Red clover is a source of estrogen-like plant compounds and antioxidants. Supplement manufacturers claim it helps with menopause, diabetes, and hair growth. However, scientific evidence paints a different picture. Read more to learn whether red clover has health benefits and if it’s safe to use.
What is Red Clover?
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a flowering plant. The blossoms, leaves, and stems are traditionally used .
People traditionally put blossoms in ointments or boiled them for fungal infections, burns, wounds, gout, and eye diseases. Red clover flower tea was historically used for fever, whooping cough, measles, and asthma .
The isoflavones in red clover are similar to estrogen and red clover is often used as a source of bioidentical hormones .
Most of the existing red clover studies were in post-menopausal women. This plant is said to help with menopausal symptoms, hair loss, and skin problems .
However, red clover has not been clearly shown to be helpful for any health condition.
Additionally, red clover supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
What do we know?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, studies of red clover in people haven’t provided clear evidence of any beneficial effects .
Most research suggests that red clover does not relieve menopause symptoms such as hot flashes .
Ongoing research is focused on identifying active components in red clover and their possible interactions with medications.
Other isoflavones have also been identified (26 in the flowers, 25 in the roots, and 31 in the leaves and stems). The leaves have the highest concentration of formononetin and biochanin A .
Other Isoflavones and Polyphenols
- Maackiain 
Red clover harvested in the summer has higher phenolic concentration compared to autumn-harvested. Additionally, pot-grown roots have a significantly higher amount of phenolics than field-grown plants .
Isoflavones mimic estrogen in the body, which is why they are being researched in women experiencing symptoms of menopause .
In red clover extract, daidzein and genistein are the most active components. Cytochrome P450 makes daidzein and genistein from formononetin and biochanin A .
At higher concentrations, red clover isoflavones may also bind to Estrogen Receptor α (ERα). However, they bind to ERβ more .
- ERα controls estrogen signaling in the uterus, mammary gland, and skeleton [9, 10].
- ERβ controls estrogen signaling in the ovary, immune system, prostate, gut, and brain (hypothalamus). ERβ activation balances the ERα response by inhibiting cell duplication [9, 8, 10].
The estrogen-like activity of red clover depends on the isoflavone concentration .
In hamster cells, compounds from red clover extract activated opioid receptors .
The opioid receptor system is involved in female sex hormone balance, mood, temperature, and menopausal symptoms .
Genistein may protect against oxidative damage from UV radiation both in mice and cell-based studies .
In mice, genistein stimulated internal antioxidants in the skin and small intestine .
Purported Health Benefits of Red Clover
Insufficient Evidence for:
1) Menopause Symptoms
Proponents state that red clover can reduce symptoms of menopause, but there is insufficient evidence to back up these claims.
Limited studies suggest that red clover may have the following effects in menopausal women:
- Lower anxiety and depression .
- Reduce triglycerides (fat) and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels .
- Prevent bone loss .
- Reduce inflammation .
- Alleviate hot flashes .
- Improve overall quality of life 
These findings remain to be confirmed in large-scale trials.
2) Male Pattern Hair Loss
Insufficient evidence supports the use of red clover for male-pattern hair loss.
A combination of red clover flower extract and biomimetic peptides (man-made short proteins similar to growth factors) improved hair quality and quantity in 30 male pattern hair-loss patients .
The combination reduced inflammation and stimulated protein production near the hair follicle leading to an increase in hair growth and hair density .
More research is needed.
3) Bone Health
There is insufficient evidence to claim that red clover improves bone health.
Daily red clover extract consumption benefited bone health in menopausal women. After 12 weeks, red clover extract stopped osteoclasts, which are cells that break down bone tissue .
Scientists suspect that red clover may increase bone mineral density and bone formation by promoting osteoblast activity .
4) Heart Health
Insufficient evidence supports this purported health benefit.
In menopausal women, red clover isoflavone supplementation had potentially beneficial effects on the heart by:
5) Skin Health
In a study of 109 postmenopausal women, red clover extract supplementation improved their skin condition (better texture and more moisture) compared to placebo .
No other studies have been carried out.
Therefore, evidence is lacking to say red clover improves skin health.
6) Cancer Research
Red clover has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.
Limited research looked at associations between cancer risk and isoflavone consumption. No health-related conclusion can be drawn from their findings. Additionally, no large-scale studies looked at red clover specifically.
