sources known. It is an excellent source of the B vitamins and contains eight of the essential amino acids including lysine. Lysine is important for calcium absorption, building muscle fiber, hormone production, enzyme production, antibody production and repairing damaged tissue. It is also a good source of the vitamins D, E, K and beta carotene. The leaves contain rich sources of the minerals iron, zinc, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Alfalfa also contains the highest amount of chlorophyll of all known plants. Chlorophyll stimulates the body to produce red blood cells which are needed to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Health Applications of Alfalfa
Alfalfa has been scientifically studied extensively and found to have many health benefits mostly related to it nutritional profile. It can be eaten fresh as a snack or added to salads or stir-fry’s. It is also available in health food shops in capsule form or as a liquid tonic.
Alfalfa provides a powerful punch of health benefits to the blood system. Being rich in iron, it is required by the body’s red blood cells for carrying oxygen throughout the body. It is useful as a treatment for anemia which is caused by low blood iron levels resulting in the symptoms of fatigue, pale skin, dizziness and low body temperatures. It is also a great herb to be consumed by women, who due to monthly menstrual cycles also can experience low blood iron. It is a great source of iron for vegetarians who don’t source iron from red meats. Its rich chlorophyll content helps the body to make new red blood cells which can result in improved overall energy levels and improve appetite. Containing also rich sources of vitamin K, this vitamin is needed for blood clotting and essential in wound healing.
Lowers Bad Blood Cholesterol Levels
Some studies have shown that consuming alfalfa can lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Its chemical properties which include isoflavones, sterols, saponin and glycosides have shown in animal studies to lower cholesterol in the blood. Bad cholesterol sourced from the diet causes fatty plaques to build up on the walls of arteries. Initially these fatty plaques cause high blood pressure because the heart has to work so much harder to pump blood through these arteries. Eventually these fatty plaques can completely occlude the flow of blood through them leading to heart disease, heart attack and or stroke.
Treatment for Gout
Gout is an excruciatingly painful condition which is caused by the build up of uric acid crystals in the tissues and joints. Alfalfa has shown to be effective at dissolving uric acid crystals and also reducing uric acid levels in the blood. Consuming them can also decrease the risk of developing this painful condition which can be genetically inherited.
Treatment for Heartburn
Alfalfa is an alkalizing food. Heartburn is caused by acid in the stomach entering the esophagus. Alfalfas alkalizing effect on stomach acid mitigates heartburn and can also be consumed to improve digestion, for stomach upset and indigestion.
Treatment for Menopausal Symptoms
Although not proven by science, many premenopausal and menopausal women have found that consuming alfalfa can alleviate the symptoms of hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, night sweats and loss of libido. Alfalfa does contain phytoestrogen. These are plant estrogens that are believed to mimic the hormone estrogen in the human body. The decreased production of estrogen associated with menopause is the cause of the symptoms many women experience when their ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. Alfalfa can also be consumed to treat the symptoms of premenstrual stress such as abdominal pain, mood swings and fatigue.
Alfalfa has an extremely low glyceamic index which means it does not cause an insulin spike in the blood. When sugary foods are consumed, the pancreas naturally releases insulin to move sugar molecules in the blood into cells. Insulin also causes the body to store sugar as fat rather than burn sugar for energy. This results in weight gain. Alfalfa is additionally low in calories and is a perfect snack alternative for those wanting to maintain or lose weight.
Side Effects of Alfalfa
Fresh alfalfa sprouts, herbal capsules, teas and liquid extracts are generally well tolerated. High doses of alfalfa have been associated with the development of an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. This disease causes the symptoms of chronic inflammation of the joints and fatigue. In high doses, alfalfa can also cause increased sensitivity of the skin to sunburn and skin irritations. Due to its ability to mimic estrogen in the body, it can also make estrogen birth control pills less effective. Due to these side effects of high dose alfalfa products it is recommended to follow the safe dosing instructions on each packet. It is rare to experience any of these side effects from over consumption of fresh alfalfa sprouts.
In conclusion, alfalfa is easily grown and is often grown in large lush fields for grazing animal consumption. If considering using alfalfa capsules or liquid extracts to treat ailments, it is best advice to talk to your doctor first. Alfalfa can interact with your current medications and your doctor can recommend starting dosages, plus monitor any side effects. Scientific research continues today to unveil the potential of alfalfa in treating many other disease processes. Until then, it packs a powerful nutritional punch and some surprising health benefits.