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What Are the Health Benefits of Fenugreek?

Posted by Rebecca Safier | Sep 3, 2016 6:00:00 PM
 

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Fenugreek is truly a multi-purpose herb. People from Western Asia and the Mediterranean have used fenugreek for thousands of years to flavor food, improve health, and soothe skin maladies. In more recent years, fenugreek has gained global popularity as an herbal supplement with a variety of health benefits.

While fenugreek has many promising applications, not all of its uses have yet been backed up by rigorous scientific examination. This guide will tell you which of fenugreek’s health benefits are supported by evidence, and which ones remain more folklore than fact.

Read on to learn what fenugreek is, what it does in the body, and where you can buy fenugreek to try it for yourself.

 To start, what exactly is this multifunctional herb?

 

What Is Fenugreek?

Fenugreek (scientific name Trigonella foenum-graecum)  is a plant native to Western Asia and the Mediterranean. It has three green or yellow oblong leaves, which can be consumed fresh or dried.

Fenugreek leaves and  seeds are important for cooking and medicines. Fenugreek seeds, also known as methi seeds, are a common ingredient in Indian curries, as well as Turkish, Persian, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Egyptian cuisine. Because of their sweet, maple-syrup like smell and flavor, fenugreek seeds are also added to artificial maple syrup, candies, ice cream, beverages, tobacco, soaps, and cosmetics.

While people use fenugreek seeds in a wide array of products today, they have also been consuming them for thousands of years. Archaeologists have discovered cooked fenugreek seeds in Iraq dating back to 4,000 BC!

Not only do fenugreek seeds taste good, but they have several health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the composition of fenugreek or methi seeds to figure out why they work as an effective herbal supplement.

 

seeds

Fenugreek seeds are where the medicinal magic happens.

 

What Makes Fenugreek Work? Important Compounds

As you’ll read below, the health benefits of fenugreek involve the regulation of blood sugar, stimulation of milk flow in new mothers, maintenance of hormones, and treatment of inflammation. Scientists have broken down some of the main compounds in fenugreek seeds to get to the root of the herb's beneficial effects. These are some of the most important ones:

  • Trigonelline: a betaine molecule also present in coffee and alfalfa that may help prevent and treat diabetes.
  • 4-hydroxyisoleucine and 2-oxoglutarate: molecules with an insulin-stimulating effect.
  • Protodioscin: compound that may have aphrodisiac effects.
  • Diosgenin and Yamogenin: compounds used in the commercial synthesis of progesterone and other steroid products.
  • 3-Hydroxy-4,5-dimethyl-2(5H)-furanone: compound that causes a maple-syrup scent in body excretions.

Now that you’ve started to get a sense of its main uses, let’s look closer at what fenugreek does and why it works. First, though, a word of caution about herbal supplements.

 

Look before you leap. Some

Look before you leap! Some retailers care more about their bottom line than your health.

 

Why You Should Be Cautious About Herbal Supplements

Herbal remedies can be very effective alternative treatments to prescription medication. At the same time, there’s a big business of retailers that exaggerate health claims to market their products and make money.

The best way to evaluate these claims is to take a look at objective, rigorous scientific research. Has the supplement been tested in a randomized control trial and been proven to have statistically significant effects? If its benefits are purely anecdotal, then you might not want to waste your time or money, or worst case scenario, risk causing yourself more harm than good.

With these guiding principles in mind, we’ve analyzed the scientific evidence behind the top supposed fenugreek benefits. Read on for the best fenugreek uses and the scientific evidence that backs them up.

 

Fenugreek Benefits: Analysis of 4 Popular Uses

People take fenugreek in a variety of forms as an herbal supplement. Its most common form is a pill or capsule, but it can also be made into a tea or ground up and combined with other ingredients to make a poultice and applied to injured skin.

The most commonly claimed fenugreek benefits are milk production in new mothers, blood sugar levels, testosterone and male libido, and treating inflammation.

Let’s look at the top four benefits of fenugreek, along with the research studies backing up these effects. While these are the top studies currently available, hopefully, scientists will continue to evaluate its effects and gain more insight into what fenugreek does and why it works.

 

baby

Fenugreek can act as a galactagogue. (Keep scrolling to learn what galactagogue means.)

 

Use 1: To Enhance Milk Production in New Mothers

Fenugreek is widely used as a galactagogue, or a milk flow-enhancing agent in new mothers. Nursing women take fenugreek in pill form or drink it as a tea after they’ve had a baby.

While fenugreek appears to be an effective galactagogue, it can have adverse effects if you take it while pregnant. Most doctors advise that women should only take fenugreek supplements once they’ve had their baby and not before.

Let’s take a look at one of the studies backing up fenugreek’s efficacy as a galactagogue.

