red clover blossoms

Red clover: overview, benefits, dosage, side effects

Find out all about red clover, including what it does, the benefits of taking it and how much you might need

Written by Carole Beck on December 30, 2018 Reviewed by Gabriella Clarke on January 8, 2019

Overview

What is red clover and what does it do?

Red clover is a flowering plant and, like lentils and beans, a type of legume. It’s known scientifically as Trifolium pratense. Traditionally, red clover was used by Chinese, Russian and native Americans to soothe asthma and whooping cough.1 Like soya, red clover contains isoflavones – a type of phytoestrogen, or naturally occurring plant oestrogen. Nowadays, it’s often used to ease menopause symptoms, and in particular hot flushes and night sweats.2

Red clover is available as tablets, capsules, a tincture or tea, or it can be combined with other herbs.

Benefits of red clover

What does red clover do in the body?

Isoflavones can bind with oestrogen receptors in women’s reproductive cells, and, when absorbed into the body, may mimic the effects of natural oestrogen.3 There may be benefits for women going through the menopause, including:

Red clover may relieve hot flushes and night sweats – while some scientists have reported no improvement in menopausal symptoms from red clover,4 others have found significant positive effects. In a 2017 study published in PLoS One, scientists gave 59 perimenopausal women a supplement containing red clover and friendly bacteria and found they experienced a significant drop in both hot flushes and night sweats.5

Meanwhile, a 2016 study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that red clover can decrease the numbers of hot flushes, particularly in women with severe hot flushes who experience five or more a day.6

It may help lower blood fat levels – a 2006 review of studies by the University of Illinois in Chicago reported that red clover extract can decrease the amount of a type of fat in the blood called triglycerides, while increasing levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Scientists think the isoflavones in red clover are the active ingredient responsible for this effect. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that none of the reviewed studies found that red clover benefits included lowering total cholesterol levels.7

It may improve bone density for menopausal women – the reduction in circulating oestrogen during the menopause causes bone loss that, over time, can lead to osteoporosis. In a 2015 study by Denmark’s Aarhus University, researchers gave red clover to 60 healthy menopausal women for three months. They found that red clover isoflavones can:8

  • increase bone density
  • slow down the rate at which calcium is removed from bone tissue for absorption into the blood
  • speed up the production of new bone

Dosage

How much red clover is safe to take?

There is no reference nutrient intake (RNI) for red clover but in a three-year trial, scientists gave high-dose treatments of up to 120mg a day with no ill-effects.9 However, because red clover contains phytoestrogens, avoid taking it if you have breast cancer or another hormone-sensitive cancer. It has also not been proved safe for the following groups:10
  • pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • children

If you are interested in taking red clover, speak to your GP or a healthcare professional first.

Side effects

What are the side effects of taking red clover?

Side-effects are rare but can include:11
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • nausea
Shop Vitamins & Supplements Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies. Consumers, particularly those with allergies or intolerances, should read all product labelling, warnings and directions prior to use or consumption. Children should not take any licenced herbal medicinal products. 

Sources
1. Nelsen J, et al. Red clover (Trifolium pratense) monograph: A clinical decision support tool. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8432874_Red_clover_Trifolium_pratense_monograph_A_clinical_decision_support_tool
2. Lambert MNT, et al. Combined Red Clover isoflavones and probiotics potently reduce menopausal vasomotor symptoms. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5462345/
3. Thorup AC, et al. Intake of Novel Red Clover Supplementation for 12 Weeks Improves Bone Status in Healthy Menopausal Women. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4523657/
4. Krebs EE, et al. Phytooestrogens for treatment of menopausal symptoms: a systematic review. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15458907
5. As Source 2
6. Ghazanfarpour M, et al. Red clover for treatment of hot flashes and menopausal symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26471215
7. Geller SE, Studee L. Soy and Red Clover for Midlife and Aging. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1780039/
8. As Source 3
9. As Source 7
10. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Red Clover. Available from: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/redclover/ataglance.htm

11. As Source 7
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