Fenugreek is an herb long used in alternative medicine. It’s a common ingredient in Indian dishes and is often taken as a supplement.
This herb may have numerous health benefits.
This article explains everything you need to know about fenugreek, including its benefits, side effects, and uses.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant that stands around 2–3 feet (60–90 cm) tall. It has green leaves, small white flowers, and pods that contain small, golden-brown seeds.
For thousands of years, fenugreek has been used in alternative and Chinese medicine to treat skin conditions and many other diseases.
Recently, it has become a common household spice and thickening agent. It can also be found in products, such as soap and shampoo.
Fenugreek seeds and powder are also used in many Indian dishes for their nutritional profile and slightly sweet, nutty taste.
Summary: Fenugreek is an interesting herb with diverse uses and many potential health benefits.
Fenugreek nutrition facts
One tablespoon (11.1 grams) of whole fenugreek seeds contains 35 calories and several nutrients:
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 6 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Iron: 20% of the recommended daily intake
- Manganese: 7% of the recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 5% of the recommended daily intake
Summary: Fenugreek seeds have a healthy nutritional profile, containing a good amount of fiber and minerals, including iron and magnesium.
Fenugreek’s effects on breastmilk production
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for your baby’s development.
However, some mothers may struggle to produce sufficient amounts.
While prescription drugs are commonly used to boost breastmilk production, research suggests that fenugreek may be a safe, natural alternative.
One 14-day study in 77 new mothers found that drinking herbal tea with fenugreek seeds increased breast milk production, which helped babies gain more weight.
Another study split 66 mothers into three groups. One received fenugreek tea, the second a placebo, and the third nothing.
The volume of pumped breast milk increased from around 1.15 ounces (34 ml) in the control and placebo groups to 2.47 ounces (73 ml) in the fenugreek group.
These studies used fenugreek herbal tea instead of supplements, but supplements are likely to have similar effects.
Though this research is encouraging, you should discuss any concerns about breastmilk production with your midwife or medical practitioner.
Summary: Research suggests that fenugreek may increase breastmilk production and the rate of weight gain in newborn babies.
Fenugreek’s effects on testosterone levels in men
One of the most common reasons men use fenugreek supplements is to boost testosterone.
Some studies have found that it has beneficial effects, including increased libido.
In an 8-week study, 30 college-aged men performed 4 sessions of weightlifting per week, with half of them receiving 500 mg of fenugreek per day.
Although the non-supplement group experienced a slight decline in testosterone, the fenugreek group showed an increase. This group also had a 2% reduction in body fat.
One 6-week study provided 30 men with 600 mg of fenugreek extract to assess changes in sexual function and libido. Most participants reported increased strength and improved sexual function.
However, more research is needed.
Summary: Initial research suggests that fenugreek can boost testosterone levels and sexual function in men.
Fenugreek may help control diabetes and blood sugar levels
Fenugreek may aid metabolic conditions, such as diabetes.
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It seems to affect both types 1 and 2 diabetes, along with increasing general carb tolerance in people without these conditions.
In one study, people with type 1 diabetes took 50 grams of fenugreek seed powder at lunch and dinner. After 10 days, participants experienced better blood sugar levels and reductions in total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
In another study, people without diabetes took fenugreek. They experienced a 13.4% reduction in blood sugar levels 4 hours after intake.
These benefits may be due to fenugreek’s role in improving insulin function. That said, the effects seen in studies using whole fenugreek powder or seeds may be partly due to the high fiber content.
Summary: Evidence supports fenugreek’s role in blood sugar control and the treatment of type 1 and 2 diabetes.
Other health benefits of fenugreek
Fenugreek has been used to treat a variety of conditions. However, many of these uses have not been studied well enough to reach strong conclusions.
Preliminary research suggests that fenugreek may aid:
- Appetite control. So far, 3 studies show a reduction in fat intake and appetite. One 14-day study found that participants spontaneously reduced total fat intake by 17%.
- Cholesterol levels. Some evidence indicates that fenugreek can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Heartburn. One 2-week pilot study in people with frequent heartburn found that fenugreek reduced their symptoms. Its effects matched those of antacid medications.
- Inflammation. This herb has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects in rats and mice. More research is needed to confirm this in humans.
In addition, some reviews and anecdotal reports from traditional medicine suggest that fenugreek can help with ulcerative colitis, skin problems, and numerous other conditions.
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Summary: Although more research is needed, initial results postulate that fenugreek has several other health benefits.
How to use fenugreek
Fenugreek is an ingredient in many supplements. Since formulations differ, the recommended dose depends on the supplement. There is no single recommended dose.
Additionally, the dosage may vary depending on the benefit you seek.
Most testosterone-based research uses only around 500 mg of fenugreek extract, while research in other areas has used around 1,000–2,000 mg.
If using the whole seed, doses of around 2–5 grams seem effective, but it varies from study to study.
Supplements should generally be taken before or with a meal. Since this herb aids blood sugar control, it may be best to take it with your highest-carb meal of the day.
Always follow the dosage instructions on the label. If unsure, consult your healthcare practitioner.
Summary: Your dosage of fenugreek depends on the type of supplement, as well as your health goal.
Safety and side effects of fenugreek
Fenugreek appears relatively safe for healthy people.
However, as with most supplements, less serious side effects like diarrhea and indigestion have been reported anecdotally.
People may also experience reduced appetite, which could be harmful if they have an eating disorder or are trying to gain weight.
Moreover, some people report a strange and slightly sweet body odor when supplementing, but this is unconfirmed.
Given its effect on blood sugar, fenugreek should be used with caution if you’re taking diabetes medication or other supplements that lower blood sugar levels.
Animal studies suggest that very high doses cause numerous adverse side effects, including DNA damage, decreased fertility, neurological problems, and an increased risk of miscarriage.
Although most of these side effects haven’t been confirmed in people, and the dosages used are unusually high, some scientists are concerned about the use of fenugreek supplements.
It’s always a good idea to check with a medical practitioner before starting a new supplement. Most importantly, ensure that you’re taking a safe dose.
Summary: In humans, fenugreek may cause mild side effects, although it appears relatively safe at the correct dosage.
Fenugreek is a unique herb that has long been used in alternative medicine.
Based on the available evidence, fenugreek has benefits for lowering blood sugar levels, boosting testosterone, and increasing milk production in breastfeeding mothers.
Fenugreek may also reduce cholesterol levels, lower inflammation, and help with appetite control, but more research is needed in these areas.