6 Health Benefits of Alfalfa Sprouts

For most of us, alfalfa sprouts were just something the ‘woke’ health blogs were talking about! But, only if one reads at length, the many benefits that these little sprouted seeds offer, we assure you that you won’t be able to resist adding these leguminous plants to your daily nutrition.

Alfalfa is considered a herb by the way of usage but in fact, it is a legume. Nevertheless, this herb slash legume is a native of the Central & South Asian agriculture. With a long and proud history of medicinal use in native civilizations, Alfalfa can be consumed in myriad ways from dried leaves that can be powdered to seeds that can be sprouted. The scientific name for Alfalfa is Medicago sativa while more commonly it is known as Lucerne in many parts of the world.

But before we go deep into the wondrous benefits of these sprouts, let us see what they are and how can you grow them!

Alfalfa Sprouts and How to Grow Them?

The journey of every plant involves a very special stage called sprouting, where the seeds break their hard shell and grow shoots which turn into leaves, fruits and flowers upon development. The sprouted stage is one of the most nutritious stages of a plant.

You can sprout alfalfa at home easily and turn 1 tablespoon of seeds into almost 3 cups of sprouts:

Step 1: Soak your seeds for 8-12 hours in room temperature water.

Step 2: Since sprouts are highly nutritious, they also can have bacterial growth on them although it is easy to remove any potential harms by simply rinsing the sprouts. Rise or Drain your seeds for superior quality at least 2 times in a day.

Step 3: Repeat this process for 5-6 days

When we see in terms of nutrition, sprouted Alfalfa is different from the plant and its various parts.

Rich Nutrient Profile of Alfalfa Sprouts

1 cup of alfalfa sprouts contains a really small amount of calories while they offer a range of micronutrients. They also are a good source of protein and fibre. Vitamin K is found in high content in these seeds. They are also a good source of vitamin C, copper, folate, manganese, magnesium, and vitamins B1 and B2 too! [1] [2]

Not just this, but half of the benefits that alfalfa sprouts have come from their highly active plant compounds or phytonutrients as they are called. These are phytosterols, phytoestrogens, flavonoids, saponins, alkaloids and coumarins.

6 Health Benefits of Alfalfa Sprouts

Now that we have discussed the myriad macronutrients, micronutrients and phytonutrients that are found in alfalfa sprouts, let us discuss how they impact our health.

1. Help in Increasing the Production of Breast Milk

In many cultures, especially those to which alfalfa is native, women often have consumed the herb to promote increased production of breast milk. The sprouts contain phytoestrogens, saponins and an amino acid L-canavanine which have been known to stimulate increased production of breast milk in the alternative medical literature. Traditional scientific evidence is scanty but some amounts of alfalfa are found in some milk enhancing powders and mixture. [3] [4] [5] [6]

2. Known to Lower Cholesterol and Improve Heart Health

Alfalfa sprouts have been proven highly beneficial for lowering one’s ‘bad’ or LDL cholesterol. One of the first studies conducted in Europe in the 1990s over a 6-week period found that the average reduction in LDL cholesterol was by 16.6% while at the same time, the ‘good’ or HDL cholesterol spiked up by 11.2%. [7] Another study conducted in 2016 on a group of 15 people gave similar results with bad cholesterol reducing by 18%. Many animal studies have also shown similar effects. [8] [9]

The reason alfalfa sprouts are able to trigger such a response from the body is because of the high content of saponins found in them. Saponins are known to bind with the cholesterol through the bile. This does not allow for cholesterol reabsorption thus excreting it out and reducing it. [10]

3. Helps Rid of Kidney Stones

Alfalfa is a natural diuretic. Diuretics are sometimes called water pills because they trigger an increased excretion of water and salts. This also releases sodium in the urine. Diuretic action has been known to help in clearing uric acid (kidney stones) that can get developed in some people and can cause enormous pain. [11][12] Once again, there is a scarcity of human trials and promising research in the area and much use of alfalfa for removing kidney stones is found in the alternative literature. [13]

