The Health Benefits of Fenugreek

Directly Above Shot Of Fenugreek Seeds In Bowl On Table
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Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant that produces seeds and leaves that are used in Indian and Mediterranean cooking and also as an herbal medicine to treat issues ranging from diabetes to menstrual cramps, breastfeeding problems, and testosterone enhancement.

When used in culinary settings, fenugreek is said to smell and taste like maple syrup. In fact, It is sometimes used to enhance the flavor of maple syrup and it is often included as an ingredient in spice blends. Sometimes, it is even used to mask the flavor of other medications.

Fresh fenugreek leaves are sometimes consumed as a vegetable and included in curry dishes, such as aloo methi, a dish that combines the fenugreek leaves (sometimes called "methi leaves") with potatoes and spices such as cumin, garlic, and turmeric.

Fenugreek also has a long history of medicinal use, although few of the herb's purported benefits are backed by strong or consistent scientific evidence. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is not enough evidence supporting the benefits of fenugreek (although studies are ongoing) but there is a "fair amount" of information on the herb's potential harmful effects.

Health Benefits

Fenugreek goes by several different names including "methi," bird's foot, Greek hayseed, alholva, bockshornsame, and many others. It is one of the oldest medicinal plants from Fabaceae family, having originated in Central Asia around 4000 BC. Today it is commercially grown in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Nepal, Egypt, France, Spain, Turkey, Morocco, North Africa, the Middle East, and Argentina.

Nutritionally, the seeds are known to contain a substantial amount of fiber and micronutrients including, choline, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, nicotinic acid, and niacin. The seeds also provide important fatty acids (phospholipids, glycolipids, oleic acid, linolenic acid, linoleic acid).

The seeds to treat a wide variety of ailments and health conditions. While there have been many studies investigating the benefits of fenugreek, not all of the studies were high quality and results have been inconsistent.

Diabetes Management

A research review was conducted in 2016 evaluating the potential effect of fenugreek on hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes. While study authors found that the herbal medicine may have a significant impact on fasting blood glucose, HbA1c levels, and total cholesterol levels, they also noted that only ten studies were evaluated. They also noted that some studies were of poor quality.

One other research review published in Nutrition Journal concluded that current research supports the beneficial effects of fenugreek seeds on glycemic control in people with diabetes. However, those study authors also stated that higher-quality studies are needed to provide more conclusive evidence.

Improved Cholesterol Levels

Some people take fenugreek for its purported effect on cholesterol levels. A meta analysis published in 2020 evaluated the potential impact that the herb might have on total cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Study authors wrote that fenugreek supplementation may significantly lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol, but that results varied based on study design. They also noted that the impact of fenugreek on cholesterol was more substantial in people with diabetes. These researchers also called for more high quality research to further understand the benefits of fenugreek.

Relief From Menstrual Cramps

One of the more popular uses of fenugreek is for relief from pain during menstruation, also called dysmenorrhea. But a Cochrane review published in 2016 found very little evidence to support its effectiveness for this benefit. They also noted that studies were limited and the quality of the evidence was low.

Improved Lactation

Another Cochrane review evaluated the possible effect that fenugreek (and other herbal or medicinal treatments) may have on milk production in women who are breastfeeding. Some early studies had suggested that fenugreek may provide a mild effect to promote milk production, especially in the first few days postpartum.

However, the Cochrane review found that while natural milk boosters such as fenugreek may improve milk volume and infants' weight, the reviewers were "very uncertain" about the supporting evidence. Study authors were also uncertain if there are any risks to the mother or baby in taking an herbal supplement such as fenugreek.

Increased Strength

One study published in 2010 investigated whether a fenugreek supplement may be able to improve upper and lower body strength and body composition in healthy men. For the study, 49 resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to take a capsule containing 500 mg or a placebo. They then participated in a supervised four day per week periodized resistance-training program split into two upper and two lower extremity workouts per week for a total of eight weeks.

Results indicated that fenugreek supplementation had a significant impact on both upper- and lower-body strength and body composition in comparison to placebo with no clinical side effects. It should be noted, however, that the study was funded by Indus Biotech, a company that sells fenugreek supplements. Other studies supporting this benefit are lacking.

Sexual Enhancement

One of the most popular uses of fenugreek is to enhance sexual function. There have been two studies (conducted by the same researchers) suggesting that taking 600 milligrams of a proprietary fenugreek seed extract may increase interest in sex in healthy younger women with a low sex drive. It may also improve sexual ability and interest in sex in older men that have started to lose interest and in healthy younger men. But further independent research to support these study results are lacking so it is unclear if fenugreek can provide this benefit.

Possible Side Effects

Fenugreek has been given the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) designation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when used as a flavoring. It is believed to be safe when used as a food. But there have been some side effects noted in studies where fenugreek supplementation was studied for health effects. In these cases, larger doses of fenugreek are usually consumed.

For example, in a report on the use of fenugreek for breastfeeding researchers report that caution should be used in giving high dosages to women with diabetes or those taking warfarin. The study authors also note that in studies conducted in the U.S, about 45% of women reported having experienced an adverse reaction from the supplement, including experiencing an odor of maple syrup in the urine, sweat, feces, and possibly breastmilk.

The National Institutes of Health reports that side effects may include diarrhea, nausea, and other digestive tract symptoms and rarely, dizziness and headaches. Large doses may cause a harmful drop in blood sugar. Fenugreek can cause allergic reactions in some people. Cases of liver toxicity have been reported in people taking fenugreek alone or in combination with other herbs.

The NIH warns that fenugreek should not be used by children as a supplement. It is also not safe for use during pregnancy in amounts greater than those found in food.

The organization also states that fenugreek use has been linked to increased risks of birth defects in both animals and people. Little is known about whether it’s safe to use fenugreek in amounts greater than those found in food while breastfeeding.

Dosage and Preparation

There is no recommended dose of fenugreek when used as an herbal treatment or supplement. You're likely to find the product in health food stores or vitamin shops. Doses may range from 600 milligrams to 1170 milligrams or more for various uses.

In studies, doses and preparations have also varied quite a bit. For example, a dose of 6 grams of fenugreek seed powder three times a day was studied in lactating women. In studies evaluating sexual function, a dose of 600 milligrams of fenugreek powder was used. For menstrual cramps a dose of 1800-2700 milligrams of fenugreek seed powder three times daily was for the first 3 days of menstruation, followed by 900 milligrams three times daily for the remainder of two menstrual cycles.

If you plan to take fenugreek for the treatment of any condition or ailment, always speak to your healthcare provider first to get a personalized diagnosis and treatment plan.

What to Look For

It is always important to read product labels carefully before choosing a dietary supplement. But the label alone may not ensure safety. The National Institutes of Health advises consumers that dietary supplements do not require extensive pre-marketing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers do not need to prove the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements before they are marketed.

In fact, supplements may contain multiple ingredients and some studies have shown that some products contain less of the active ingredient than advertised. According to the NIH, differences are often found between labeled and actual ingredients or their amounts.

Since dietary supplements can interfere with other medications and with certain medical conditions, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider before choosing to take one. The National Institutes of Health provides a tip sheet for consumers who are interested in taking dietary supplements.

14 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.