Fenugreek: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects

An herb that may help boost breastmilk production

fenugreek
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Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a spice used for cooking that may also offer some health benefits. Commonly used in complementary and alternative medicine, fenugreek seed can be taken in supplement form or used to make extracts. The dried seed can also be brewed to make medicinal tea.

As an herbal medicine, fenugreek is believed to prevent or treat a wide range of health conditions, like diabetes, menstrual cramps, an enlarged prostate, and obesity. Fenugreek has also been used for centuries as a substance that can stimulate the production of breast milk (a galactagogue).

This article will talk about the claimed health benefits of using fenugreek, including what the current research says about the seed. It also lists some of the possible side effects and explains how to use fenugreek supplements safely.

Possible Health Benefits of Fenugreek

Fenugreek has many uses in folk medicine, but there is no strong research evidence that it can treat or prevent any disease. However, there have been a few small studies on the potential benefits of using fenugreek.

Blood Glucose Control

Some studies suggest that fenugreek seeds may improve blood sugar (glucose) control in people with diabetes. It may also help prevent people with prediabetes from progressing to diabetes.

A review of studies published in the Nutrition Journal reported that fenugreek seeds appeared to slow the absorption of carbohydrates, including sugars, in the intestines. This, in turn, improved blood glucose control. However, the review noted that the results varied significantly and the quality of the studies was generally poor.

A three-year study published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders concluded that fenugreek may slow the progression of prediabetes to diabetes.

The trial of 140 people with prediabetes showed that those who were given a daily 1,000-milligram (mg) fenugreek supplement had a 400% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than the people who were given a "sugar pill" with no supplement (placebo).

Breast Milk Production

Fenugreek is a popular folk remedy for stimulating breast milk production. Certain substances in fenugreek are thought to have a similar action to the female hormone estrogen.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that breast milk volume was significantly higher in nursing people who were given fenugreek tea compared to people who were given a placebo tea. In addition, the people who used fenugreek had infants who gained weight earlier than the people who didn't use fenugreek.

However, the study was relatively small with only 66 participants. More research is needed to understand the possible benefits of fenugreek for people who are nursing.

Menstrual Cramps

Fenugreek seeds and tea are sometimes used to prevent or treat menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). However, there is not much evidence supporting the use of fenugreek for menstrual pain.

According to a 2016 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, none of the 27 studies the researchers looked at showed that people experienced relief from dysmenorrhea symptoms when they took fenugreek or any other natural menstrual cramp remedy (e.g., chamomile, ginger, or valerian).

There was also a lack of research to support the long-term safety of using fenugreek in people with menstrual cramps.

Male Libido

Fenugreek contains compounds called furostanolic saponins that may help stimulate the production of the male hormone testosterone. Therefore, it's been suggested that fenugreek could improve the sex drive (libido) of older males with lower testosterone levels.

A small study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2011 found that a daily fenugreek supplement seemed to improve certain aspects of libido (including sexual arousal and orgasm) but that it did not significantly influence testosterone levels.

A similar study published in 2015 reported an initial rise in testosterone levels in males given a daily 300 mg fenugreek supplement. However, by the end of the eight-week trial, the level in both the fenugreek group and placebo group were exactly the same.

Possible Side Effects of Fenugreek

Fenugreek is "generally regarded as safe" by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That said, fenugreek can cause side effects such as diarrhea, dizziness, and gas, particularly at higher doses.

There are also other possible side effects of using fenugreek to consider:

  • Changes in appetite: Some people may feel less hungry when they take fenugreek—which is one reason the supplement is sometimes suggested for weight control. Since it may suppress appetite, fenugreek is not a safe supplement for people who are underweight or have eating disorders.
  • Low blood sugar: Taking high doses of fenugreek may cause a big drop in blood sugar levels. You should not use fenugreek if you take diabetes medication because it could lead to very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Low potassium: Fenugreek can lower potassium levels in the blood. People taking medications that reduce blood potassium, including "water pills" (diuretics) should not take fenugreek.
  • Allergic reactions: You may need to be careful about using fenugreek if you have allergies. Cross-reactive allergic reactions can happen if you use the seed. If you are allergic to peanuts, chickpeas, or coriander, it's best to avoid fenugreek.
  • Liver problems: There have been some cases of liver toxicity in people who have taken high doses of fenugreek.