4. Improves Metabolic Health and Activity

Alfalfa sprouts improve metabolic health and reduce blood sugar content. As previously discussed, since alfalfa sprouts are known to lower the blood cholesterol, they provide a number of metabolic benefits. A study conducted in diabetic mice found that alfalfa stabilizes the blood sugar levels through a different mechanism. This mechanism causes an increased release of the hormone insulin from the pancreas into the bloodstream. This causes the lowering of blood sugar levels. [14][15][16] Even in traditional and native societies such as Native American and Indian cultures, alfalfa has been abundantly used to keep the blood sugar levels in check.

5. Relieve Symptoms of Menopause

The abundance of phytonutrients in the alfalfa sprouts has brought to light yet another benefit which can help the menopausal women. Menopause is a testing time for a lot of women due to massive changes in the hormonal profile of a post-middle-aged woman. Consuming some amounts of alfalfa sprouts can be beneficial to reducing hot flashes, promoting improved sleep quality, and reducing night sweats in menopausal women. In a pioneering study conducted on 30 women almost 2 decades earlier, it was found that alfalfa extract entirely removed hot flashes both in the day and the night. [17] Another recent study conducted in 2011 on breast cancer survivors found out that some experienced sleep of higher quality when consuming alfalfa. [18]

This happens due to the presence of phytoestrogens. Although the area is still new in terms of research, phytoestrogens have been controversial in terms of their overall benefit which we will see later in the last section ‘Risks of Alfalfa sprouts’. During menopause, oestrogen (estrogen in US) production decreases in the body. Consuming phytoestrogens through alfalfa sprouts can help increase oestrogen which also can reduce the deposition of fat. This is because oestrogen is produced by fat cells when reproductive organs stop producing it.

In a review article on phytoestrogens and postmenopausal bone health, it was found that consuming natural oestrogens decrease the chances of developing osteoporosis in women. [19]

6. Reduce Chronic Diseases by Antioxidant Activity

One benefit of alfalfa sprouts that helps make the herb/legume relevant to many more chronic diseases is its well-proven antioxidant activity. [20] The caveat being that most of the studies done to prove the antioxidant potential have been conducted on animals. Consuming alfalfa sprouts over time is touted to reduce the number of free radicals in the body and thus providing long term benefits in terms of decreasing the inflammation. [21][22] A lot of chronic diseases have been found to have a positive correlation with chronic and long-term inflammation. Therefore, reducing free radicals and hence inflammation can in theory be beneficial for preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Risks and Side Effects of Alfalfa Sprouts

Although Alfalfa sprouts are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration, there are some risks associated with certain medical conditions such as pregnancy, lupus etc. One general risk with sprouting is the development of bacteria on the sprouts due to the moist and favourable conditions. This can cause minor irritations of the immune system in those who have a slightly weaker immunity. [23] The best practice is to thoroughly rinse your sprouts 3 times minimum during sprouting.

1. Pregnant women should avoid alfalfa sprouts

Since alfalfa sprouts are high in phytoestrogen and can increase the amount of oestrogen in the system more than required, they are sometimes known to cause contractions in the uterus. [24]

2. Avoid Alfalfa if you are on blood thinners

Since alfalfa sprouts are high in vitamin K, they can at times alter the metabolisms of some blood-thinning drugs. It specifically should be avoided if you are on heavy blood thinners. This is because vitamin K causes blood to clot which is opposite to what blood thinners do. [25]

3. Can trigger Lupus

Lupus is one of the autoimmune diseases which can get triggered by alfalfa sprouts. This is because these otherwise healthy sprouts contain a particular amino acid called L-canavanine that can cause inflammation in those who have had lupus. Alfalfa sprouts have been found to be excellent antioxidants otherwise, but it is best to avoid it if you have similar autoimmune conditions as multiple sclerosis or lupus. [26]