Health Benefits of Fenugreek

Learn more about this plant's potential health benefits and risks and how they differ between females and males.

5 Fenugreek Health Benefits You Should Know, According to a Nutritionist
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Fenugreek—which you can buy as a spice or supplement at most health food stores—may offer some key health benefits, like helping manage type 2 diabetes and blood cholesterol.

Fenugreek has a number of health benefits for cisgender women, as well. Those health benefits include easing painful menstrual cramps and boosting breast milk supply, as well as increasing sex drive.

Fenugreek is a clover-like herb native to the Mediterranean, southern Europe, and western Asia, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Spices made from the plant's leaves and seeds have a sweet, slightly bitter maple syrup-like flavor, similar to burnt sugar. Here's more about how fenugreek may benefit you and healthful ways to consume it.

Benefits

While research on the benefits of fenugreek is limited, a few scientific studies have found that the plant:

Helps Lower Blood Sugar in People With Diabetes

Fenugreek may be able to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. A 2016 meta-analysis of 12 studies published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that fenugreek significantly decreased fasting blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

If fasting blood sugar levels remain high over an extended period of time, it increases the risk of multiple conditions for people with type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) these include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease
  • Hearing and vision loss

The study also found that while dietary supplements can potentially lead to kidney and liver problems, there were no reports of liver or kidney toxicity in those supplementing with fenugreek. The main side effect of fenugreek use was digestive discomfort.

May Regulate Cholesterol

Fenugreek might also lower blood cholesterol levels, which could reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke—two leading causes of death in the US, according to the CDC.

A 2020 meta-analysis published in Phytotherapy Research found that fenugreek supplementation:

  • Significantly reduced total cholesterol levels
  • Lowered "bad" LDL cholesterol
  • Increased levels of "good" HDL cholesterol

The herb was particularly effective for people with diabetes, who are twice as likely to develop heart disease, per the CDC.

Researchers believe fenugreek may be useful for controlling risk factors related to heart disease—like high cholesterol—when paired with traditional medical treatments, such as medications and lifestyle changes. However, further research is needed to understand exactly how effectively fenugreek can lower this risk.

Potentially Relieves Menstrual Cramps

Some of the compounds found in fenugreek may reduce pain, including pain from menstrual cramps.

A 2014 study of 101 females published in the Journal of Reproduction & Fertility found that those who took 900 milligrams of fenugreek seed powder on each of the first three days of menstruation reported a significantly larger reduction in period pain than the placebo group.

Fenugreek supplementation also reduced other period symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting

No side effects were reported.

Can Increase Breast Milk Supply

Incorporating fenugreek into your diet may be a quick and easy way to increase breast milk production if your supply is low due to stress, among other reasons.

People in North Africa, Asia, and southern Europe have traditionally used fenugreek to increase breastmilk supply in lactating women, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)—and some modern research backs this up.

For example, a 2017 research analysis published in Phytotherapy Research found that compared to a placebo, fenugreek significantly increased the amount of breastmilk produced by lactating women in four different studies. However, the same review found that other herbal supplements, like date palm, were more effective compared to fenugreek.

While fenugreek may increase breastmilk supply, it might also cause some side effects. A 2018 study published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine interviewed 65 breastfeeding women and 56 healthcare providers and found that supplementing with fenugreek during lactation could cause increased thirst and "maple syrup-like" sweat and urine. If you have pre-existing conditions or are taking medication, you should talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek while breastfeeding.

Could Raise Testosterone Levels in Males

One 2020 study published in Phytotherapy Research found that fenugreek may also raise male testosterone levels, which, if low, could lead to irritability, poor concentration, and increased bone fracture risk. According to Harvard Medical School, as men age, testosterone levels drop about 1% to 2% each year and more than a third of men over the age of 45 have lower than normal testosterone levels.

