Red clover is a natural source of bioidentical estrogen and many beneficial antioxidants. It helps with menopause, diabetes, skin problems, and cancer. However, it is not without side effects. Read more to learn about all of red clover’s health benefits and whether it’s safe for you to use.
What is Red Clover?
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a flowering plant, which blossoms, leaves, and stems can be used as medicine [R].
People have put blossoms in ointments or boiled them to treat fungal infections, burns, wounds, gout, and eye diseases. Red clover flower teas helped treat fevers, whooping cough, measles, asthma, and other diseases [R].
The isoflavones in red clover are similar to estrogen, so red clover is often used as a source of bioidentical hormones [R].
Most of the red clover studies are in post-menopausal women. Its many health benefits include reducing menopause symptoms and hair loss, protecting against cancer, and preventing skin diseases [R].
Red Clover Components
There are also other isoflavones in clover – 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 [R].
Other Isoflavones and Polyphenols
- Maackiain [R]
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 [R].
Red Clover Contains Bioidentical Estrogen
Red clover isoflavones act like estrogen [R].
In red clover extract, daidzein and genistein are the most active components. Cytochrome P450 makes daidzein and genistein from formononetin and biochanin A [R].
At higher concentrations, red clover isoflavones also bind to Estrogen Receptor α (ERα). However, they bind to ERβ more [R].
- ERα controls estrogen signaling in the uterus, mammary gland, and skeleton. In the presence of estrogen, ERα increases cell formation, especially in breast cancer cells [R, R].
- ERβ controls estrogen signaling in the ovary, immune system, prostate, gut, and brain (hypothalamus). ERβ activation balances the ERα response by inhibiting cell duplication. Through this mechanism, it may stop cancer growth and help with menopausal symptoms [R, R, R].
The estrogen-like activity of red clover depends on the isoflavone concentration [R].
Red Clover Activates Opiate Pathways
In hamster cells, compounds from red clover extract potently activated opiate receptors [R].
The opiate receptor system helps control female sex hormone levels, mood, temperature, and menopausal symptoms [R].
Red Clover’s Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidant Activity
The isoflavones daidzein, genistein, formononetin, and biochanin A all inhibit COX enzyme activity. This suppresses prostaglandin synthesis; prostaglandin helps UV radiation cause sunburn and immunosuppression [R, R].
Genistein also protects against oxidative damage from UV radiation both in mice and cell-based studies [R].
In mice, genistein stimulated internal antioxidants and helped benefit the skin and small intestine [R].
Health Benefits of Red Clover
1) Reduces Menopause Symptoms
By acting like a bioidentical hormone, red clover helps reduce unpleasant symptoms and improves overall health during menopause. Its isoflavones can:
- Lower anxiety and depression [R].
- Reduce triglycerides (fat) and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels [R].
- Prevent bone loss [R].
- Reduce inflammation [R].
- Alleviate hot flashes [R].
- Improve overall quality of life [R].
2) Helps Prevent 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 [R].
The combination reduced inflammation and stimulated protein production near the hair follicle leading to an increase in hair growth and hair density [R].
3) Improves Bone Health
Daily red clover extract consumption benefited bone health in menopausal women (DB-RCT). After 12 weeks, red clover extract stopped osteoclasts, which are cells that break down bone tissue [R].
Red clover also increased bone mineral density and bone formation by promoting osteoblast activity [R].
4) Isoflavones Protect the Heart
In menopausal women, red clover isoflavone supplementation reduces heart disease risk by:
5) Isoflavones May Stop Cancer Growth
Consuming 160 mg/day of red clover-derived isoflavones also stopped the progression of prostate cancer by killing cancer cells (apoptosis) [R].
However, since no clinical trials have been done, it’s unknown if red clover would have any anti-cancer effect in humans.
6) May Improve Diabetes Symptoms
Additionally, red clover helped balance fat levels in diabetic mice [R].
7) Helps Reduce Inflammation
A lotion with red clover isoflavones helped stop UV exposure from suppressing the immune system and causing inflammation on mouse skin [R].
The main red clover isoflavones also inhibited inflammation in chicken eggs [R].
8) Improves the Skin
In a study (DB-RCT) of 109 postmenopausal women, red clover extract supplementation improved their skin condition (better texture and more moisture) compared to placebo [R].
9) May Help with Pain
Low estrogen levels can change pain perception and make individuals feel more pain. In rats, red clover extract helped return their pain threshold to normal levels [R].
In cell-based studies, red clover extract stopped the growth of and killed the bacteria Clostridium sticklandii. The isoflavones in red clover worked together to increase their antimicrobial effects [R].
Side Effects of Red Clover
Given its similarity to estrogen, red clover should not be used during pregnancy [R].
The phytoestrogen/isoflavone concentration in red clover can potentially cause problems with reproduction and fertility. Since phytoestrogens are similar in structure to estradiol, they can interfere with normal estrogen fluctuations required for fertility [R].
Studies in sheep and cows showed that red clover feeding reduced fertility. However, no human studies are available [R].
Reported Side Effects
- Breast tenderness
- Swollen neck glands
- Acne, rash, psoriasis
- Nausea [R]
Although red clover has shown several health benefits, there are still not many studies available. Even though it can have beneficial effects in animals, more human trials are needed before any conclusions can be reached.
A standard dose of red clover supplement is 40 mg [R].
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 [R].
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 [R].
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 [R].
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 [R].
- Red clover isoflavones activate PPARy, which helps with fat cell production (differentiation) and insulin sensitivity [R].
- High APOC3 levels may increase fat. Red clover decreases APOC3 activity [R].
- “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. Red clover phytoestrogens are far safer than soy-based ones, so go with this product instead” [R].
- “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” [R].
- “I take two daily and they have greatly alleviated my gout” [R].
- “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” [R].
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