The Health Benefits of Fenugreek

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

Fenugreek is used in herbal medicine to prevent or treat a wide range of unrelated health conditions from diabetes and menstrual cramps to enlarged prostate and obesity. Fenugreek has also been used for centuries as a galactagogue, meaning a substance that can stimulate the production of breast milk.

This article looks at some health benefits of fenugreek and what the current research says. It also lists some of the possible side effects and explains how to use fenugreek supplements safely.

Health Benefits

While fenugreek has many uses in folk medicine, there is no strong evidence that it can treat or prevent any disease. However, there have been a few smaller studies suggesting potential benefits.

Blood Glucose Control

Some studies suggest that fenugreek seeds may improve blood glucose (sugar) control in people with diabetes. It may also 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. By doing so, blood glucose control was improved. With that said, the results varied significantly and the quality of 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. The trial, involving 140 people with prediabetes, found that individuals who were given a daily 1,000-milligram (mg) fenugreek supplement had a 400% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those given an inactive placebo ("sugar pill").

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 mothers who were given fenugreek tea compared to those given a placebo tea. In addition, their infants gained weight earlier.

Despite the positive findings, the study was relatively small (66 participants). Further research is needed.

Menstrual Cramps

Fenugreek seeds and tea have been traditionally used to prevent or treat dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps). Even so, there is limited evidence to support such use.

According to a 2016 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, none of the 27 studies showed any relief of dysmenorrhea symptoms in people given fenugreek (or any other natural menstrual cramp remedy like chamomile, ginger, or valerian).

There was also a lack of research to support the long-term safety of 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. Some people believe that this may improve the libido (sex drive) of older males who tend to have 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 spike in testosterone levels in males given a daily 300mg 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.

Recap

There is some evidence that fenugreek may improve blood glucose control and enhance breast milk production. On the other hand, there is no evidence that fenugreek can either treat menstrual cramps or improve male libido.

Possible Side Effects

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

High doses may also cause a significant drop in blood sugar. Because of this, fenugreek should be avoided if you take diabetes medication as it can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Fenugreek can also reduce blood potassium levels. People taking medications that reduce blood potassium, including certain diuretics ("water pills"), should avoid fenugreek.

Cross-reactive allergies may also occur with fenugreek. If you have an allergy to peanuts, chickpeas, or coriander, steer clear of fenugreek just to be safe.

There have also been isolated cases of liver toxicity in people who have used high doses of fenugreek.

Recap

Fenugreek is generally considered safe. Common side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, and gas. Because of its effects on blood sugar and potassium, fenugreek may need to be avoided in people on diabetes medications or certain diuretics.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

As a culinary herb, fenugreek leaves and greens are used in curries and dishes throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and South Asia. You can sometimes find fresh fenugreek leaves at international grocers, or you can grow them yourself from seeds. Fenugreek seeds are also a staple of many Indian cuisines.

Raw fenugreek seeds are bitter, so they are usually roasted to mellow the flavor. The seeds may be ground or used whole to flavor 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 can be found online or in health food stores, supplements shops, or retail drugstores.

There is no recommended dose of fenugreek in any form. As a general rule, you should never exceed the dose on the product label. Due to the lack of research, the safety of fenugreek in children or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding has not been established.

It is important to note that supplements are largely unregulated in the United States. Because of this, 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.

Recap

Fenugreek supplements and extracts are available online or at many drugstores, supplement shops, or health food retailers. There is no recommended dose of fenugreek in any form.

Summary

Fenugreek is a spice used for cooking that some people believe can prevent or treat diabetes, menstrual cramps, low libido, and a host of other unrelated conditions. Fenugreek is also used to boost breast milk production in nursing mothers. To date, there is little evidence to support the claims.

Fenugreek is generally considered safe but may cause diarrhea, dizziness, and gas in some. In addition to its culinary uses, fenugreek can be found in supplement or liquid extract form. There is no recommended dose of fenugreek. The long-term safety of fenugreek supplements is unknown.

Due to its effect on blood sugar and potassium, fenugreek should be avoided if you take diabetes medication or certain diuretics.

A Word From Verywell

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

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does fenugreek contain protein?

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

  • Does fenugreek cause weight gain?

    The ability of fenugreek to slow carbohydrate digestion, stimulate insulin release, and lower blood glucose could theoretically increase appetite. This may contribute to weight gain, although research 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 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.

  • 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.

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11 Sources
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