What Is Fenugreek And What Are Its Benefits?

Many people trust the power of medicinal herbs like fenugreek. According to a 2017 review published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, fenugreek is one of the oldest medicinal plants — a mainstay in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine. 

It's also popular in Mediterranean cooking — from its leaves to seeds, this clover-like herb is a household staple with lots of nutritional value offering 23 grams of protein, 6.41 grams of fat, and 58.35 grams of carbohydrates, per WebMD. Although fenugreek seeds are often used for cooking, extracts can also be used to produce soaps and cosmetics.

While various studies focus on fenugreek's nutritional value, its health benefits are not properly understood. Furthermore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is yet to approve the plant as medicinal. According to Drugs.com, there are currently no regulated manufacturing standards, and some herbal supplements may be contaminated or come from unreliable sources. It's, therefore, important to consult with your doctor before using fenugreek for medicinal purposes. However, the following are among the potential health benefits of fenugreek that researchers have been investigating.

Fenugreek might help control diabetes and blood sugar

According to a 2020 study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, fenugreek has anti-diabetic properties that help modulate human plasma glucose and hemoglobin A1C levels. Another 2005 study from the Journal of Medicinal Food supports the claim that fenugreek might help with diabetes and its symptoms. According to the study, daily supplementation of 1 gram for a 1.5-month period, which increased to 2 grams for another 1.5 months, significantly reduced the postprandial glucose levels in people with diabetes.

One 2017 study published in the journal Scientific Reports involved the supplementation of fenugreek in mice. One group of mice was fed a high-fat diet that included 2% Fenugreek. The results showed better glucose tolerance than in the group that was fed a high-fat diet without fenugreek.

According to Medical News Today, fenugreek can delay gastric emptying and reduce concentrations of lipid-binding protein. A huge part of fenugreek's delayed gastric effects depends on the soluble fiber content in the plant's seeds. According to Diabetes UK, the high soluble fiber content in fenugreek seeds not only slows down digestion. It can also delay carbohydrate absorption, helping lower blood sugar and treating diabetic patients. The source further explains that fenugreek seeds lower glucose levels and improve glucose tolerance by improving most metabolic symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Fenugreek might help with breastmilk production

Having enough breast milk to satisfy their babies is a common worry for many new mothers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3 out of 4 mothers start out breastfeeding, but many partially or completely stop breastfeeding their babies after the first few months. This is when fenugreek comes in. This herb contains phytoestrogens, plant chemicals akin to estrogen in humans, which may aid breast milk production in women, according to Healthline. Researchers are still unsure how fenugreek increases breast milk production. But several studies support this claim, including this 2020 study published in the Clinical Epidemiology and Global Health. According to the study, fenugreek can help increase breast milk production among postnatal mothers, while improving a baby's weight in the first week of birth.

According to Healthline, one way to take fenugreek is by steeping 1 teaspoon of seeds in boiling water and allowing it to simmer for about 15 minutes. You can then sip it leisurely a couple of times daily, per the source.

Healthline recommends using fenugreek capsule supplements rather than fenugreek seeds since they are a more concentrated form. They suggest that a good dose is normally two to three capsules — containing about 580 to 610 milligrams each — taken three to four times per day, depending on what the package says.

Fenugreek might help increase testosterone production

Testosterone deficiency, or hypogonadism, is common among 39% of men above age 45 (via Healthline). While some men seek hormonal therapy, herbal supplements using plants like fenugreek also show significant promise. Fenugreek contains furostanolic saponins and other compounds found to increase testosterone production, per Healthline. A 2010 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reviewed fenugreek's effects on power output, body composition, and hormonal activities in resistance-trained men. The study concluded that the daily supplementation of 500 milligrams of fenugreek significantly increased upper and lower body strength and reduced fat percentage. According to the study, the hormonal improvements experienced after using fenugreek came with no clinical side effects. According to another 2017 study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences, you might experience improvements in your mood, energy, libido, and sperm count when using fenugreek.

An article on ClinicalTrials.gov also iterates on the safety of fenugreek, stating that the plant increased two crucial testosterone indicators: total serum testosterone and free testosterone. The results obtained from fenugreek supplementation in people aged between 43 and 70 years suggest that fenugreek helped treat androgen deficiency and improved sexual function. According to the article, fenugreek helped healthy men aged between 25 and 45 maintain a normal testosterone level.

Fenugreek might help with weight loss

You may have heard numerous weight loss success stories linked to fenugreek supplementation. But how true are these claims, and what's the science behind fenugreek's weight loss benefits? According to a 2014 study published in the journal BioMed Research International, fenugreek can prevent fat accumulation in various ways. After a series of tests on obese rats, the study found that fenugreek inhibited impaired lipid digestion and absorption. Fenugreek also improved glucose and lipid metabolism, enhanced insulin sensitivity, and increased antioxidant defense, which might explain fenugreek's efficacy as a weight loss remedy. However, the risk and side effect profile of using fenugreek for weight loss is an area that demands further research since human studies are limited.

According to Healthline, fenugreek's weight loss benefits are only associated with higher doses which may cause mild side effects, such as nausea, diarrhea, and digestive issues. High fenugreek doses may also reduce blood sugar levels, posing a threat to people taking diabetic medications and other blood sugar-reducing supplements. The source also discourages fenugreek supplementation in pregnant women to prevent adverse effects on fertility and pregnancy.

Fenugreek might help with hair growth

Various accounts speak to the relationship between fenugreek and hair growth. A 2021 study found in Case Reports in Dermatological Medicine establishes fenugreek extract can act against the effects of proinflammatory cytokines like interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), aiding the anagen-to-catagen and catagen-to-telogen stages of the hair cycle. According to Healthline, fenugreek contains a unique composition of plant compounds, including flavonoids and saponins, which have anti-inflammatory and antifungal benefits for hair growth. Generally speaking, fenugreek can help treat various hair conditions, including dandruff which causes an itchy, flaky scalp, per Healthline. While it's unclear whether fenugreek seeds can effectively treat all dandruff symptoms, the plant's anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, antifungal, and wound-healing properties may have something to do with it.

According to WebMD, plant compounds may interact with a chemical in the body known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which can cause hair loss when this chemical comes into contact with hair follicles. Fenugreek may reduce the likelihood of DHT attaching to your hair follicles, per WebMD. However, its crucial to consider the limitations of these claims before adopting fenugreek as an effective hair growth remedy. WebMD cautions that most claims linking fenugreek to hair growth stem from animal studies.

Although fenugreek is an interesting herb with numerous nutritional and health benefits, it's important to keep your doctor in the loop with your dietary plans, especially if you're susceptible to allergic reactions or side effects.