A 2017 study funded by Cepham Inc—an herbal supplement manufacturer—published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences assessed how a patented fenugreek supplement would impact 50 men between the ages of 35 and 65. It found that after 12 weeks of daily fenugreek supplementation, testosterone levels increased by up to 46% in 45 of the subjects. It also improved:

  • Mood
  • Mental alertness
  • Sex drive
  • Sperm count, which, according to a 2017 review in Human Reproduction Update, is closely related to fertility and is a predictor of illness and death risk

Nutrition

According to the US Department of Agriculture database, one tablespoon of fenugreek seeds provides:

  • Calories: 35
  • Fat: 0.7 g
  • Sodium: 7.44 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 6.5 g, or 2% of the daily value (DV)
  • Fiber: 2.7 g, or 10% DV
  • Protein: 2.5 g, or 5% DV
  • Iron: 3.7 mg, or 20% DV

Despite its potential health benefits, fenugreek isn't a great source of important nutrients—particularly since most recipes call for less than one tablespoon of the herb. One noteworthy exception is iron, which is crucial for helping red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Risks

Fenugreek is safe in amounts commonly found in foods, but its safety in larger doses is uncertain, per the NCCIH. Fenugreek is not safe for use during pregnancy in any amount greater than what's found in food and should not be used by children as a supplement.

Liver toxicity has been reported in people who take fenugreek alone or with other herbs. It can also cause potential side effects, like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • A drop in blood sugar when taken in large amounts

Certain allergies can also be a signal to avoid fenugreek—whether in food or as supplements. According to a 2016 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, people who have an allergy to peanuts or chickpeas should avoid fenugreek because they may develop complications like chronic asthma.

If you're interested in trying fenugreek for a therapeutic purpose like those listed above, talk to a healthcare professional, such as a primary care doctor or a registered dietitian. There is no standardized recommendation for fenugreek formulation or dose, so they can help you determine how much and for how long you should take fenugreek supplements.

Tips for Consuming Fenugreek

Fenugreek isn't widely grown in the US, so it's most readily available as a spice. If cooking with fenugreek try:

  • Soaking the seeds overnight to help them soften
  • Using it in dishes with longer cook times to help the flavors fully infuse
  • Finishing sauces, curries, and vegetable dishes with frozen or dried fenugreek leaves
  • Adding it to warm, hearty dishes, like this vegan red lentil soup

A Quick Review

Fenugreek is a traditional seasoning in many cultural cuisines that also offers some key health benefits, like blood sugar and cholesterol management. If you enjoy the unique combination of sweet and bitter flavors, consider experimenting with fenugreek seeds and leaves in cooking. However, talk to a healthcare professional before supplementing with the herb to determine how it may affect your individual health needs.

Sources:

  1. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. Fenugreek.
  2. Gong J, Fang K, Dong H, Wang D, Hu M, Lu F. Effect of fenugreek on hyperglycaemia and hyperlipidemia in diabetes and prediabetes: A meta-analysis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016;194:260-268. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.08.003.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Diabetes Complications.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cholesterol.
  5. Heshmat-Ghahdarijani K, Mashayekhiasl N, Amerizadeh A, Jervekani ZT, Sadeghi M. Effect of fenugreek consumption on serum lipid profile: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytother Res. 2020;34(9):2230-2245. doi:10.1002/ptr.6690.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes and Your Heart.
  7. Younesy S, Amiraliakbari S, Esmaeili S, Alavimajd H, Nouraei S. Effects of Fenugreek Seed on the Severity and Systemic Symptoms of Dysmenorrhea. J Reprod Infertil. 2014;15(1):41-48. PMC3955423.
  8. Shawahna R, Qiblawi S, Ghanayem H. Which Benefits and Harms of Using Fenugreek as a Galactogogue Need to Be Discussed during Clinical Consultations? A Delphi Study among Breastfeeding Women, Gynecologists, Pediatricians, Family Physicians, Lactation Consultants, and Pharmacists. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:2418673. doi:10.1155/2018/2418673.
  9. Mansoori A, Hosseini S, Zilaee M, Hormoznejad R, Fathi M. Effect of fenugreek extract supplement on testosterone levels in male: A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Phytother Res. 2020;34(7):1550-1555. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6627.
  10. Harvard Health Publishing. Testosterone — What It Does And Doesn't Do.
  11. Maheshwari A, Verma N, Swaroop A, et al. Efficacy of FurosapTM, a novel Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract, in Enhancing Testosterone Level and Improving Sperm Profile in Male Volunteers. Int J Med Sci. 2017;14(1):58-66. doi:10.7150/ijms.17256.
  12. Levine H, Jørgensen N, Martino-Andrade A, et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2017;23(6):646-659. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx022.
  13. US Department of Agriculture. Spices, fenugreek seed.
  14. MedlinePlus. Iron.
  15. Serious Eats. Spice Hunting: Fenugreek (Methi).
  16. The Spruce Eats. What Is Fenugreek?
  17. AllRecipes. Vegan Red Lentil Soup.

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