We could soon be curing our athlete’s foot with alfalfa

We could be soon be curing our athlete’s foot with a common type of cattle feed, according to research reported today at the British Pharmaceutical Conference.

Researchers from the Department of Pharmacy at King’s College London working in collaboration with a group from Pulawy in Poland found that a plant commonly known as Alfalfa or Lucerne (proper name Medicago sativa) contains compounds that fight against certain fungal skin infections, such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.

The active antifungal agents are thought to be compounds called saponins. Professor Peter Houghton, head of the King’s College team, explained the rationale for investigating this activity: “Alfalfa has previously been shown to contain constituents that protect it against fungal attack and we know that soil fungi that cause infection in crop plants are closely related to the fungi that cause skin infection [dermatophytes].”

Alfalfa extracts are likely to be as effective as conventional antifungal medicines and Professor Houghton sees merit in further investigation of this treatment. He commented: “A crude extract of alfalfa incorporated into a cream might find use as a herbal remedy to treat skin infections for people who don’t like to use conventional medicines. Another possibility might be to use the extract as an antifungal wash (for animals or humans) in parts of the world where pharmaceutical antifungal agents are not available.”

He added: “This work shows that we must always be open to the possibility of new activities from a plant used for another purpose.”

Alfalfa is a good source of vitamins and minerals. As well as its use by farmers for animal feed, it is used as a health food and claims have been made for benefit in a range of conditions, including arthritis, high cholesterol and peptic ulcer. Skin disease is not thought to be among the current uses.

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