 

The Evidence: Fenugreek and Milk Production

This study examined the effectiveness of fenugreek tea as a galactagogue in new mothers. It divided 66 mother-infant pairs into three groups. One group drank the tea everyday, the second drank a placebo tea, and the third drank no tea and served as the control group.

Researchers looked at breast milk volume and infant weight gain over a few days and found significantly higher volume and weight gain among the fenugreek tea-drinking group. From the study, researchers concluded that “Maternal galactagogue herbal tea supplementation seems to be useful for enhancing breast milk production and facilitating infant birth weight regain in early postnatal days.

If you’re interested in trying fenugreek as a milk-enhancing agent, how should you take it?

 

How to Take Fenugreek to Stimulate Milk Production

First and foremost, new mothers should consult their doctors before adding fenugreek as an herbal supplement to their diet. Since it can have significant effects, everyone should make sure that they don’t have any pre-existing conditions that could interact adversely with fenugreek.

If you decide to take fenugreek, you could take it as fenugreek tablets or drink it as a fenugreek tea. A typical dosage is two to three capsules (580 to 610 mg each) taken by mouth three times a day. Drinking it as a tea is a more mild amount. You might drink between one and three cups a day as a hot tea, iced tea, or mixed with apple juice.

Again, in most cases, pregnant women should not take a fenugreek supplement. You can read more about some of fenugreek’s potential side effects below.

 

Once it enters your bloodstream, fenugreek goes head-to-head with the gummy bear brigade in the Battle of Blood Glucose.

Once it enters your bloodstream, fenugreek goes head to head with the gummy bear brigade in the Battle of Blood Sugar.

 

Use 2: To Maintain Blood Sugar Levels

Fenugreek seeds are commonly used as a supplement to control blood glucose, especially to prevent or treat diabetes. It appears to alleviate problems around the metabolism of blood sugar. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence behind this use of fenugreek.

 

The Evidence: Fenugreek and Blood Sugar

Several studies have looked at fenugreek and found that it had a significant effect on blood glucose levels. This first study gave a fenugreek supplement in both capsule and cooked form (on biscuits) to 60 non-insulin-dependent male diabetics. Ultimately, the study found that “2 grams of a powdered mixture of traditional medicinal plants in either raw or cooked form can be successfully used for lowering blood glucose in diabetics.

A second study also gave fenugreek to diabetic subjects in the form of food, this time incorporating it into bread. Like in the first study, researchers found that “acceptable baked products can be prepared with added fenugreek, which will reduce insulin resistance and treat type 2 diabetes."

Alleviating problems of blood sugar metabolism is a common use of fenugreek, and people with diabetes may consider adding it to their diets in capsule or food form.

 

How to Take Fenugreek to Control Blood Glucose

The most common ways to take fenugreek to control blood sugar levels are in capsule form, ground up and added to food, or made into a tea. The recommended dosage falls between 2.5 and 15 grams a day. The amount you take varies depending on your weight, any other medications you take, and other factors.

Fenugreek seeds alone haven't been shown to treat diabetes, and it may have adverse interactions with certain diabetes medications. To figure out dosage and account for any variables, you should talk to your doctor before adding fenugreek to your healthcare routine.

 

Ooh la la. Wine and roses have got nothing on fenugreek when it comes to getting in the mood.

Ooh la la. Wine and roses have got nothing on fenugreek when it comes to getting in the mood.

 

Use 3: To Boost Libido

One of fenugreek’s ancient uses is to enhance libido. Mediterranean and Western Asian cultures have incorporated the herb into their diets for thousands of years to enhance sexual desire. Recent studies have suggested that fenugreek may increase libido in both men and women.

 

The Evidence: Fenugreek and Sexual Desire

Let’s take a look at one study involving males and another involving females. This 2011 study tested the effect of fenugreek extract on male libido, which it defined as sexual drive, urge, or desire. It recruited 60 men between the ages of 25 and 52 and gave them either 600 mg of fenugreek twice a day or placebo capsules.

The physiological results were self-reported by participants, meaning that the results have some room for subjective bias. Overall, the group taking fenugreek supplements reported a 28% increase in libido while those taking the placebo reported a decrease overall. Scientists concluded that fenugreek can have “a significant positive effect on physiological aspects of libido” and that the herb “may assist to maintain normal healthy testosterone levels.

This 2015 study gathered 80 female participants between the ages of 20 and 49 with a self-reported low sex drive. They took fenugreek extract or a placebo for eight weeks and reported their experiences using the “Derogatis Interview for Sexual Functioning” and “Female Sexual Function Index” questionnaires.

Ultimately, researchers concluded that “T foenum-graecum [fenugreek] seed extract is a well-tolerated and an effective botanical medicine for use in the support of sexual function for pre-menopausal women, in particular increasing sexual desire and arousal, with positive effects in concentration of E2 [estradiol] and free testosterone.” The studies suggest that fenugreek supplements may increase libido in both men and women.

