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Fenugreek: Science-based Review on Benefits, Effects, and Important Facts

Fenugreek: Science-based Review on Benefits, Effects, and Important Facts

Fenugreek is a nutritious food to add to the diet. Learn about the uses, health claims and potential benefits of Fenugreek including research, side effects, and more!

Fenugreek

This article explains everything you need to know about fenugreek. Image via Shutterstock

What is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) hails from India and Southern Europe and is found in France, the Mediterranean, India, and North Africa [1].

It dates all the way back to 4000 BC. Consumed as a staple crop since the first century AD, Romans also used it to flavor wine and to feed their cattle [2].

All parts of the plants are edible. The leaves can be made into an herb. Seeds are used as a spice to flavor food and are found in various Indian spice blends such as garam masala and curry.

The vegetable portion is called methi, a popular food in India consists of fresh leaves, sprouts, and microgreens[1][3].

Fenugreek is a nutritious food to add to the diet. One tablespoon of seeds contain less than 1 gram of fat, 3 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. U.S. Department of Agriculture has also found fenugreek to be rich in essential minerals iron, magnesium, and manganese[4].

The seed flour contains saponins, coumarine, sapogenins, and trigonelline. These compounds have antioxidant properties that can improve health[5].

How is Fenugreek Used?

Fenugreek seeds are eaten whole, brewed into a tea, baked into bread, made into an oil or used as a topical treatment. Fenugreek seeds extracted and made into a capsule and liquid supplements [3] [6].

Health Claims of Fenugreek

It is one of the most ancient medicinal plants with roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Indian medical practice of Ayurveda[7] [6].

It was used to lessen labor pains, induce childbirth and improve breast milk production [9]. It was also used to aid in digestion and metabolism [3] [10].

It is still being used to stimulate milk production in breastfeeding women, but today is mainly known for its aphrodisiac and anti-inflammatory benefits.

It is used to treat eczema, diabetes, cholesterol, enhance libido, increase testosterone, reduce menstrual cramps, suppress appetite, and increase lean muscle [3] [6] [11] [12].

Research

  • Breast Milk Production

  • A Study published by the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine states that drinking fenugreek infused herbal tea can double milk production when compared with a placebo [13].

  • Enhanced Libido and Testosterone

  • A proprietary blend of Fenugreek and minerals improved libido in 60 healthy men, however, it failed to increase testosterone levels. Overall the research on this topic is limited. Larger long term clinical trials need to be done [14] [15] [16].

  • Blood Sugar

  • No change in blood sugar was seen among healthy individuals when consuming 2,500 mg twice a day for 3 months. Patients with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) had a significant reduction in blood sugar, but those with severe cases of T2DM saw only slight changes in blood sugar [17].

  • Cholesterol

  • An 18 to 26 percent reduction in cholesterol was found in animal studies[18] [19]. It had no effect on cholesterol levels of healthy individuals.

    Patients with coronary artery disease improved when given a dose of 2,500 mg twice a day for three months [17].

    Antioxidant increases found in animal studies were due to saponins and fiber in the digestive tract [18] [20].

    One gram of fenugreek taken daily for two months lowered triglyceride levels in recently diagnosed T2DM patients. HDL or good cholesterol was also better in those who received fenugreek when compared with the placebo [21].

    Regulation of blood sugar was mainly the reason for lowered cholesterol [17].

  • Eczema Treatment

  • Evidence for Fenugreek’s help with eczema comes from traditional medicine practices with no clinical studies to date. Overall, the evidence is anecdotal and insufficient [22].

  • Appetite Control

  • While the fiber found in fenugreek may help control appetite, findings are inconsistent and more research needs to be done on this topic [6].

    Short-term effects find a decrease in appetite among obese individuals when consuming 8 grams of fenugreek fiber [23].

    No change in appetite in healthy overweight men when taking 392 mg seed extract taken three times a day for two to six weeks [24].

    Total fat and food intake reduced 17 percent in healthy males with 1176 mg of Fenugreek seed extract [25].

  • Reduce Menstrual Pain

  • It is possibly effective to relieve menstrual pain and reduces the need for painkillers. Participants found a decrease in fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, low energy, and fainting when given 900 mg of fenugreek seed powder three times a day for the first three days of their period [2] [6].

  • Increase in muscle mass

  • Altered body composition with reductions in body fat, when taken 500 mg of fenugreek, was used in conjunction with a resistance training program over an 8 week period.

    However, there was no significant increase in lean muscle when given to healthy male resistance trainers [15] [27].

How to Take Fenugreek?

Consuming seeds or flour with a meal has been found to lower blood sugar in T2DM. Taking 5 to 50 grams of fenugreek seed once or twice daily is recommended [6][27].

For Milk milk production 500 to 1000 mg of fenugreek [6]. For increased testosterone or libido take 500 to 1000 mg of a standardized fenugreek formulation with 50 percent fenusides by weight [6].

Risks of Taking Fenugreek

Taken in the form of food in fenugreek is generally safe for healthy individuals. Some have experienced dizziness, headache, and digestive issues such as upset stomach, abdominal bloating, and diarrhea [27].

Certain interactions can occur for those on anticoagulants, antiplatelet, and antidiabetic medications. Risks include hypoglycemia, bruising, and bleeding [27]. Talk to your doctor about the possible risks of taking fenugreek with any of your medications

It may react as estrogen in the body and is unsafe for women with hormone-sensitive cancers [3].

CAUTION WARNING: Fenugreek in pregnancy is unsafe and should be avoided. It can cause early delivery and birth defects [3] [29] [30].

Consumption can result in nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, facial swelling, anaphylaxis, and asthma when ingested, inhaled, or externally applied.