Selection, Preparation, and Use

As a culinary herb, fenugreek leaves and greens are used in curries and dishes throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and South Asia. Fenugreek seeds are also a staple of many Indian cuisines.

You can sometimes find fresh fenugreek leaves at international grocers. You can also can grow them yourself from seeds.

Raw fenugreek seeds are bitter, so they are usually roasted to mellow the flavor. The seeds can be ground or used whole to add flavor to foods or brew tea. The roasted seeds have a nutty taste with a distinct note of maple syrup.

Fenugreek supplements are made from powdered seeds. Liquid extracts made from the whole seed are also available. Both types of fenugreek supplements can be found online, in health food stores, supplements shops, or retail drugstores.

How Much Fenugreek to Use

There is no recommended dose of fenugreek in any form. As a general rule, you should never exceed the dose on the product label.

Since there is a lack of research, the safety of fenugreek in children and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding is not known.

Are Fenugreek Supplements Safe?

Supplements—including fenugreek—are largely unregulated in the United States. Therefore, the quality can vary from one brand to the next.

To ensure purity, only buy supplements that have been certified by a third-party agency like ConsumerLab, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF International.

Summary

Fenugreek is a spice used for cooking. Some people believe fenugreek can prevent or treat diabetes, menstrual cramps, low libido, and other health conditions. Fenugreek has been said to boost breast milk production in nursing people, but there is little evidence to support the claims.

Fenugreek is generally considered safe but it may cause side effects like diarrhea, dizziness, and gas. Fenugreek can be found in supplement or liquid extract form.

There is no recommended dose of fenugreek. The long-term safety of fenugreek supplements (especially in kids, people who are pregnant, and people who are breastfeeding) is not known.

Since fenugreek can change blood sugar and potassium levels, fenugreek should be avoided if you take diabetes medication or certain diuretics.

A Word From Verywell

If you're considering using fenugreek for any health reason, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider first. Just because something is "natural" doesn't mean that it is safe and self-treating a condition or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is taking fenugreek good for?

    Some people claim that fenugreek can treat or prevent health conditions like diabetes, menstrual cramps, and low libido. Others have suggested it can help promote breast milk production. However, there is little evidence of these benefits.

  • Does fenugreek contain protein?

    Like many seeds, fenugreek seed has a good amount of protein. There is about 1 gram of protein per teaspoon of fenugreek or 2.5 grams per tablespoon.

  • Does fenugreek cause weight gain?

    Since fenugreek may slow carbohydrate digestion, stimulate insulin release, and lower blood glucose, it could theoretically increase appetite. Some people who take fenugreek actually feel less hungry, which is one reason it is sometimes suggested for weight management.

    Overall, the research on fenugreek and appetite and weight is limited.

  • Does fenugreek improve hair health?

    Research on fenugreek's effects on hair growth or dandruff relief is limited. One study found an oral supplement of fenugreek improved hair growth compared to a placebo.

    In lab studies, fenugreek leaf extract has shown some anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. These might help against dandruff and other scalp conditions.

  • What does fenugreek do for the female body?

    Some people suggest that fenugreek may have similar effects in the body as the hormone estrogen. This might be one reason why some people think fenugreek is useful for people who are breastfeeding or have menstrual cramps. However, there is not a lot of research to support these claims.

  • What happens if you take fenugreek every day?

    There is no recommended dose or frequency for using fenugreek. Side effects might be more likely to happen if you take fenugreek often or take high doses of it.

    You should ask your provider before you start taking fenugreek. They can help you figure out how much to take and how often to take it based on your overall health and why you want to use the supplement.

  • What are the dangers of fenugreek?

    Fenugreek can change your blood sugar and potassium levels. You should not use it if you take diabetes medication or certain diuretics. While the other side effects are not as serious, you could still develop diarrhea, gas, and dizziness if you use fenugreek.

  • Where can you buy fenugreek?

    You may find fresh fenugreek leaves at an international market. Dried fenugreek leaves, seeds, and powders can be purchased online.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.