In one study, the prostate tissues of men who consumed 160 mg/day of red clover-derived isoflavones showed less signs of progression (and higher levels of apoptosis) .
However, this study looked at prostate cancer tissue after surgery. Though men included in this study took red-clover-derived supplements prior to surgery, their health and overall symptoms were not assessed
No proper clinical trials have been done and the effects of red clover on cancer in humans are still unknown.
Likely Ineffective for:
Red clover helped balance fat levels in diabetic mice .
Lacking Evidence for:
No valid clinical evidence supports the use of red clover for any of the conditions listed in this section.
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
A lotion with red clover isoflavones helped stop UV exposure from suppressing the immune system and causing inflammation on mouse skin .
The main red clover isoflavones also inhibited inflammation in chicken eggs .
According to one experimental hypothesis, low estrogen levels may change sensory perception and make individuals feel more pain. In rats, red clover extract helped return their pain threshold to normal levels .
In cell-based studies, red clover extract stopped the growth of and killed the bacteria Clostridium sticklandii. The isoflavones in red clover may have synergistic effects. The effects of red clover on infections in humans are unknown .
Limitations & Caveats
Although red clover is widely used, few clinical studies are available. More human trials are needed before any conclusions can be reached.
Red Clover Side Effects & Precautions
Reported Side Effects
No serious side effects have been reported in studies that evaluated red clover for various health conditions for up to a year.
Other possible side effects reported across the scientific literature included:
- Breast tenderness
- Swollen neck glands
- Acne, rash, psoriasis
- Nausea 
Pregnant Women and Children
Given its similarity to estrogen and lack of safety data, red clover may not be safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, for children, or for women who have breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive cancers [2, 3].
The phytoestrogen/isoflavone concentration in red clover can potentially cause problems with reproduction and fertility. Since phytoestrogens are similar in structure to estradiol, they may interfere with normal estrogen fluctuations that affect fertility .
Studies in sheep and cows showed that red clover feeding reduced fertility. However, no human studies are available .
The following drugs may interact with red clover:
- Birth control pills
- Medications changed by the liver (CYP1A2, CYP2C1, CYP2C9, CYP3A4 substrates)
- Drugs that slow blood clotting
- Tamoxifen (Nolvadex)
Red clover supplements contain compounds that can cause blood thinning and prevent blood clots formation. It might interact with blood thinners, like NSAIDs, and increase the risk of bleeding .
In one case study, the combination of red clover supplements and methotrexate (a drug that treats cancer and rheumatoid arthritis) caused methotrexate toxicity. The patient experienced severe toxicity and chest and stomach pain .
Cytochrome (CYP) 450 encodes a group of enzymes that are involved in drug metabolism (breakdown of drugs into active substances in the body). Red clover can reduce the decrease of CYP450 enzymes .
In rats, red clover increased the activity of two CYP enzymes, CYP2C13 and CYP3A2. CYP3A2 is similar to the human CYP3A4. Activation of this enzyme speeds up drug elimination, which decreases the length and intensity of the drug’s effects .
- Red clover isoflavones activate PPARy, which may affect fat cell production (differentiation) and insulin sensitivity .
- High APOC3 levels may increase fat. Red clover decreases APOC3 activity .
The appropriate dose of red clover depends on factors such as a person’s age, health, and other conditions.
Currently, there is insufficient scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for red clover.
The typical dose of red clover in clinical trials was 40 mg .
Different red clover supplements also vary widely in their effects. Each product has a different isoflavone concentration, which affects their activity and effectiveness in the human body .
- “I had severe P.T.L.S. from my tubal ligation surgery, causing me to go through menopause at age 28!! This is the first time in years I haven’t been completely immobilized by cramps and PMS. I think red clover phytoestrogens are far safer than soy-based ones, so I go with this product instead” .
- “Red clover has an antibacterial and anti-allergic effect, heal wounds and ulcers, cleanses the skin from rashes, helps fight acne, psoriasis, eczema and other skin diseases” .
- “I take two daily and they have greatly alleviated my gout” .
- “I am taking Red Clover Blossoms & Herbs by Nature’s Way to help balance my hormones and hope it helps with my fibroid. So far it has helped with heavy bleeding”.
- “Should be avoided by anyone with low blood pressure or on blood thinners and suggest caution if allergic to aspirin” .
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