We all know that a three-leaf clover is purported to be good luck, but when it comes to your health, you don’t want to rely on chance. So instead of searching for a mythical clover, seek out red clover. Your body and mind will be be thankful you did.
Over the past several decades, red clover has come to be known as a top herbal supplement. It’s an effective, all-natural treatment for lowering menopause symptoms, improving bone mineral density, and lowering risk for heart-related problems like high cholesterol and high blood pressure symptoms. It’s also used to treat several conditions related to inflammation and low immunity, including coughs, respiratory infections, or skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. (1)
Traditionally used to balance hormones and stop mucus accumulation in the oral, nasal and ocular passages, research shows people taking red clover extract experience overall satisfaction regarding many different “symptoms of aging” compared to placebo groups — and often conventional medicines too. Research has shown that red clover is safe for most people and works relatively quickly, bringing positive changes to the health of the scalp, hair, skin, libido, mood, sleep and energy within several months of use.
6 Red Clover Benefits
1. Reduces Menopausal Symptoms
When estrogen levels fall, especially as during menopause, isoflavones can have positive effects in reducing symptoms related to estrogen loss — such as hot flashes, trouble sleeping, weight gain, bone loss, bone fractures or osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, and inflammation of the joints. It’s estimated that about about two-thirds of all menopausal women and post-menopausal women deal with such side effects and find little relief from traditional treatments. Study results examining the effects of red clover in menopausal or post-menopausal women over the past two decades have been somewhat mixed, but many have shown improvements in symptoms within months, without many unwanted side effects at all.
A 2005 report printed in the International Journal of the Society of Gynecological Endocrinology explained that an unexpected result of the Women’s Health Initiative study was that researchers realized most conventional hormone therapy treatments (HT) given to menopausal women come with unwanted side effects and complications, so as a result there’s been an increase in interest in alternative, natural options for providing menopause relief. (2)
HT use has become controversial due to suspected increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular complications. It’s also estimated that around 10 percent of women living in developed nations display conditions that contraindicate HT use, including having a history of estrogen-dependent tumor growth, liver disease, arterial disorders and severe migraine headaches.
The random, double-blind study evaluated the effects of phytoestrogens, including isoflavones from red clover extracts (80 milligrams a day), on menopausal symptoms in 53 women over the ages of 40 compared to a placebo for 90 days. After the initial groups completed its treatment, the women were switched to receive the opposite treatment for a further 90 days to compare results.
The results showed that the women’s weights did not change on average (there was no significant effect on body mass index) over the 180 days, but red clover isoflavone supplementation significantly decreased the rate of many other menopausal symptoms and had a positive effect on vaginal cytology, mean total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (3) Cholesterol and triglycerides were only slightly lower compared to placebo, but symptoms were lowered enough to impact the women’s quality of life.
A surprisingly well-rounded supplement, researchers have found that on average adult women using red clover extract experience significant improvements in the health of their scalps, hair and skin within 90 days of use, including lowering signs of aging, collagen loss and hair thinning. A study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that on top of its skin-boosting effects, compared to a placebo red clover was shown to significantly improve other common symptoms of estrogen loss during menopause, including low libido, mood, sleep and tiredness. (4)
2. Helps Maintain Bone Strength
Research has shown that the most common type of osteoporosis is bone loss associated with ovarian hormone deficiency at menopause, which is why there’s evidence that diets that contain high levels of phytoestrogenic isoflavones are associated with a low incidence of osteoporosis and other menopausal complications. Thus, red clover makes a great addition to any osteoporosis diet.
Evidence suggests that red clover helps with bone healing and reduces the risk for osteoporosis, especially in post-menopausal women who are at the greatest risk for fractures and bone loss. A woman’s risk for developing osteoporosis goes up during menopause because estrogen is important for bone mineralization. Pre-menopausal women with low estrogen levels or low bone density (such as underweight women or athletes suffering from female athlete triad, which causes an increased risk for osteoporosis due to an energy deficit) can also benefit from red clover supplementation.
