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Alfalfa

Alfalfa

Botanical Description & Habitat

Medicago sativa

Family
Legume (Leguminoseae)

Common Names
Buffalo herb
Lucerne
Purple medic

Habitat
North America, the Mediterranean region, western Asia; foothills and mountain areas

Description
A perennial plant with a smooth, erect stem growing 2-3 feet tall. It bears grayish-green pinnately trifoliate leaves, with egg-shaped leaflets; it looks much like a large clover. Its violet-purple flowers grow in racemes from June to August, producing spirally-coiled seed pods.

Medicinal Parts
Dried whole herb, including blossoms; gathered at the beginning of flowering season.

Historical Properties & Uses

Alfalfa has been extensively studied. Whole plant material contains many important substances, including several saponins, many sterols, coumarins, flavonoids, alkaloids, acids, vitamins, amino acids, sugars, proteins (25% by weight), minerals, trace elements, and other nutrients. Whole alfalfa also contains plenty of fiber with anticholesterolemic properties.

Alfalfa is one of the most nutritious foods known. Its calcium, carotene, chlorophyll, and vitamin K content make alfalfa an important nutritional supplement. Alfalfa root saponins can inhibit increases in blood cholesterol levels by 25% in experimental animals fed a high cholesterol diet. Offsetting this positive effect are findings the root is hemolytic and may interfere with vitamin E metabolism.

High concentration of vitamin K found in whole alfalfa has beneficial effect on several forms of hemolytic disease. Alfalfa has antitumoral and antibacterial properties. In folk medicine, it has been used as a tonic and appetizer, and as a diuretic to relieve urinary and bowel problems. Perhaps the most common modern use of alfalfa is in the treatment of symptomatic arthritis, but although numerous clinical and anecdotal reports are available, no scientific research has been done on its effectiveness.

Method of Action

Alfalfa Contains Vitamin K, An Antihemolytic Agent
Vitamin K is found in many green leafy plants, but is especially abundant in alfalfa. The herb has therefore been effectively used in treatment of vitamin K disorders in man. When the delivery of bile to the bowel is hindered, as in obstructive jaundice or biliary fistula, a bleeding disorder may arise. Other bleeding disorders may result from the use of artificial formulas to feed newborns, protracted antibiotic therapy, pancreatic insufficiency, chronic diarrhea and steatorrhea, and from the misuse of anticoagulants, aspirin, and anticonvulsant drugs.

Alfalfa sprouts are a popular choice at sandwich stores and may also be grown at home. They are a nutritious and delicious addition to any meal.

Alfalfa Has Antibiotic Properties
The saponins in alfalfa have been shown to be antifungal. This activity is concentrated mainly in the medicagenic acid fraction.

Alfalfa has shown some activity against tuberculosis bacteria, while aqueous and volatile extracts of alfalfa are antibacterial against gram negative bacteria.

Alfalfa Has Antitumor Action
Basic proteins (histones) displaying antitumor activity without undesired side effects occur in alfalfa. These substances contain high levels of l-lysine, aspartic acid, and glutamic acid. Tumor stimulating fractions were also found, containing large amounts of l-arginine. This basic relationship requires further study.

Other Pharmacology Of Alfalfa
Tricin has been isolated from alfalfa and found to cause smooth muscle relaxation in guinea pig intestinal tissue, and to have some slight estrogenic property.

Alfalfa Is Highly Nutritious
The nutrient content of alfalfa is one of the richest known, making it a useful livestock fodder and a highly recommended herb for the human diet as well.

Alfalfa Root Pharmacology
The hypocholesterolemic effect of alfalfa root saponins has been thoroughly established. Alfalfa root saponins can inhibit increases in blood cholesterol levels by 25% in experimental animals fed a high cholesterol diet.

Alfalfa root saponins also have a hemolytic effect. It appears this hemolytic effect is the result of a marked reduction in prothrombin factor concentration. In addition, they may interfere with the metabolism of vitamin E.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Interactions

Alfalfa has coumarin constituents i.e. anticoagulant.

Possible Interactions
Alfalfa's hypoprothrombinemic effect may be increased by the antiarrhythmic agent, quinidine. In addition, allopurinol has been tentatively shown to increase the half-life of anticoagulants.

