Red Clover: The Controversial Cancer Fighter

Did you know … that red clover tea may help prevent certain cancers, despite a history of controversy?

close-up of red clover fieldRed clover is well-known as an anti-cancer herb, and as such makes an appearance in many popular and effective anti-cancer teas, such as Jason Winters Tea, Essiac tea, and Hoxsey formula. The cancer-fighting properties of this humble herb are also noted by the University of Maryland.

However, some health care institutes warn against taking red clover tea if you have estrogen receptive-positive cancers, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer, or endometriosis. Meanwhile, other experts refute those warnings.

Read on to see how the arguments stack up.

The Estrogen Argument

Red clover—in addition to its large stores of healthful vitamins and minerals—is also rich in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are polyphenolic compounds that may mimic the hormone estrogen in our bodies.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website warns against red clover use during radiotherapy for prostate cancer or if you have estrogen receptor-positive cancers like breast cancer. Memorial Sloan cites a laboratory study that suggests an extract of red clover can trigger the production of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cells. Memorial Sloan also mentions a study that shows that red clover inhibited the growth of normal prostate cells and increased the resistance of prostate cancer cells during high-dose radiation.

Other expert sources, however, battle the conclusion that red clover may be fuel for cancer.

Red clover contains a number of proven cancer-fighting compounds:

  • biochanin-A
  • caffeic acid
  • chlorogenic acid
  • coumarin
  • formononetic
  • genistein
  • isorhamnetin

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute demonstrated that genistein starves cancer tumors of essential blood supplies, thereby killing the tumors.

Studies Show Anti-Cancer Effects

A 2005 edition of Breast Cancer Research notes: “[R]ed clover does not cause any estrogenic increase in breast density, while human and synthetic estrogen does.  An increase in density is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, inferring that taking red clover could prove to be preventative.” 

Another 2008 study conducted by scientists at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the University Hospital of South Manchester substantiated the safety of red clover.  Lead researcher, Professor Trevor Powles, a renowned oncologist and breast cancer expert, explained:

“Reassuringly for women, this study shows that these phytoestrogens do not cause any oestrogenic increase in breast density in women who have a family history of breast cancer. This would indicate that they are unlikely to cause an increased risk of breast cancer. This 3-year study confirms similar findings from previous, shorter-term studies.” 

Based on his research, Powles prefers the name anti-estrogens to phytoestrogens. The estrogen-like compounds in red clover attach to estrogen receptors on cells, and in doing so prevent stronger, more cancer-promoting estrogens from the body and the environment from expressing their deleterious effect … which is cancer!

Soy has also been called out for its phytoestrogen properties, but red clover has an added benefit that soy does not. Red clover increases levels of biochanin in the blood, which may help to suppress the growth and spread of breast cancer.

Red Clover is Blood Thinning

One effect of red clover that certain is its blood-thinning capabilities. Experts advise that you not drink red clover tea, red clover infusions, or tinctures or capsules of the herb if you are currently taking blood thinners or the cancer drug methotrexate. As always with herbal supplements, consult your doctor to see if red clover is safe for you.

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