Alfalfa is a plant with a long history of use around the world as a livestock feed. Middle-Eastern cultures have long used alfalfa as fodder for horses claiming increased speed and strength of the animals and leading to the name “Al-fal-fa” meaning “father of all foods”. The fiber-rich alfalfa plant, like beans and peas, is a member of the legume family and can be found in modern dietary supplements as an ingredient targeted to lowering cholesterol, increasing energy levels and “detoxifying” the blood. The saponins content of Alfalfa have been reported to help lower cholesterol level, and thus plays a valuable role in the prevention of arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Due to its alkalizing nature, Alfalfa is promoted as a detoxifier for the liver and blood stream.

Alfalfa also contains isoflavones and coumarins, which are estrogenic and therefore can be beneficial for problems relating to menstruation and menopause. Research strongly links the importance of diet to health – studies are showing that as we move away from the diet of our ancestors we succumb to “modern” diseases. Evidence of this can be seen in societies such as the centenarian tribes that live in remote villages in the Andes Mountains and who still embrace traditional dietary practices. These people have been reported to live extraordinarily long lives that are free of such illnesses as cancer, heart disease and arthritis.

Alfalfa Characteristics

  • Reduces cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • Promotes general liver health and “detoxifies” the body
  • Relieves pain and stiffness of arthritis/bursitis
  • Alleviates postmenopausal side effects (hot flashes)
  • Increases energy levels and reduces fatigue

How Alfalfa Works?

Like other members of the legume family, alfalfa is a fairly good source protein (up to 50%), B-complex vitamins and several minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and potassium). Due to its generally high nutritive value, alfalfa could possibly help to prevent fatigue associated with vitamin/mineral deficiency or protein-energy malnutrition in disadvantaged parts of the world. In addition, alfalfa also contains saponins which, like those found in various ginseng roots, may have adaptogenic or stimulatory actions on the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Alfalfa is also promoted as a “detoxifier” for the liver and bloodstream, possibly due to its alkalizing nature. Finally, the isoflavone / phytoestrogens content of alfalfa may explain claims of anticancer activity and benefits in relieving menopausal symptoms.

Scientific Support

Scientific or clinical evidence in support for the claimed benefits of alfalfa is either scanty or totally lacking. For example, we know that coumestrol, a phytoestrogen found in alfalfa, can inhibit the activity of human pancreatic cancer cells (in a test-tube), but we have no evidence, from either clinical or epidemiological studies, of an anticancer benefit of alfalfa from the diet. Regarding the proposed cardiovascular benefits of alfalfa in lowering cholesterol levels, laboratory evidence (animal and test-tube studies) shows that saponins and other compounds in alfalfa are capable of binding to cholesterol and bile salts.

In the GI tract, cholesterol and bile salt-binding may prevent or slow dietary absorption of cholesterol and therefore, help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. In one small study, 15 patients with elevated cholesterol levels were given alfalfa (40 grams, 3 times per day for 8 weeks). Results showed an average 17-18% reduction in total and LDL cholesterol levels, with some patients exhibiting decreases in the range of 26-30%. The authors of the study concluded that alfalfa can be helpful in normalizing serum cholesterol concentrations – though the convenience of adding 120 GRAMS of alfalfa (almost 4 ounces) to a supplement regimen is debatable.

Alfalfa Barley Wheat
Energy Kj/100g 1500 1500 1450
Protein g/100g 32 27 24
Fat g/100g 3.2 4.4 4.5
Total Dietary Fiber g/100g 39 34 41
Moisture g/100g 5 5 5
Carbohydrates g/100g 50 54 52
Total Sugars g/100g 5 5 7
Chlorophyll g/Kg 5.5 6.0 6.0
Carotenes mg/Kg 300 350 320
Vitamins Alfalfa Barley Wheat
Vitamin A (Retinol) mg/g <0.1 1.5 <0.1
Vitamin B12 mg/g 0.1 0.5 0.2
Vitamin C mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Vitamin E mg/g 2.4 5.3 4.1
Vitamin K mg/g 0.03 0.02 0.02
Thiamin – B1 mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Riboflavin – B2 mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Pyridoxine – B6 mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Niacin mg/g 1.5 <0.1 <0.1
Pantothenic Acid (B5) mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Biotin mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Folic Acid mg/g <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Minerals Alfalfa Barley Wheat
Calcium mg/kg 13000 5300 3500
Cobalt mg/kg 0.19 <0.1 0.13
Copper mg/kg 6 6.6 6.8
Iron mg/kg 82 180 370
Iodine ug/100g 15 20 55
Magnesium mg/kg 3000 2100 1300
Manganese mg/kg 26 30 74
Phosphorus mg/kg 2300 4300 3200
Potassium mg/kg 25000 42000 31000
Selenium mg/kg <0.1 0.23 0.39
Sodium mg/kg 610 2400 210
Sulfur mg/kg 4100 3400 4000
Zinc mg/kg 21 26 21
Amino Acids Alfalfa Barley Wheat
Alanine g/100g 26 3.9 3.6
Arginine g/100g 0.6 0.8 0.8
Aspartic Acid g/100g 2.6 2.5 2.6
Cystine g/100g 0.3 0.3 0.3
Glutamic Acid g/100g 2.2 2.9 3.5
Glycine g/100g 1 1.3 1.4
Histidine g/100g 0.6 0.6 0.6
Isoleucine g/100g 1 1.2 1.2
Leucine g/100g 1.7 2.1 2.2
Lysine g/100g 1.3 1.5 1.5
Methionine g/100g 0.3 0.5 0.6
Phenylalanine g/100g 1.2 1.4 1.5
Proline g/100g 1.4 1.6 1.7
Serine g/100g 1 1.1 1.2
Threonine g/100g 1.1 1.3 1.3
Tryptophan g/100g 0.4 0.7 0.5
Tyrosine g/100g 0.8 1 1
Valine g/100g 1.3 1.6 1.6

Role of Rhizobial Biosynthetic Pathways of Amino Acids, Nucleotide Bases and Vitamins in Symbiosis

by Randhawa GS, Hassani R., Department of Biosciences & Biotechnology,
Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee 247 667, India. sharnfbs@iitr.ernet.in

Rhizobia require the availability of 20 amino acids for the establishment of effective symbiosis with legumes. Some of these amino acids are synthesized by rhizobium, whereas the remaining are supplied by the host plant. The supply from plant appears to be plant-type specific. Alfalfa provides arginine, cysteine, isoleucine, valine and tryptophan, and cowpea and soybean provide histidine. The production of ornithine and anthranilic acid, the intermediates in the biosynthetic pathways of arginine and tryptophan, respectively, seems to be essential for effective symbiosis of Sinorhizobium meliloti with alfalfa.

The expression of ilvC gene of S. meliloti is required for induction of nodules on the roots of alfalfa plants. An undiminished metabolic flow through the rhizobial pathways for the synthesis of purines and pyrimidines and the synthesis of biotin, nicotinic acid, riboflavin and thiamine by rhizobium appear to be requirements for normal symbiosis. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first review article on the role of rhizobial biosynthetic pathways of amino acids, nucleotide bases and vitamins in rhizobium-legume symbiosis. The scientific developments of about 35 years in this field have been reviewed.
PMID: 12597544 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Alfalfa means “father of all foods”, a fiber-rich that can lower cholesterol, increase energy levels and detoxify the blood.

Author: Life Enthusiast