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Dried herbal red clover buds in a glass of hot water

Red clover: overview, benefits, dosage, side effects

10 Jun 2022 • 3 min read

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 The dark-pink flowers of red clover plants can be used as a food extract or edible garnish, as well as making essential oils.

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 has also been linked to skin health3, hair health4 and heart health in menopausal women.5

Summary
  • Red clover has been used for centuries for various health reasons
  • It contains isoflavones – a type of phytoestrogen (naturally occurring plant oestrogen)
  • It is most commonly used to east menopause symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats

5 benefits of red clover

Red clover has multiple benefits for the body - here are 5 important ones. Isoflavones can bind with oestrogen receptors in women’s reproductive cells, and, when absorbed into the body, may mimic the effects of natural oestrogen.6 Red clover could have multiple benefits for women going through the menopause, including:
  1. May relieve hot flushes and night sweats

As red clover is high in isoflavones, it is believed to help decrease the frequency and severity of some menopause symptoms, like night sweats and hot flushes.

While some scientists have reported no improvement in menopausal symptoms from red clover, others have found significant positive effects.7

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.8

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.9

Red clover also has potential to help other symptoms of the menopause, like depression, anxiety and vaginal dryness, but more studies are needed.10

  1. 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.

Red clover contains a type of phytoestrogen called isoflavones, which can weakly imitate oestrogen in the body. Some studies have found a connection between intake of isoflavones and a decreased risk of osteoporosis.11

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:12

  • 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

However, even though the results appear positive, more research is necessary.

  1. May contribute to heart health

Some research suggests that red clover may help improve the heart health of postmenopausal women. Scientists think the isoflavones in red clover are the active ingredient responsible for this effect.

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.

A meta-analysis of studies in postmenopausal women taking red clover for 4-12 months improved their heart health. This was due to a significant increase in the ‘good’ cholesterol HDL and a decrease in total and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) levels.13

Another 2015 study on 147 postmenopausal women found that taking 50mg of red clover (Rimostil) daily for 1 year decreased ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol by 12%.14

Therefore, despite some optimistic results, authors of the studies agreed that more large, high-quality studies are needed.

Also, it’s worth noting that these studies involved solely older, menopausal women, so it’s not known if these effects would be the same in the general population.

However, even though the results appear positive, more research is necessary.

  1. Could support skin and hair health

Red clover has been used traditionally to promote hair and skin health for years. Modern studies into this looks promising, but more research is needed to confirm red clover benefits for skin and hair.

One study of 30 men who applied red clover extract to the scalp every day for 4 months found a 13% increase in the hair growth cycle (anagen phase), and a 29% reduction in the hair loss cycle (telogen).15

Another randomised study of 109 postmenopausal women found that taking 80mg of red clover extract for 90 days significantly improved participant’s skin and hair appearance, texture and overall quality.16

  1. Could ease menstrual issues

Some women use phytoestrogens and other herbal remedies to relieve menstrual irregularities and issues.

Throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, estrogen levels can drop and cause uncomfortable symptoms.

As red clover contains phytoestrogens, it could ease some menstrual issues, but more research is needed.

Summary

  • Red clover may help to decrease menopausal symptoms like night sweats and hot flushes, but more research is needed to confirm this
  • Although study results seem positive, there is not enough high-quality research to show that red clover can improve cholesterol levels and bone density in menopausal women, as well as support menstrual issues, and skin and hair health

Red clover dosage

Generally, red clover supplements are available as tablets, liquid extracts and teas. There is no reference nutrient intake (RNI) for red clover but in a three-year trial, scientists gave treatments of up to 120mg a day with no ill-effects.17

You will likely find red clover supplement doses vary from around 40mg to 450mg, so try to start off on a low dose to see how your body reacts then increase as you see fit. Can you take red clover every day? Yes, most people should be able to take red clover every day. Keep reading to find out who needs to be cautious with this herbal extract.

Who Should avoid red clover?

People with hormone-sensitive conditions

As red clover contains phytoestrogens, you should avoid taking it if you have breast cancer, ovarian cancer or another hormone-sensitive cancer.

Those with endometriosis could also experience adverse side effects, so always check with your GP if you’re interested in taking it.

People with bleeding disorders / awaiting surgery

Red clover may slow down the body’s natural blood-clotting process, so people with bleeding disorders should avoid it.

Those who are having surgery soon should also be cautious and seek a professional opinion before taking red clover.

People taking some medications

Like a lot of natural herbs, red clover can interfere with the effectiveness of some medications.

These drugs could be affected by taking red clover:18,19

  • Oral contraceptives
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication
  • Methotrexate (an immunosuppressant)
  • Tamoxifen (hormone therapy for breast cancer)
  • Blood thinners like aspirin

It has also not been proved safe for the following groups and should be avoided:20

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Children

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

Summary

  • Red clover is safe for most people to take
  • Some people should avoid it, like pregnant or breastfeeding women, and children
  • Those taking medications or on hormone therapies should check with their GP before taking red clover

What are the side effects of taking red clover?

Side-effects of red clover are rare but can include:11
  • Vaginal spotting
  • Skin irritation
  • Longer-than-usual periods 
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

Red clover supplements

There are a few different types of red clover supplements, with their own unique benefits. Here are some of the most popular.

Red clover tablets

Red clover capsules and tablets seem to be the most common way to take this herbal supplement. The benefits include:

  • Easy to take and portable – so you can take them to work or travelling
  • Cost effective and most commonly available
  • You know exactly how much you’re taking per capsule

Red clover liquid extracts

Red clover liquid extracts are one of the purest ways to take red clover. The benefits include:

  • Great for those who don’t like or struggle to take tablets
  • You can control and alter your dose easily
  • Add to water or other drinks to make it taste better

Red clover tea

People have been enjoying red clover tea for hundreds of years, and now you can get yours in a handy teabag. Red clover tea benefits include:

  • If you already enjoy tea, this is an easy way to take red clover
  • Enjoy hot or cold – simply brew and then allow to cool down to room temperature or pop it in the fridge and add ice cubes before serving for an iced tea
  • You get to enjoy the natural soothing feeling of a cup of tea and take red clover at the same time – win win!
  • Perfect for those who don’t like to take tablets or liquid supplements

Red clover & other menopause aids

Red clover is often combined with other natural extracts, vitamins and minerals in menopause, hormonal balance and other women’s supplements. B vitamins, magnesium, green tea extract, calcium and soya isoflavones are popular examples.

The benefits of these combined supplements include:

  • You get to enjoy the benefits of multiple ingredients, which usually work together or enhance one another
  • You may notice other health benefits due to the variety of ingredients

Handpicked content: 11 of the best natural menopause remedies

Summary

  • You can take red clover in tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, or as a tea

The final word

  • Red clover has been used traditionally for centuries
  • Nowadays, it is commonly used to help ease menopause symptoms, like night sweats and hot flushes
  • It is also sometimes used to help improve cholesterol levels and bone density in menopausal women, as well as support menstrual issues and skin / hair health
  • Although a lot of research seems positive, more large, high-quality studies are needed to validate any health claims of red clover
  • It is generally well tolerated and there is no reference nutrient intake (RNI) for red clover
  • However, some people should avoid red clover, including those who have hormone-sensitive conditions, bleeding disorders, and those taking certain medications, children and pregnant/breastfeeding women
  • You should always check with your GP before trying red clover, especially if you have conditions or are taking medication
donia-hilal

Donia Hilal

Author

Nutritionist

Joined Holland & Barrett: January 2018

Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition

Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.

Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.

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