Studies using rats have found that supplementation with isoflavones helps significantly improve bone mineral content, bone turnover, mechanical strength of the tibia, femoral weight, femoral density, and prevents the rise of serum alkaline phosphatase levels, bone loss and weakness. (5)
3. Improves Cardiovascular Health
As a result of increased life expectancy, coupled with the fact that many women diet, under-eat and don’t consume enough essential nutrients, it’s estimated that many women today spend more than one-third of their lives in a state of estrogen deprivation, which leads to a number of significant long-term changes. Abnormally low estrogen levels not only increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis, but also raise cardiovascular risk, can cause vasomotor episodes, and often result in sleep disturbances.
Studies have shown that red clover can help improve arterial health, reduce the risk for atherosclerosis (hardening or thickening of the arteries), boost circulation, manage high cholesterol and help prevent coronary heart disease. In older women and men, heart disease remains the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and many other western nations.
While most studies examining red clover’s effects on heart health have been conducted using animals and not humans, research suggests that red clover helps protect against heart disease thanks to its isoflavones, which can increase HDL “good” cholesterol, keep blood clots from forming and produce more flexibility in arteries. This is called “arterial compliance” and helps improve the flow of blood from the heart to the rest of the body, while also thinning the blood and carrying more nutrients to cells.
4. Lowers the Risk for Certain Cancers
Isoflavones are now being studied in regard to their natural effects on cancerous cells and tumor formation. Researchers have found that isoflavones seem to help stop cancer cells from multiplying or growing and also might be able to induce apoptosis (self-destruction of cancer cells). The types of cancer most likely impacted by red clover use include those related to hormonal changes, such as prostate, breast and endometrial cancer.
On the other hand, there’s still more to learn about how red clover and isoflavones are connected to natural cancer prevention, or even potentially cancer formation, so researchers are hesitant to recommend it for this purpose just yet. At this time there’s still some unknowns when it to comes to understanding all of estrogen’s effects on breast cancer, so people with a history or high risk for breast cancer are advised not to use red clover until more research is conducted. (6)
5. Treats Skin Inflammation
Research findings suggest that red clover’s isoflavones are effective for helping to slow down signs of aging on the skin, as well as lowering inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and various rashes. Studies over the past several decades have shown that red clover’s effects on estrogen levels give it most of its anti-inflammatory, UV protective, collagen-boosting and wound-healing potentials. In older adults, red clover reduces the effects of skin aging induced by estrogen deprivation and can help boost collagen production. (7) It’s also been shown to boost the health of the skin follicles, the scalp and nails.
According to research done by the Pharmaco-Biological Department at the University of Messina in Italy, “estrogens have a profound influence on skin,” and red clover helps stop both internal and external/environmental aging effects caused by estrogen loss. Estrogen improves skin by increasing collagen content, skin thickness and moisture, and research shows treatment for 14 weeks with a red clover extract standardized to contain 11 percent isoflavones (20 and 40 milligrams of total isoflavones daily) helps organize epidermis cells, provides uniform thickness and regular keratinizations, and positively influences collagen and elastic fibers. (8)
An Obstetrics and Gynecology International study mentioned earlier found that red clover used for three months improved patients’ skin conditions better than a placebo, including providing better skin texture, moisture and overall condition, plus possibly offering better protection against skin cancer (malignant skin changes) due to higher estrogen status. Other reports have shown that red clover helps clinically treat wounds or burns and improves skin elasticity, thickness and hydration — plus reduces the appearance of pore size and signs of aging. (9)
6. Fights Respiratory Infections
Red clover is used for prevention and treatment of respiratory conditions like whooping cough, colds, asthma and bronchitis. (10) It has natural cleansing effects within the body, reduces anxiety and discomfort during illness, and has the ability to loosen phlegm. Because it can calm bronchial spasms, improve sleep quality, and help flush extra mucus and fluids from the respiratory system, it’s beneficial to take as soon as you feel an illness coming on.
Red Clover Research, Studies and Facts
Red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) is a plant in the Fabaceae botanical family that’s used to make an herbal supplement that has immune-boosting and positive hormonal effects, especially for women.
The red clover plant actually belongs to the legume plant family (just like peanuts and beans), which is why animals often graze on it in the wild. Research suggests it acts like a natural diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and balances fluid levels in the body. It’s also believed to improve immune function by helping the body get rid of excess waste, mucus (acting like an expectorant) and toxins that can accumulate in the body. It’s been shown to help cleanse the liver, lungs, digestive organs and the blood.