Comments
Alfalfa is high in iron, which may cause it to interfere with the absorption of tetracyclines. This is especially true if large quantities of the herb are ingested within two hours of taking tetracyclines. It should also be noted animal studies indicate iron plus allopurinol may lead to increased hepatic iron concentration.

Alfalfa may, because of the presence of eugenol in the herb, inhibit certain liver microsomal hydroxylating systems. This produces toxic effects from drugs normally metabolized by those systems.

It should be noted while the coumarin content of alfalfa is not high at normal usage levels, coumarins can affect the action of almost any drug.

The presence of tyramine and/or tryptophan in alfalfa could produce hypertension if monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI's) are also being used. However, this is not a likely interaction.

Alfalfa is contra-indicated in Lupus.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Generally regarded as safe by the FDA.

Contact dermatitis has occurred in hypersensitive individuals. Alfalfa root saponins are hemolytic and may also interfere with the metabolism of vitamin E; however, above-ground parts have just the opposite effects.

The toxic effects of alfalfa root saponins have been shown to be counteracted by cholesterol and beta-sitosterol.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried herb
5-10 grams

Tea
made of 2 tsp of dried herb

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 5-10 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.

References

Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Washington, D.C.

Bickoff, E.M., Livingston, A.L. & Booth, A. N. Tricin from alfalfa isolation and physiological activity. J Of Pharm Sci, 53(11), 1964.

Blackwell, B. Hypertensive crisis due to monoamine-oxidase inhibitors. Lancet, 2. pp. 849-857. 1963.

Bloomley, D.J. 1964. Monoamine-oxidase inhibitors. Lancet 2.

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Chasroff, I.J. and J.W. Ellis. 1983. Family Medical Guide, William Morrow and Company Inc., pub. 594 pp.

Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents, Boston, l981.

Cookson, F.B., Altschul, R. & Fedoroff, S. The effects of alfalfa on serum cholesterol and in modifying or preventing cholesterol-induced atherosclerosis in rabbits. J Of Atherosclerosis Rsch, 7,59-68, 1967.

Fitzpatrick, F.K. Plant substances active against mycobacterium tuberculosis. Antibiotics And Chemotherapy, 4(5), 528-536, 1954.

Gestetner, B., et. al. Lucerne saponins: IV.--relationship betwen their chemical constitution and haemolytic and antifungal activities. Journal Of Food And Agrigulture, 22(4), 168-172, 1971.

Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. Macmillan, N Y.

Grace, N.D., et.al. 1970. Effect of allopurinol on iron mobilization. Gastroenterology, 59(1). pp. 103-108.

Greenberger, N.J. Absorbtion of tetracyclines: interference by iron. (Editorial notes). Ann of Intrnl Med, 74(5). pp. 792-793.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

Hyde, F.F. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. British Herbal Medicine Assoc: West Yorks, England, 1983

Jaffe, H., et.al. 1968. In vivo inhibition of mouse liver microsomal hydroxylating systems by methylenedioxyphenyl insecticide synergists and related compounds. Life Sciences, 7. pp. 1051-1052.

Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila (St.Louis).

Leung, Albert Y. 1980. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredient used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. John Wiley & Sons, N Y. 409 pp.

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Malinow, M.R., et. al. Comparative effects of alfalfa saponins and alfalfa fiber on cholesterol absorption in rats. Am J Of Clin Nutri. 32(9), 1810-1812, 1979.

Martin, Drug Interactions Index. 1978/79. Lippincott Co., Phila.

Morton, J.F. Morris Arboretum Bulletin, 26, 24, 1975.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp. Neuvonen, P.J., et.al. 1970. Interference of iron with the absorbtion of tetracyclines in man. British Medical J, 4. p.532.

Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines A Guide for Health-care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996:21,45,63,282.

Reilly, R.A. Vitamin K and the oral anticoagulant drugs. 1976.

Self, T.H., et.al. 1975. Drug-enhancement of warfarin activity. Lancet, v. 2. p. 557.

Tyihak, E. & Szende, B. Basic plant proteins with antitumor activity. Hung. Teljes, 798, 1970. (Hungarian patent).

Udall, J.A. Drug interference with warfarin therapy. Clin Med. 77.p.20.

Weart, C.W. 1975. Coumarin and allopurinol -- a drug interaction case report (abstr). Contributed paper, 32nd annual meeting Ashp.

Zyloprim. 1978. Product Information, Burroughs Wellcome & Co.

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