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Introduction

Fenugreek is a popular herb that is many used in Arabic regions and India.

The plant itself has green leaves, small white flowers, and pods that contain small golden-brown fenugreek seeds.

Historically it has been thought to treat muscle spasms, wounds, hunger issues, as well as enhance libido.

In western culture it is now used as a household spice purely for flavoring purposes and it is not necessarily consumed for health purposes.

However, fenugreek has been linked to improving testosterone levels, blood sugar levels, and breastfeeding.

The active compound within fenugreek that is speculated to have these effects is 4-hydroxyisoleucine, although other compounds such as trigonelline, galactomannan, and trigoneosides may also have a role to play.

Fenugreek Health Benefits

May Improve Glucose Control

Being able to tightly control the amount of glucose in the blood is important for preventing diabetes and metabolic complications that can lead to morbidity and mortality.

The ability to regulate glucose in the blood is largely down to how well insulin is functioning, as insulin is a hormone that aids the transport of glucose from the blood and into cells.

Some evidence in animal studies has shown the fenugreek may have a protective effect on pancreatic beta-cells, which are the cells responsible for secreting insulin [1].

Researchers have proposed this effect is due to the 4-hydroxyisoleucine content that is almost exclusive to fenugreek [2].

This compound has also shown similar effects in isolation, with doses of 50mg per kg bodyweight reducing glucose levels and improving insulin function in diabetic animals [3].

Fenugreek may also benefit glycemic control through other ways:

  • Consumption of fenugreek seeds daily for 3 weeks has led to greater activity of liver enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism, G6P and G6P dehydrogenase, as well as improving liver glycogen storage [4].
  • The high fiber content within fenugreek powder and its seeds may slow gastric emptying and blunt the blood glucose response [5].

Overall, benefits for glycemic control in animal studies have been seen with the seeds themselves, defatted seed extract, and whole seed powder. The form of fenugreek seems largely irrelevant.

However, human studies have not yet shown such beneficial effect, with 5000mg of fenugreek for 3 months having no change to blood sugar or blood lipids levels in healthy individuals [6].

More research is needed to further analyze fenugreek’s effect on glucose control.

May Increase Testosterone Levels

One of the most common reasons men use fenugreek supplements is to boost testosterone.

Given, a study is available showing that fenugreek supplementation at 500mg per day can significantly increase testosterone over a period of 8 weeks in resistance trained males relative to placebo [7].

However, these findings have failed to be replicated even when using similar methodologies and dosages [8] [9].

At the moment there is not enough conclusive evidence that fenugreek can increase testosterone levels.

May Help Breastmilk Production

Some women experience certain health complications that may lead to the insufficient production of breast milk.

While prescription drugs may be able to deal with these issues, fenugreek has been advertised as a natural alternative.

A 2 week study that analyzed mothers found that consuming fenugreek herbal tea increased breast milk production and subsequently helped the babies gain more weight [10].

Another similar study also found that mothers drinking fenugreek herbal tea were able to increase their breast milk production by over 100% [11].

These findings are certainly interesting and despite a lack of evidence, it may be wise for mothers dealing with these problems to experiment with fenugreek supplementation – especially considering the safety of the product.

How To Take Fenugreek?

Scientific research has not managed to suggest a single recommended dose, despite having been studied in many different dosages in various supplemental forms.

However, sensible doses based on the studies available are:

  • 2-5 grams per day of fenugreek seeds.
  • 500mg per day of fenugreek extract (potentially increasing to 1,000mg if no side effects are experienced).

If you are going to use fenugreek seeds, these can be eaten as they are, or even incorporated within tea, flour, bread, and oil.

In addition, if fenugreek is taken for the main purpose of blood glucose control, it is advised to consume it alongside the most carbohydrate-rich meal of the day.

Fenugreek Safety And Side Effects

Fenugreek appears to be relatively safe for healthy individuals in a variety of different forms, however most of the safety data on fenugreek products have only been conducted on animals.

Animal studies have not found negative effects until doses reach nearly 50 times the estimated effective dose [12].

In terms of its supplemental form, fenugreek extract has failed to show adverse effects up to 3 grams per kg bodyweight [13]. The dose that would exhibit toxicity has also been established at ~4 grams per kg bodyweight [14].

Clearly, these harmful doses are magnitudes higher than what is required for the supplement to take effect.

Despite the rarity of side effects being noted, some that have been reported are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion
  • Strange body odor

Conclusion

Fenugreek is a popular herb that has been used to treat muscle spasms, wounds, hunger issues, as well as enhance libido.

The current scientific evidence suggests it may be effective at stabilizing blood glucose levels and increasing breastmilk production.

It is recommended to consume 2-5 grams of fenugreek seeds, or 500mg fenugreek extract (supplement), per day to see any potential benefits.

Shaun Ward MSc BSc SENr Anutr
Shaun Ward MSc BSc SENr Anutr
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Shaun is a registered nutritionist, and sport and exercise nutritionist, with experience in coaching professional endurance and strength athletes.
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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.