It comes from the legume family [Fabaceae] and is a potential allergen to those who have peanut, soybean, green pea, and chickpea allergies [31] [32] [33] [27].

It has a distinct maple syrup smell due to the compound sotolon. After consuming fenugreek tea, supplements, and a large number of seeds the body will emit this sweet odor in breastmilk, perspiration, and urine [27] [35] [36].

It can be possibly safe during breastfeeding in the short-term. Taking 1725 mg of fenugreek three times daily for 21 days has no effect on infants. Long-term effects of fenugreek while breastfeeding is unknown [3] [27].

It can cause loss of consciousness and should not be consumed by children [27].

Final Thoughts

There is still a lot we don’t know about fenugreek. More extensive research needs to be done to find the true effects of this herb.

In the meantime, extreme caution should be taken if you have a health condition. Children and those who are pregnant should avoid fenugreek due to its harmful effects.

Feedback:

References

[1] Fenugreek | https://www.intechopen.com/books/active-ingredients-from-aromatic-and-medicinal-plants/fenugreek-trigonella-foenum-graecum-l-an-important-medicinal-and-aromatic-crop
[2] Zohary, Daniel; Hopf, Maria; Weiss, Ehud (2012). Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 122.
[3] Fenugreek | NCCIH https://nccih.nih.gov/health/fenugreek
[4] FoodData Central https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171324/nutrients
[5] Effect of processing techniques on nutritional composition and antioxidant activity of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seed flour https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4325032/
[6] Fenugreek Supplement - Science-based Review on Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects | Examine.com https://examine.com/supplements/fenugreek/#how-to-take
[7] Fenugreek a multipurpose crop: Potentialities and improvements https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(08)01673-4/pdf
[8] Altern Med Rev. 2003 Feb;8(1):20-7. Therapeutic applications of fenugreek. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4894452/
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12611558
[10] https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(08)01673-4/pdf
[11] http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/pharmacy/currentstudents/OnCampusPharmDStudents/ExperientialProgram/Documents/nutr_monographs/Monograph-fenugreek.pdf
[12] The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. - PubMed - NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21261516
[13] Phytother Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):1294-300. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3360. Epub 2011 Feb 10. Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum extract and mineral formulation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21312304
[14] The effects of a commercially available botanical supplement on strength, body composition, power output, and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2978122/
[15] The Efficacy of Fenugreek Supplementation on Men's Health - Full Text View - ClinicalTrials.gov https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03528538
[16] Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 1997 May;56(5):379-84. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) and fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L.) on blood lipids, blood sugar and platelet aggregation in patients with coronary artery disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9175175
[17] Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:606021. doi: 10.1155/2014/606021. Epub 2014 Apr 29. Fenugreek seed extract inhibit fat accumulation and ameliorates dyslipidemia in high fat diet-induced obese rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24868532
[18] Br J Nutr. 1993 Jan;69(1):277-87. The effect of an ethanol extract derived from fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) on bile acid absorption and cholesterol levels in rats. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8457534
[19] Antidiabetic and hypocholesterolaemic effects of fenugreek - Al-Habori - 1998 - Phytotherapy Research - Wiley Online Library https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/%28SICI%291099-1573%28199806%2912%3A4%3C233%3A%3AAID-PTR294%3E3.0.CO%3B2-V
[20] J Assoc Physicians India. 2001 Nov;49:1057-61. Effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) seeds on glycaemic control and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a double blind placebo controlled study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11868855
[21] Healing Eczema Naturally from the Inside Out. By Jahwei Chen-Graf, nutritionist, herbalist and naturopath at HAALo. https://www.haalo.org/healing-eczema-naturally-inside/
[22] Phytother Res. 2009 Nov;23(11):1543-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2795. Effect of fenugreek fiber on satiety, blood glucose and insulin response and energy intake in obese subjects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19353539
[23] Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2010 May;66(5):449-55. doi: 10.1007/s00228-009-0770-0. Epub 2009 Dec 18. A fenugreek seed extract selectively reduces spontaneous fat intake in overweight subjects. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20020282
[24] Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2009 Dec;65(12):1175-8. doi: 10.1007/s00228-009-0733-5. Epub 2009 Oct 7. A fenugreek seed extract selectively reduces spontaneous fat consumption in healthy volunteers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19809809
[25] J Reprod Infertil. 2014 Jan;15(1):41-8. Effects of fenugreek seed on the severity and systemic symptoms of dysmenorrhea. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24695380
[26] Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Dec;20(6):457-65. Effects of a purported aromatase and 5a-reductase inhibitor on hormone profiles in college-age men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21116018
[27] Fenugreek: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-733/fenugreek
[28] Pak J Pharm Sci. 2009 Apr;22(2):126-30. Toxicity of Trigonella foenum graecum (Fenugreek) in bone marrow cell proliferation in rat. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19339220
[29] J Ethnopharmacol. 2010 Sep 15;131(2):321-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2010.06.033. Epub 2010 Jun 30. Evaluation of the developmental toxicity of the aqueous extract from Trigonella foenum-graecum (L.) in mice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20600755
[30] Characterization of potential allergens in fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) using patient sera and MS-based proteomic analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894366/
[31] Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1997 Mar;78(3):297-300. Allergy to fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9087156
[32] J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Jan;123(1):187-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2008.09.012. Epub 2008 Oct 19. Allergenicity and antigenicity of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) proteins in foods. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18930518
[33] 3-Hydroxy-4,5-dimethylfuran-2(5H)-one | C6H8O3 - PubChem https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Sotolone
[33] N Engl J Med. 1981 Aug 20;305(8):467. "Maple-syrup" urine odor due to fenugreek ingestion. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7254294
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Jeanette Kimszal, RDN

Jeanette Kimszal is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and graduate of Kerri Glassman’s Nutrition School. She also hold a Bachelor...

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