By Dr. Mercola
While the name may sound familiar, few people in the U.S. have any idea what fenugreek is. A fruit? An herb?
From the Mediterranean to South America to India and throughout Europe, this plant botanically named Trigonella foenum-graecum is an essential herb as well as a legume.
Fenugreek has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal for a myriad of health benefits, and today it’s available as a supplement. The health benefits of this obscure plant and its constituents are truly amazing, in part because they’re so varied and powerful.
The leaves can be used as salad greens, stewed in soups and stir fries or dried to make a thickener.
The plant produces long, green bean-looking pods which, depending on the variety, produce oddly-shaped seeds, considered a staple in the culinary worlds of the Middle East and India for everything from pickle making to spice mixes.
Sotolon is the compound responsible for the spicy/bitter aroma of the seeds, which you can remove by dry-roasting them before using them for food.
That flavor essence is so pronounced that people who eat it regularly say one of the leftovers, so to speak, is a pronounced maple essence from such body fluids as urine and sweat. Serious Eats notes:
“When a New Jersey factory was processing fenugreek in 2005, lower Manhattan was overcome by the aroma of pancakes and syrup. It's a common ingredient in fake maple syrup, and smelling the spice alone can be off-putting. Tasting it raw is even worse, as it's incredibly bitter.
But when combined with aromatics and spices, fenugreek contributes a complex sweetness and a subtle bitterness to saucy dishes. Its maple syrup flavor transforms into something more akin to dark caramel, and it makes a palette of more well-known spices feel complete.”1
What Are the Health Benefits of Fenugreek?
(The combination is said to make you feel full, faster.) The same tablespoon also provides 20 percent of the iron you need in a single day.2 A study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology says fenugreek leaves:
Are rich with “many nutrients and other active ingredients such as protein, vitamin C, niacin, potassium, alkaloids, lysine and L-tryptophan as well as steroidal saponins which are beneficial for human health.”3
Other studies report that fenugreek in its various forms (whole seed powder, leaves, seeds or extracts) is effective in treating diabetes, high cholesterol, low lactation, respiratory ailments, wounds, inflammation, gastrointestinal ailments, pain, colds and even cancer.”4,5 The Epoch Times adds:
“Fenugreek’s mucilaginous nature can help maintain bowel regularity and soothe a sore throat. This herb can also be used topically to soothe inflamed tissues like rashes and wounds. For topical application, soak the seeds in a little water until soft and grind them into a paste.”6
Studies report even more advantages, such as protecting your eyes from cataracts, resulting from its dual ability to control elevated glucose levels.7 It soothes menstruation and menopausal problems and can help protect your stomach and liver from overuse of alcohol.8
Still other studies show that fenugreek can cut the risk of cadmium’s detrimental effects on the testicles,9 as well as reduce aluminum toxicity, benefiting your kidneys, brain and bones. As reported in Nutrition Research and Practice:
“The overall results [in this study with rats] have clearly shown the ability of [fenugreek] to offer protection against some aspects of [aluminum chloride] ingestion in the plasma, brain, bone and kidney, probably due to a synergic effect of many compounds.
Thus, fenugreek seeds can be used as a regular nutrient to alleviate the side effects of [aluminum] ingestion, not only in the brain and bone, but also in the kidneys, especially for chronic renal failure patients who are more susceptible to developing aluminum toxicity.”10
Fenugreek is antibacterial, and contains antioxidants which may be part of the reason for its ability to reduce gallstone development, protect your kidneys, stimulate pituitary cell growth, treat thyroid problems, and protect your stomach because it helps generate gastric mucous, according to 2beingfit.com.11
Reviews are still ongoing, but multiple studies offer the scope of what this one plant can do in regard to health:
• Appetite control — At least three studies have shown that fenugreek can reduce appetite and fat intake; by 17 percent in one study.
One revealed that 18 healthy but obese participants who consumed 8 grams of fenugreek fiber had “significantly increased satiety and reduced energy intake at lunch, suggesting it may have short-term beneficial effects in obese subjects.”12,13,14
• Inflammation — Fenugreek may decrease inflammation as it’s shown in animal studies, although researchers say more studies are needed. One reported on its “significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory potential as reflected by the parameters investigated.”15
• Cholesterol and triglyceride levels (blood lipids) — In patients with coronary artery disease and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, fenugreek “decreased significantly the blood lipids and blood sugar (fasting and post prandial).16
• Heartburn — One study concluded that “people with certain degrees of heartburn can benefit from a fenugreek fiber product … Moreover, the fenugreek fiber effects were generally similar to the results produced by an over-the-counter antacid medication (ranitidine at 75 mg, twice a day).”17
• Cancer — Scientists examined “whether diosgenin, a steroidal saponin isolated from fenugreek, can “modulate the STAT3 signaling pathway,” leading to the “chemosensitization” (aka apoptosis or programmed cell death) of carcinoma cells.18 Fenugreek also inhibits gene expression in lung cancer cells.19
Fenugreek Stimulates Lactation
As millions of mothers already know, the very best nutrition her newborn can receive comes from breast milk. Not surprisingly, science backs it up.