- mimicking the effects of estrogen
- clearing the lungs, nasal passages and respiratory system of mucous
- improving circulation/blood flow
- helping to maintain bone mineral density
- lowering inflammation of the skin
- managing cholesterol levels and helping keep the arteries clear from plaque
- detoxifying the blood and cleansing the liver
The benefits of red clover are due to its active chemical constituents, especially isoflavones. Isoflavones are plant-based chemicals that produce estrogen-like effects in the body, closely mimicking the effects of natural estrogen that both men and women produce.
Although excess estrogen caused by endocrine disruption is a big concern today for many people, too little estrogen is also problematic. Along with compounds called coumestrols and flavonoids, isoflavonoids are the main active substances of phytoestrogens, which research has linked to stronger bones in older adults and a reduced risk of developing several types of “female cancers.” Isoflavones have estrogen-like properties due to activating estrogen receptors. They’re consumed in high amounts in many healthy populations, such as those living in Japan who eat a lot of naturally occurring isoflavones from fermented soy products and other fermented foods. (12)
Although it’s not usually taken to provide high amounts of essential nutrients, red clover is also a source of many different vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, including calcium, chromium, magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C and more.
Red Clover Dosage
Red clover can be found in standardized extract form or capsules. Its isoflavones are very potent and different from consuming the whole herb, so much lower doses are needed. Clinical trials, including those done with postmenopausal women, have used varying dosages of red clover to safely produce positive effects. While dosage depends on what you’re using it for, recommended dosages are as follows: (13, 14)
- Up to 85 milligrams of isoflavones once daily seems to be safe for most adults.
- Two capsules containing 20–40 milligrams dried leaves of red clover, taken one to two times daily, is the usual starting dose (studies have found 40 milligrams taken for 12 weeks effective for menopausal symptoms and skin health, and as little as 20 grams taken for 12 weeks effective for improving bone density).
- Dried herbs used to make red clover tea should be made using one to two teaspoons dried flowers or flowering tops steeped in 8 ounces of hot water. This amount can be consumed up to three times daily.
- In tincture form (1:5, 30 percent alcohol), start by taking 60–100 drops one to three times daily.
- For the skin (topical treatments for psoriasis or eczema, for example), use an ointment containing 10 percent to 15 percent flower heads and don’t apply directly to an open wound without guidance.
- Keep in mind when used daily, red clover might take up to three months/12 weeks to show full results.
Potential Side Effects of Red Clover
Because red clover contains isoflavones that mimic the effects of the hormone estrogen once they enter the body, the safety of red clover in patients with breast or endometrial cancer hasn’t yet been established. It’s possible that red clover can complicate these conditions and interfere with treatments, or even worse potentially raise the risk for them developing in the first place.
On the other hand, red clover appears to be neutral, safe or even beneficial for most. Early evidence shows that taking a specific red clover extract (Promensil) daily for one year did not increase breast tissue density or raise breast cancer risk, nor did it seem to raise the likelihood of developing cancer of the lining of the uterus (endometrial cancer). (15)
There’s some evidence that isoflavones can contribute to reproductive problems in certain animals. Several studies have linked high amounts of isoflavones to reproductive failure and complications, such as liver disease due to estrogen-like activities. However, in smaller doses in appears to be safe for most adults who are not pregnant, breast-feeding or at a high risk for breast cancer. Red clover acts like estrogen and might disturb important hormone balances in women during pregnancy or when breast-feeding, so it’s not intended for these groups.
Red clover might also raise the risk for certain bleeding disturbances due to its blood-thinning effects in people who have abnormal blood clotting or who just had surgery, so it should be avoided in these cases as well.
Red Clover Takeaways
- Red clover reduces menopausal symptoms, helps maintain bone strength, improves cardiovascular health, lowers the risk for certain cancers, treats skin inflammation and fights respiratory infections.
- Some of the ways red clover helps fight inflammation, infections and hormonal imbalances include mimicking the effects of estrogen; clearing the lungs, nasal passages and respiratory system of mucous; improving circulation/blood flow; helping to maintain bone mineral density; lowering inflammation of the skin; managing cholesterol levels and helping keep the arteries clear from plaque; and detoxifying the blood and cleansing the liver.
- There are some risks, particularly for women at risk for breast cancer, pregnant women or those who are breast-feeding, so don’t take red clover under these circumstances. And as always, consult your doctor if you have any questions or issues that arise before taking it.
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