Generic Name: alfalfa
Other Names: Medicago sativa
Drug Class: Herbals
What is alfalfa, and what is it used for?
Alfalfa is a perennial flowering plant primarily grown as livestock fodder. Alfalfa sprouts are added as garnish to various foods, and dried leaves are sold as herbal supplements, available as tablets or powders to be steeped as tea.
Alfalfa herbal supplements are taken for several conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, indigestion, and asthma, but there is little scientific evidence to support these uses. People also use alfalfa as a source of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
Alfalfa contains fiber and saponins, compounds that are believed to bind to cholesterol and prevent its absorption in the intestines. Alfalfa contains phytoestrogens which may act like estrogen and help with the relief of menopausal symptoms, however, it can promote the growth of estrogen-dependent breast cancer cells. Some animal studies suggest that alfalfa may increase insulin secretion and improve its function, helping reduce blood glucose levels.
Although alfalfa appears to have a lot of nutritional value when ingested in food, there are no well-controlled studies in humans that establish its safety and efficacy for use as an herbal supplement. Alfalfa sprouts have been linked to a number of food poisoning (Escherichia coli and Salmonella infection) outbreaks in California and Europe. In addition, alfalfa seeds contain L-canavanine, a toxic amino acid that may trigger a relapse of lupus, an inflammatory condition.
Suggested uses of alfalfa include:
- High cholesterol
- To promote urination (diuresis)
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Asthma, hay fever and allergies
- Thyroid problems
- Menstrual disorders
- To promote lactation
- Do not use if you are hypersensitive to alfalfa.
- Avoid use prior to and immediately after surgery, may increase the risk of bleeding.
- Avoid alfalfa if you have gout, alfalfa contains purine and can exacerbate gout symptoms.
- Avoid alfalfa during pregnancy and lactation because of its estrogen-like effects.
- Do not take alfalfa if have any estrogen-sensitive condition including uterine fibroids, endometriosis, uterine, ovarian or breast cancer.
- Do not take if you have systemic lupus erythematosus, alfalfa seeds contain a toxic amino acid that may cause relapse of lupus.
What are the side effects of alfalfa?
Common side effects of alfalfa include:
- Increase volume and frequency of bowel movements
- Loose stools and diarrhea
- Abdominal discomfort
- Intestinal gas
- Light sensitivity
- Pancytopenia, a blood disorder with low count of all types of blood cells (from ground alfalfa seeds)
This is not a complete list of all side effects or adverse reactions that may occur from the use of this drug.
Call your doctor for medical advice about serious side effects or adverse reactions. You may also report side effects or health problems to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
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What are the dosages of alfalfa?
There isn’t an established standard dose of alfalfa herbal supplement.
- 5-10 grams orally three times per day
- There is no information on alfalfa overdosage. In case of overdose, seek medical help or contact Poison Control.
What drugs interact with alfalfa?
Inform your doctor of all medications you are currently taking, who can advise you on any possible drug interactions. Never begin taking, suddenly discontinue, or change the dosage of any medication without your doctor’s recommendation.
- Alfalfa has no known severe interactions with any drugs.
- Alfalfa has no known serious interactions with any drugs.
- Alfalfa has moderate interactions with at least 72 different drugs.
- Mild Interactions of Alfalfa include:
The drug interactions listed above are not all of the possible interactions or adverse effects. For more information on drug interactions, visit the RxList Drug Interaction Checker.
It is important to always tell your doctor, pharmacist, or health care provider of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you use, as well as the dosage for each, and keep a list of the information. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you have any questions about the medication.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Small amounts of alfalfa in food may be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Alfalfa has phytoestrogens which can act like human estrogen.
- Safety of alfalfa supplements during pregnancy or nursing is not established, so avoid use if pregnant or breastfeeding.
What else should I know about alfalfa?
- Alfalfa sprouts have been associated with food poisoning from E. Coli and Salmonella. Listeriosis has been reported with ingestion of contaminated alfalfa tablets. Exercise caution.
- Alfalfa herbal supplements do not require extensive pre-marketing approval from the FDA. There may be discrepancies between the labeling and the actual ingredients and their amounts. Choose your product carefully.