However, breast milk is not always available when it’s needed. This poses a risk to children all over the world, as referenced in a study in Ghana, where delayed breastfeeding increased infant mortality.20
One study divided 66 new mothers into three groups. Each third received either fenugreek herbal tea, a similar tasting placebo, or nothing (control). The volume of pumped breast milk increased by 1.15 ounces in the placebo and control groups, and by 2.47 ounces in those taking fenugreek, and, those babies gained more weight.21
While there are medications to increase breast milk production for mothers having trouble breastfeeding and other reasons, fenugreek seeds are galactagogue, meaning they stimulate lactation. A recipe for making a fenugreek supplement for the purpose of producing more breast milk is:
“[O]ne to four capsules three to four times daily. As there is currently no standardization of fenugreek content across various brands and sources … a total daily dose of 1.74 to 4.9 [grams] may be more practical and useful ...
On the other hand, the German Commission E recommends the use of fenugreek … at a total dose of 6 [grams] of fenugreek seeds daily in divided doses.”22
Incidentally, a study in Italy demonstrated that mothers taking a combination of fenugreek, fennel and Melissa (lemon balm) extracts can improve colic, an infant’s uncontrolled crying, in breastfed babies within a single week.23
Real Men Eat (Drink or Otherwise Ingest) Fenugreek
Even if you haven’t heard of it already, there are numerous reports that when men add fenugreek to their daily regimen of supplements, it may positively affect their testosterone levels, as well as the libido.
To assess both of these reports in regard to sexual function and libido, a six-week study involving 30 men provided with 600 milligrams of fenugreek returned interesting results: Most of the men reported increased strength and better sexual function at the close of the study.24
Additionally, another study reported that 15 college-age men were given 500 milligrams of fenugreek while participating in an eight-week weight lifting program four times a week. Another 15 athletes had the regimen, but not the fenugreek. Those who did not take the supplement had a slightly lower level of testosterone, while those who did experienced an increase; plus, members of the latter group experienced a 2 percent decrease in body fat.25
Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels Dramatically Improved in Fenugreek Studies
How fenugreek affects peoples’ metabolic function is impressive. Multiple studies have indicated how it can benefit people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, as well as the ability of healthy non-diabetics to tolerate carbs better (not that you want to take advantage of that).26
As modern medicine has discovered, fenugreek has proved promising for people with high blood sugar.27 One review of 10 clinical trials on the intake of fenugreek seeds resulted in a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose.28
Furthermore, studies show that fenugreek “significantly improved lipid profile and reduced collagen content,” with effects similar to that of the drug silymarin,29 which studies say can “significantly reduce tumor cell proliferation, angiogenesis as well as insulin resistance;”30 although the drug has side effects.
In another remarkable study, subjects ingested 50 grams of fenugreek a day that had been added to their lunches and dinners during the 10-day test period. A 54 percent improvement in the 24-hour urinary blood sugar clearance was reported afterward, along with a decrease in the participants’ total and LDL cholesterol levels.31
Additionally, a meta-analysis looked at nine studies that had tested cinnamon, milk thistle, sweet potato and fenugreek in relation to their effects on glycemic control in diabetes. The latter three supplements made an improvement, while the cinnamon did not. Also, the fenugreek lowered fasting blood sugar levels by an average of more than 38 percent — much more than anything else tested.32
How to Use Fenugreek for Supplementation
Fenugreek leaves are called methi. Abundant throughout India, methi is known to pack a punch, nutritionally. While some who’ve used methi decide it’s not for them because of a bitterness, it requires salting down the leaves and leaving for 15 to 20 minutes, squeezing out the moisture and voilà, they’re ready for soups, stir fries or wraps.
In most cases, people can determine how to supplement using fenugreek depending on their needs. According to Authority Nutrition:
“To take fenugreek in supplement form, it may be best to start off at 500 mg and increase to 1,000 mg after 2–3 weeks if you don’t experience any side effects. It can be taken before or with a meal, but because it helps control blood sugar levels, it would make sense to take it with your highest carb meal of the day.”33