There are many alfalfa facts and myths circulating among the health-conscious. Alfalfa is one of the oldest known cultivated crops; records indicate that it was grown as animal fodder as far back as 1,000 B.C. Today, farmers continue to grow alfalfa as animal fodder, but health-conscious individuals sprout alfalfa seeds for their health benefits.
Alfalfa facts related to health are fascinating.
- One cup of alfalfa sprouts provides just 8 calories, yet contains 1 gram of fiber and 1 gram of protein.
- It's considered a very good source of vitamins C, K and thiamin.
- Traditional Chinese healers use alfalfa as a digestive tonic.
- Alfalfa is said to be good for arthritis but so far the only benefit supported by scientific research is lowered cholesterol levels.
E.coli and Salmonella Poisoning from Alfalfa Sprouts
In recent years there's been a lot of talk about E. coli and salmonella poisoning from alfalfa sprouts. E.coli and salmonella bacteria can contaminate nearly any food; fresh fruits and vegetables are notorious culprits in food poisoning outbreaks simply because they may be consumed raw, which increases the likelihood that the bacteria remains on the food. Commercially grown alfalfa sprouts sold through supermarkets may be contaminated with either bacteria, but it is unlikely, and outbreaks are usually reported quickly and the suspected foods withdrawn from the market. Growing sprouts at home lessens the likelihood of contamination.
Alfalfa as an Herbal Remedy
Among the many alfalfa facts you should know are its potential uses as an herbal remedy. Lynn' Newman, an herbalist and nutritionist, recommend alfalfa for arthritis; she lists it in her pamphlet, "Common Herbal Extracts", as a good nutritive herb and a good source of minerals. The Memorial Sloan Kettering website offers a good comprehensive overview of alfalfa, including the possible chemical constituents of this herb that may help with numerous conditions. The scientific research, however, is lacking to prove alfalfa facts such as its use as a treatment for arthritis, diabetes, and other conditions many natural health websites recommend it be used for.
Although many health properties are related to alfalfa facts, the only one so far backed up by studies is its ability to reduce cholesterol levels in people with high serum blood cholesterol. Medline Plus, the government-sponsored website of health information, backs up this assertion in their article on alfalfa. Saponin, a chemical found in alfalfa, may be the ingredient that lowers cholesterol. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported a study in which rats were fed alfalfa sprouts in which saponins were removed; the blood cholesterol among these rats didn't change, while those eating normal alfalfa showed reduced cholesterol levels. While rats aren't people, those seeking natural methods of reducing cholesterol levels may wish to include alfalfa sprouts in their diet. It's easy and economical to grow your own sprouts using organic sprouting seeds, water, and a glass jar.
Cautions and Contraindications
Among the alfalfa facts you should know are its potential drug interactions and side effects. Eating alfalfa sprouts appears to be safe for most people, although allergic reactions have been reported. Ground alfalfa seeds may cause intestinal problems, such as diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain.
It's important to understand alfalfa facts such as drug interactions. Alfalfa should not be used by patients taking the drug wafarin. The active ingredients in alfalfa can reduce wafarin's effectiveness. It should also be avoided by women with hormonally sensitive cancers, such as uterine or breast cancer, since it can alter the amount of estrogen in the body.
Always tell your doctor about any herbs, supplements or vitamins you're taking. Pregnant and nursing women should not take this or any other herbal supplement except under the guidance of a qualified health professional.