Alfalfa is a nourishing legume used worldwide to feed animals. Many people eat alfalfa sprouts on salads or in sandwiches. Nutritionally, alfalfa is rich in protein; vitamins A, B, D, and K; and several minerals, including iron and copper.
As a food supplement, alfalfa is sold by health food stores in powder, tablet, juice, tea, and other forms. In a few studies, alfalfa has been shown to reduce levels of LDL cholesterol in the body. Reportedly, it has natural diuretic and laxative properties which is why it shows up in some natural weight-loss supplements. No credible scientific evidence, however, supports any weight-loss benefits. Paradoxically, it has a reputation in folk medicine as an appetite stimulant.
Alfalfa is generally regarded as safe when used in the tiny amounts found in natural weight-loss supplements. Some herbalists, however, advise against using alfalfa or alfalfa products at all, since the sprouts and seeds have been found to be toxic when consumed in large quantities.
A member of the lily family, aloe is an African succulent plant. Its leaves are filled with an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal gel that appears to be useful as a topical agent for treating wounds and healing first-degree and second-degree burns, as well as X-ray or other radiation burns. The gel is also processed into juice and pills, taken internally for gastrointestinal problems. The rind yields a whitish substance that is a powerful laxative.
Aloe shows up as a weight-loss herb because of its laxative effects. It contains powerful laxative chemicals known as anthraquinones. Most recently, aloe has been paired with hydroxyproline, a protein found in collagen, as part of a rather bogus liquid protein diet aid.
Aloe is so potent a laxative that credible authorities rarely recommend its use for treating constipation. Side effects may include abdominal cramping, bowel irritation, diarrhea, nausea, red urine, and vomiting.
Astragalus comes from the root of a legume cultivated in Asia. It has been used for thousands of years in China as a restorative tonic.
Various research studies have confirmed that astragalus has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is fast gaining an excellent reputation in natural medicine circles as an immune system booster. At least one natural weight-loss product on the market lists astragalus in its formulation, along with other ingredients. But despite its many true talents, astragalus has no effect on weight loss.
Astragalus is considered to be a safe herb. No toxic reactions have been reported in animals or humans even when the herb is taken in very large doses.
Used in steam baths by Native Americans to treat joint problems and other illnesses, bladderwrack is a seaweed rich in iodine, a mineral required by the body in tiny amounts and an essential component of thyroid hormones. An iodine deficiency is usually related to hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). People with this condition are prone to weight gain.
Because it is high in iodine, bladderwrack is thought to correct a sluggish thyroid, thus boosting the metabolism and treating obesity. Bladderwrack is a familiar homeopathic weight-loss herb in Europe and has been available in American health food stores for several years. Its benefit in promoting weight loss is purely speculative, however.
If you suspect you have a weight-related thyroid problem, see your physician before self-medicating with an herbal preparation.
Derived from a shrub native to South Africa, the leaves of this herb are usually made into a tea and other supplement forms.
Buchu is a known diuretic and antiseptic that fights germs in the urinary tract.
It is generally considered safe, though herbalists recommend taking no more than 2 grams two or three times a day.