What Is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is a plant that has long been used in traditional Asian medicine to treat a wide range of health conditions.
Also known as Trigonella Foenum-graecum, fenugreek is a green, leafy plant that grows 2-3 feet in height. It produces small white flowers and forms pods containing seeds that are light brown in color.
It is commonly used in cooking as a spice and thickening ingredient, and its seeds are used in a number of Indian recipes for their nutritional value, mild sweetness, and nutty flavor.
Benefits of Fenugreek
Fenugreek is used to treat a wide variety of health issues, but currently there isn’t enough hard evidence to substantiate all of the plant’s purported benefits. Nevertheless, for possibly thousands of years people have used fenugreek to treat a broad variety of conditions, including:
- Low testosterone levels
- Digestive problems
- Breast milk flow and production
- Low sex drive
- Poor athletic performance
- Muscular pain and soreness
- Menstrual pain and discomfort
- Symptoms of menopause
- Breathing problems
- Stomach ulcers
- Headaches and migraines
- Pain during childbirth
Only a handful of the health benefits purported by users have had significant support from clinical studies. Below are some of the benefits that fenugreek may provide that have been backed by research.
Increases Testosterone Levels And Sperm Count
Fenugreek might boost low testosterone levels and improve low sperm counts.
One study involved 50 male participants who took fenugreek seed extract over a twelve-week period. Around 85% of the men experienced an increase in sperm count and consistently increased mental alertness, mood and sex drive.
In another study, 30 college-aged men completed four weightlifting sessions per week over an eight-week period. Half of the participants received 500 mg of fenugreek daily, while the others did not.
While the group who did not supplement actually saw a slight reduction in testosterone, the group using fenugreek saw an increase, as well as a 2% reduction in body fat.(1)
Another six-week study gave men a daily 600 mg dose of fenugreek extract to determine changes in sexual drive and function. The majority of participants reported an increase in strength and an improvement in sexual function.(2)
Increases Breast Milk Flow And Production
Fenugreek has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote the production of breast milk and help ease its flow.
At least two studies involved examining the effects of fenugreek tea in mothers who had recently given birth. Those women that drank 3 cups of tea daily saw an increase in their milk volume within the first week.(3)
Although these studies used fenugreek herbal tea rather than supplements, it is believed that supplements are likely to provide similar effects.(4)
Helps With Weight Loss
Fenugreek can potentially curb appetite and increase the sensation of being full. This could help to curtail overeating and promote weight loss.
One small study involving overweight women who drank fenugreek tea before lunch reported that participants had a reduction in appetite and an increased sensation of fullness. Even so, the women who drank the tea still did not consume less.(5)
Bottom line, fenugreek fiber extract powder can give you a feeling of being fuller because of its fiber content.
One of the most popular benefits that fenugreek has been used for in traditional medicine is its ability to ease pain. It is believed that a type of compound found in the plant (alkaloids) block pain receptors in the brain.
One study examined the effects of fenugreek on women who were prone to painful periods. The women took fenugreek seed powder capsules three times per day during the first three days of their periods.
After two months, researchers found that the women experienced pain less often during their periods and experienced fewer symptoms between cycles.(6)
Lowers The Risk Of Diabetes
A number of animal studies have demonstrated that fenugreek contains a minimum of four compounds that provide anti-diabetic effects. These include:
- Decreases intestinal glucose absorption
- Slows gastric emptying
- Improves Insulin sensitivity and function
- Lowers lipid-binding protein
Research conducted over a 16-week period found that mice who were fed a diet high in fat and given fenugreek seeds showed better glucose tolerance than mice who didn’t consume the seeds.
Supplementation didn’t improve glucose tolerance in mice who were fed a diet low in fat, however. Researchers concluded that in all the mice, four days of voluntary exercise on the spinning wheel was better than fenugreek supplementation for improving glucose tolerance.(7)
Fenugreek’s high levels of antioxidants make it a powerful protectant against inflammation.
The findings of studies involving mice and rats suggest that the significant amount of antioxidant flavonoids contained in fenugreek seeds can help decrease inflammation. However, further research is needed in humans to confirm this benefit.(8)
Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Fenugreek may be helpful for improving blood pressure and regulating cholesterol levels.(9)
The reason for this could be due to fenugreek seeds being composed of nearly 50% dietary fiber. This fiber is difficult to digest and forms a thick gel within the intestines, making it more difficult to digest fats and sugars.
Fenugreek seems to be generally safe for otherwise healthy individuals. There have been reports of less severe side effects, such as diarrhea and indigestion, but it isn’t uncommon for most dietary supplements to cause minor side effects in some people.
Some individuals taking fenugreek may experience a decrease in appetite. This could potentially be harmful if you are attempting to gain weight or have an eating disorder.
Additionally, some individuals notice an unusual and mildly sweet body odor after using this supplement. However, this is not confirmed.
If you are taking medicine to treat diabetes, or using other supplements that might reduce your blood sugar levels, use caution when taking fenugreek as it can also have an additional lowering effect on blood sugar.
Studies on animals have indicated that high doses can cause a number of potential harmful side effects including neurological problems, damage to DNA, reduced fertility and an elevated risk for miscarriage.
While most of these adverse effects have not been confirmed in humans, and the doses studied were very large, some researchers have concerns regarding fenugreek supplementation. Always seek advice from a doctor before you start using a new supplement. Additionally, make certain that you are taking the right amount.
Fenugreek can be found in many supplements. Because each supplement has a different formulation, the recommended dosage will vary. The dosage can also vary depending on the type of benefit you’re looking for.
Research looking into the effects on testosterone generally have used 500 mg of fenugreek extract. However, studies looking at other health benefits have generally used between 1,000 and 2,000 mg.
Doses of approximately 2-5 grams appear to be effective when using the whole seed. However, this dosage varies from one study to another.
It is usually recommended to take fenugreek supplements along with or just before a meal. Because the herb helps control blood sugar, taking it with a meal containing the most carbs for your day may be preferable.
It’s important to follow the label’s dosage instructions. Consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner if you have any concerns.