“Cliff – I read that Alfalfa might be linked to Lupus? That sounds incredible! Is it true?”
There may be some truth to this statement. While it seems incredible that a common food such as Alfalfa may be linked to triggering Lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythmotosus – SLE) there is evidence that alfalfa triggers an SLE like illness in monkeys (Bardana Jr et al., 1982; Malinow, Bardana, Pirofsky, Craig, & McLaughlin, 1982).
Lupus is an autoimmune condition is a systemic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body. In autoimmune diseases the immune system attacks the body's cells and tissue, resulting in tissue damage and excessive inflammation.
There is an amino acid present in alfalfa called L-canavanine, not required by the human body to create proteins but which triggers immune effects in primates and it is thought that L-canavanine directly affects immune function in humans (Alcocer-varela, Iglesias, Llorente, & Alarcón-Segovia, 1985).
It is now commonly recommended that people with autoimmune conditions and lupus in particular avoid alfalfa (Patavino & Brady, 2001).
Alcocer-varela, J., Iglesias, A., Llorente, L., & Alarcón-Segovia, D. (1985). Effects of L-canavanine on t cells may explain the induction of systemic lupus erythematosus by alfalfa. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 28(1), 52-57. doi: 10.1002/art.1780280109
Bardana Jr, E. J., Malinow, M. R., Houghton, D. C., McNulty, W. P., Wuepper, K. D., Parker, F., & Pirofsky, B. (1982). Diet-Induced Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in Primates. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 1(6), 345-352. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0272-6386(82)80005-X
Malinow, M., Bardana, E., Pirofsky, B., Craig, S., & McLaughlin, P. (1982). Systemic lupus erythematosus-like syndrome in monkeys fed alfalfa sprouts: role of a nonprotein amino acid. Science, 216(4544), 415-417. doi: 10.1126/science.7071589
Patavino, T., & Brady, D. M. (2001). Natural medicine and nutritional therapy as an alternative treatment in systemic lupus erythematosus. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 6(5), 460-471.