 

How to Take Fenugreek to Boost Libido

Fenugreek can be taken as a capsule or brewed into a tea, or the seeds can be ground up and added to food or bread. A dose of 500 to 600 mg fenugreek capsules per day is recommended to boost libido. As with any herbal supplement, you should check with your doctor to determine the right amount for you.

 

Is your skin red, bumpy, or injured? A fenugreek-based poultice can help.

Is your skin red, bumpy, or injured? A fenugreek-based poultice can help.

 

Use 4: To Soothe Skin Inflammation or Injury

Fenugreek powder has long been combined with other soothing herbs to make poultices and treat skin inflammation and injury. Recent studies have suggested that fenugreek may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

 

The Evidence: Fenugreek and Skin Inflammation

A group of researchers in Saudi Arabia extracted and isolated compounds in fenugreek seeds to determine whether or not they had anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They found that “water extracts and flavonoids” from fenugreek seed extract did have the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that people have long reported. However, further research is needed on the effects of taking fenugreek on a daily basis.

A 2012 study found that fenugreek reduced joint inflammation and arthritis in rats. Research on fenugreek’s anti-inflammatory properties in humans is needed to back up its effectiveness in this area as an herbal supplement.

 

How to Use Fenugreek to Treat Skin Inflammation

To soothe injured or inflamed skin, people traditionally grind dried herbs or boil fresh herbs in water and make a paste. You might combine fenugreek seed powder with other skin-soothing herbs, like slippery elm, flaxseed, lobelia, or goldenseal, as well as medicinal charcoal. After combining everything into a paste, you would spread it across a clean piece of gauze, linen, or cotton and apply it directly to the skin.

You would leave the poultice on the skin for anywhere from one to 24 hours, taking it off when the skin feels better. Some people warm the poultice before pressing it to the skin.

Along with the four main uses described above - enhancing milk production, controling blood glucose, boosting libido, and treating skin inflammation - people claim a number of other fenugreek health benefits. Let’s take a look at other potential positive effects of taking fenugreek.

 

People have consumed fenugreek for a long time, but not all of its anecdotal benefits have been researched yet.

People have been consuming fenugreek seeds for thousands of years.

 

Other Potential Health Benefits of Fenugreek

People have been consuming fenugreek for thousands of years, and many believe that it has a wide range of physical benefits. These are a few additional anecdotal fenugreek seeds benefits:

  • Balance cholesterol
  • Soothe upset stomach and digestive problems
  • Reduce menstrual cramps
  • Reduce appetite
  • Reduce fat mass
  • Maintain liver and kidney health
  • Soothe muscle pain
  • Reduce fever

Can fenugreek seeds really accomplish all this? At this point, there’s little scientific evidence behind these alleged benefits, so much more research is needed to assess the efficacy of this herbal supplement.

If you’re not experiencing serious injury or fever that would be better treated with prescription medication, then it may be worth trying fenugreek capsules or seeds to see if they work for you. As with any other new drug, you should consult with your doctor to make sure that you don’t take any medicines or have any other conditions that could interact poorly with fenugreek.

Fenugreek does have some potential adverse side effects, and it’s important to be aware of them before incorporating the supplement into your routine.

 

Before you introduce fenugreek to your diet, you should talk to a medical practitioner about possible side effects and interactions.

Before you introduce fenugreek to your diet, you should talk to a medical practitioner about possible side effects and interactions.

 

Fenugreek Side Effects: 6 Potential Problems

While it’s common to think of herbal remedies as harmless, that’s not necessarily the case. Fenugreek can potentially have adverse effects in the body, and it’s important to be aware of them so that your healthcare plan doesn’t do more harm than good. The following are the six main potential fenugreek side effects.

 

Side Effect 1. Induce Childbirth

For the most part, pregnant women are advised not to take fenugreek. Because it contains oxytocin, fenugreek could act as a uterine stimulant, meaning it could cause contractions and preterm labor. Some people have used fenugreek to induce labor, but you shouldn’t try this without speaking to a medical practitioner first. You should also be aware that studies have shown that a large dose of fenugreek caused birth defects in rats and developmental problems in mice.

The other side effect of taking fenugreek while pregnant is that it can give a false alarm of Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD). MSUD is an inherited genetic disorder so named because it causes a maple syrup-like smell in body excretions. Fenugreek won’t cause this often fatal disorder, but it can cause a serious scare and unnecessary emergency testing when the baby is born.

 

Side Effect 2. Diarrhea

Fenugreek may cause stomach irritation and diarrhea. This can be especially dangerous if the nursing infant gets sick, as she could get dehydrated.

 

Be careful if you take a blood thinner, as fenugreek could cause excessive bleeding.

