For millennia, fenugreek has been used both as a medicine and as a food spice in Egypt, India, and the Middle East. It was traditionally recommended for increasing milk production in nursing women and for the treatment of wounds, bronchitis, digestive problems, arthritis, kidney problems, and male reproductive conditions.
Present interest in fenugreek focuses on its potential benefits for people with diabetes or high cholesterol. Numerous animal studies and preliminary trials in humans have found that fenugreek can reduce blood sugar and serum cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. Like other high-fiber foods, it may also be helpful for constipation.
In a 2-month, double-blind study of 25 individuals with type 2 diabetes, use of fenugreek (1 g per day of a standardized extract) significantly improved some measures of blood sugar control and insulin response as compared to placebo.5 Triglyceride levels decreased and HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels increased, presumably due to the enhanced insulin sensitivity.
Similar benefits have been seen in animal studies and open human trials, as well.1,2,3
Because the seeds of fenugreek are somewhat bitter, they are best taken in capsule form. The typical dosage is 5 to 30 g of defatted fenugreek taken 3 times a day with meals. The one double-blind study of fenugreek used 1 g per day of a water/alcohol fenugreek extract.
As a commonly eaten food, fenugreek is generally regarded as safe. The only common side effect is mild gastrointestinal distress when it is taken in high doses.
However, extracts made from fenugreek have been shown to stimulate uterine contractions in guinea pigs.4 For this reason, pregnant women should not take fenugreek in dosages higher than is commonly used as a spice, perhaps 5 g daily. Besides concerns about pregnant women, safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has also not been established.
Because fenugreek can lower blood sugar levels, it is advisable to seek medical supervision before combining it with diabetes medications.
If you are taking diabetes medications, such as insulin or oral hypoglycemic drugs, fenugreek may enhance their effects. This may cause excessively low blood sugar, and you may need to reduce your dose of medication.
1. Sharma RD, Sarkar A, Hazra DK, et al. Use of fenugreek seed powder in the management of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Nutr Res. 1996;16:1331-1339.
2. Madar Z, Abel R, Samish S, et al. Glucose-lowering effect of fenugreek in non-insulin dependent diabetics. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1988;42:51-54.
3. Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Rao NS. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1990;44:301-306.
4. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Wiley; 1996:243-244.
5. Gupta A, Gupta R, Lal B. Effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) seeds on glycaemic control and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Assoc Physicians India. 2001;49:1057-1061.
6. Muralidhara, Narasimhamurthy K, Viswanatha S, Ramesh BS. Acute and subchronic toxicity assessment of debitterized fenugreek powder in the mouse and rat. Food Chem Toxicol. 1999;37:831-838.
7. Bhardwaj PK, Dasgupta DJ, Prashar BS, Kaushal SS. Control of hyperglycaemia and hyperlipidaemia by plant product. J Assoc Physicians India. 1994;42:33-35.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Last Updated: 12/15/2015
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