When I explain alternative treatment options to my patients often I get asked this one question “Is there an herb I can take for that, Dr. Rosenberg?” Today, more and more people understand that modern medicine may be complemented by natural and alternative treatments. When it comes to herbs, some are good for targeting a specific problem, while others offer a host of health benefits. Today, I will discuss one that falls in the latter category—red clover.
What Is Red Clover?
Native to Europe and Asia, red clover is also cultivated in North America. It is grown in meadows for the purpose of grazing animals. The sweet nectar in the plant’s tiny red flowers may be collected by bees, eventually to become clover honey. If organically grown, the flowers are edible and are sometimes used in iced tea and salads.
The red clover plant contains a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Some of these nutrients include calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. The substances that have recently put red clover in the spotlight, however, are isoflavones. These natural plant substances act as powerful antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants fight inflammation, which is believed to be responsible for many chronic diseases. The isoflavones in red clover have an effect similar to estrogen because of their ability to attach to estrogen receptors in cells.
How Red Clover Benefits Health
Traditionally, red clover has been used as a diuretic, an expectorant for clearing mucous from the lungs, and a treatment for infection. It has also been used as a cancer treatment, particularly for prostate and liver cancers, because of its ability to stimulate the immune system. It also contains a substance called coumarin, which is known to act as a blood thinner. This blood thinning effect may reduce the risk of clots and improve blood flow.
Some studies suggest that the isoflavones in red clover may disrupt bone loss in pre- and postmenopausal women. It has also been used to treat infertility and chronic miscarriages, which are both associated with low estrogen. It may fight heart disease by raising levels of good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Other conditions that may benefit from the isoflavones in red clover are psoriasis, kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disorder, liver problems and a weakened immune system. It has been noted that people at risk for breast cancer or other diseases caused by excess estrogen should not take red clover.
Red Clover and MSG
An exciting new study has shown that red clover may prevent the damaging of effects of the food additive, monosodium glutamate, or MSG. In the June issue of the journal, Phytomedicine, it was reported that neurons treated with red clover isoflavones were not affected by glutamate exposure, which normally results in cell damage.
MSG is not simply a salt or seasoning, but a substance that directly affects the brain. It is often added to processed food, such as soups, prepared meals, gravies, sauces, and fast food. MSG sends messages to the brain that release dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good and creates the perception of flavor. That is why it is often used to make lower quality foods taste better. This activity in the brain can cause cell damage. Taking red clover before eating fast food may prevent this effect.
As you can see, there are many ways to benefit from red clover. This herb is available in dried form, which is perfect for tea. You can also get it in tincture or capsule form. If using capsules, the recommended dosage is 40 to 160 mg per day. Because of red clover’s potent estrogenic and blood thinning properties, it is essential to talk to your doctor before using this herb. If it is right for you, your doctor can help devise a complementary treatment plan.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.