Be careful if you take a blood thinner, as fenugreek could cause excessive bleeding.

 

Side Effect 3. Bleeding

Fenugreek contains a chemical compound called coumarin that can act as a blood thinner. While researchers don’t know yet if the normal dosage of fenugreek has a significant effect on the blood, they warn people on blood-thinning or anti-coagulant medications to be careful and consult their doctors before taking fenugreek supplements.

 

Side Effect 4. Hypoglycemia

If you’re taking both medicine for diabetes and fenugreek supplements, you should measure your blood sugar levels so they don’t become too low and cause hypoglycemia. Since fenugreek can lower blood glucose levels, you don’t want to take too many medications and cause your levels to dip too low. Similarly, you should be cautious if you’re already prone to low blood sugar.

Consult with your doctor about the right amount, and carefully monitor the effects that fenugreek supplements have on your blood sugar levels.

 

Side Effect 5. Allergic Reactions

Whenever you’re introducing a new supplement into your diet, you should be aware of any possible allergic reactions. Fenugreek is in the same family as chickpeas, green peas, soybeans, and peanuts, so you should be especially mindful about your body’s reaction if you have allergies to any of these foods. An allergy to one doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have an allergy to another, but you should proceed with caution if you've never consumed fenugreek before.

Check with your doctor, and try just a small dosage of fenugreek at first. Stop taking it if you experience a rash, hives, swelling, or trouble breathing.

 

This last side effect isn't dangerous, but it may cause unpredictable cravings for Belgian waffles.

This last side effect isn't dangerous, but it may cause unpredictable cravings for Belgian waffles.

 

Side Effect 6. “Maple Syrup” Sweat or Urine

This last side effect doesn’t cause any harm, apart from the false alarm about MSUD in infants described above. Fenugreek has a strong, sweet odor, and eating the seeds might pass that maple syrup-like smell into your sweat and urine or the sweat and urine of a nursing baby. If you start to notice this maple syrup-like odor, then you’ll know the cause!

If you’d like to try taking fenugreek for any of the above-described health benefits, where can you find it?

 

Where to Buy Fenugreek

Fenugreek is a common herbal supplement that you can buy in many healthcare or grocery stores or online. Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS, for instance, sell fenugreek in capsule and tea form, and Whole Foods sells the capsules, tea, and seeds (look for methi seeds).

You can also find methi seeds and powder in many smaller Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stories. Finally, you can shop online and buy capsules, tea, and seeds from Amazon or a number of other online retailers that pop up via Google Shopping.

Some good brands include Nature's Way, Solaray, Oregon's Wild Harvest, Alvita, Yogi Tea, and Nature's Answer. Teas and capsules cost somewhere between $5 and $10. You can also take powdered fenugreek seeds, or fenugreek extract in a liquid tincture. Read on for suggested dosages for how to take fenugreek in capsule, tea, powder, or tincture form.

 

Fenugreek is most commonly taken in capsule form.

Fenugreek is most commonly taken in capsule form.

 

How to Take Fenugreek

As you read above, you can take fenugreek in capsule form, brew it into a tea, or add the powdered seeds to food. Fenugreek is also available in a liquid tincture form, so you could add a few drops to juice or water. Here's how much fenugreek to take in each form.

  • Capsule: 500 to 600 mg, three times a day.
  • Tea: two to three cups a day. You can make hot or iced tea or combine it with juice.
  • Powder: five to 30 grams of de-fatted seed powder up to three times a day. It's best to consume fenugreek powder before or as part of a meal.
  • Tincture: three to four mL three times a day. One drop is similar to a 500-600 mg capsule.

Your dosage depends on a number of factors, including weight, age, and health status. Your doctor or an herbalist can help you determine the right individualized dosage.

 

Taking Fenugreek as an Herbal Supplement: Best Uses

Fenugreek, an herb native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, has a number of health benefits. While scientific research remains limited at this point, there's some substantial evidence that points to fenugreek's effectiveness in enhancing milk production, regulating blood glucose levels, boosting libido, and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent on irritated skin.

While people have claimed for a long time that fenugreek has a number of other positive effects as well, as this point many of its purported benefits remain anecdotal. Without the weight of a controlled study, you should be skeptical of anyone claiming fenugreek is a miracle drug. You should also be cautious about fenugreek's potential side effects, and make sure to speak with a medical practitioner before introducing it as an herbal supplement into your diet.

If you do find that fenugreek has beneficial effects on your health, then you may be glad to hear that fenugreek or methi seeds in various forms are widely accessible and affordable at a variety of grocery and healthcare stores, both of the online and brick-and-mortar variety. If fenugreek turns out to be the herbal supplement you've been looking for, then you can join an ancient practice of fenugreek consumption that dates back almost 6,000 years.

 

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.



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