Learn More About Alfalfa

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alfalfaWhat is alfalfa?

A two- to three-foot tall perennial plant that looks somewhat like tall clover, alfalfa (Medicago sativa) possesses egg shaped-leaves and grows in many parts of the world, including America, Europe, the Middle East, China, and India.

What is alfalfa used for?

An Arabic word, “alfalfa” means “father of all foods.” Many centuries ago the people of the Middle East noticed that when their horses ate large amounts of alfalfa, those animals not only grew larger and stronger, but also generally exhibited better levels of health and speed. As a result, the Arabs added it to their own diets, and the consumption--both human and animal--of alfalfa gradually spread across Eurasia.

Most people know that farmers and ranchers still feed alfalfa to their livestock, but may not realize that this plant has a long history of use as a nutritional supplement. The reasons for this are various.

For instance, alfalfa contains large amounts of vitamin K. Recent research involving this fat-soluble nutrient demonstrate that it plays a key role in mineral metabolism, much the way a cop directs traffic at an intersection, making sure that calcium travels to the bones where it is needed, rather than forming dangerous plaque in the arteries. More recent studies indicate that like vitamin D, vitamin K may also reduce cancer risk.

Many people have also noticed that alfalfa acts as a sort of “internal deodorant” to help neutralize unpleasant odors caused by either a spicy diet or medical conditions such as colostomies. This useful property stems from alfalfa’s famously high levels of chlorophyll, the substance that not only makes photosynthesis (and therefore most life on earth) possible, but that also serves as a detoxifier. Because of this, chlorophyll acts on a cellular level to protect DNA from free radical damage caused by many dangerous chemicals. Also, chlorophyll contains the crucial trace mineral copper, needed by the body to utilize iron, to balance zinc levels, and to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Alfalfa may help to control cholesterol in other ways, too. This remarkable plant contains substances called saponins (in small amounts these give soft drinks their fizz) that in larger quantities bind with cholesterol from the liver bile and from dietary cholesterol, making them unavailable for re-absorption. Normal elimination them removes this mixture form the body, the whole process involving only the digestive system. Keep in mind that unlike alfalfa, many prescription cholesterol medicines work via the liver, and can have a number of side effects.

Other research of a more preliminary nature offers the possibility that saponins may also possess anti-cancer and anti-viral properties, but those studies remain tentative and incomplete.

How is alfalfa taken?

Alfalfa can be consumed as a powder mixed into water or juice, thereby making a sort of “green drink.” Some people make a tea out of it. Liquid extracts are also available, although many others prefer to take alfalfa in the form of a tablet or capsule. Consumers often ingest anywhere from a few hundred milligrams of alfalfa per day to as much as several teaspoons per day.

Is alfalfa safe?

For most people alfalfa is quite harmless. However, given alfalfa’s large vitamin K content, those taking certain prescription blood thinners such as Coumadin should most definitely consult with a knowledgeable physician before taken alfalfa. Also, some individuals with the autoimmune disorder lupus may be sensitive to alfalfa.

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