Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is truly a multi-purpose herb. People from Western Asia and the Mediterranean have used fenugreek for thousands of years to flavor food, improve health, and soothe skin maladies. In more recent years, fenugreek has gained global popularity as an herbal supplement with a variety of health benefits. Fenugreek has been shown to balance cholesterol, soothe upset stomach and digestive problems, reduce menstrual cramps, maintain liver and kidney health, soothe muscle pain, and even reduce fever.
Common health benefits of fenugreek involve the regulation of blood sugar, stimulation of milk flow in new mothers, maintenance of hormones, and treatment of inflammation. Scientists have broken down some of the main compounds in fenugreek seeds to get to the root of the herb's beneficial effects. These are some of the most important ones:
- Trigonelline: a betaine molecule also present in coffee and alfalfa that may help prevent and treat diabetes.
- 4-hydroxyisoleucine and 2-oxoglutarate: molecules with an insulin-stimulating effect.
- Protodioscin: compound that may have aphrodisiac effects.
- Diosgenin and Yamogenin: compounds used in the commercial synthesis of progesterone and other steroid products.
- 3-Hydroxy-4,5-dimethyl-2(5H)-furanone: compound that causes a maple-syrup scent in body excretions.
Fenugreek Health Benefits for New Mothers
The most commonly claimed fenugreek benefits are milk production in new mothers, blood sugar levels, testosterone and male libido, and treating inflammation. Fenugreek is widely used as a galactagogue, or a milk flow-enhancing agent in new mothers. Nursing women take fenugreek in pill form or drink it as a tea after they’ve had a baby.
While fenugreek appears to be an effective galactagogue, it can have adverse effects if you take it while pregnant. Most doctors advise that women should only take fenugreek supplements once they’ve had their baby and not before.
One study examining the effectiveness of fenugreek tea as a galactagogue in new mothers, divided 66 mother-infant pairs into three groups. One group drank the tea everyday, the second drank a placebo tea, and the third drank no tea and served as the control group. Researchers looked at breast milk volume and infant weight gain over a few days and found significantly higher volume and weight gain among the fenugreek tea-drinking group. From the study, researchers concluded that “Maternal galactagogue herbal tea supplementation seems to be useful for enhancing breast milk production and facilitating infant birth weight regain in early postnatal days.”
Fenugreek Benefits for Blood Sugar Control and Diabetes Prevention
Fenugreek seeds are also commonly used as a supplement to control blood glucose, especially to prevent or treat diabetes. It appears to alleviate problems around the metabolism of blood sugar. Several studies have looked at fenugreek and found that it had a significant effect on blood glucose levels. One study gave a fenugreek supplement in both capsule and cooked form (on biscuits) to 60 non-insulin-dependent male diabetics. Ultimately, the study found that “2 grams of a powdered mixture of traditional medicinal plants in either raw or cooked form can be successfully used for lowering blood glucose in diabetics.”
Another study also gave fenugreek to diabetic subjects in the form of food, this time incorporating it into bread. Like in the first study, researchers found that “acceptable baked products can be prepared with added fenugreek, which will reduce insulin resistance and treat type 2 diabetes." Alleviating problems of blood sugar metabolism is a common use of fenugreek, and people with diabetes may consider adding it to their diets in capsule or food form.
Fenugreek Benefits for Increased Libido
Another one of fenugreek’s ancient uses is to enhance libido. Mediterranean and Western Asian cultures have incorporated the herb into their diets for thousands of years to improve energy and enhance sexual desire. Recent studies have suggested that fenugreek may increase libido in both men and women.
This 2011 study tested the effect of fenugreek extract on male libido, which isit defined as sexual drive, urge, or desire. It recruited 60 men between the ages of 25 and 52 and gave them either 600 mg of fenugreek twice a day or placebo capsules. Overall, the group taking fenugreek supplements reported a 28% increase in libido while those taking the placebo reported a decrease overall. Scientists concluded that fenugreek can have “a significant positive effect on physiological aspects of libido” and that the herb “may assist to maintain normal healthy testosterone levels.”
This 2015 study gathered 80 female participants between the ages of 20 and 49 with a self-reported low sex drive. They took fenugreek extract or a placebo for eight weeks and reported their experiences using the “Derogatis Interview for Sexual Functioning” and “Female Sexual Function Index” questionnaires. Ultimately, researchers concluded that “T foenum-graecum [fenugreek] seed extract is a well-tolerated and an effective botanical medicine for use in the support of sexual function for pre-menopausal women, in particular, increasing sexual desire and arousal, with positive effects in concentration of E2 [estradiol] and free testosterone.” The studies suggest that fenugreek supplements may increase libido in both men and women. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.5355
Additional Benefits of Fenugreek Herb
Fenugreek powder has long been combined with other soothing herbs to make poultices and treat skin inflammation and injury. Recent studies have suggested that fenugreek may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A group of researchers in Saudi Arabia extracted and isolated compounds in fenugreek seeds to determine whether or not they had anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They found that “water extracts and flavonoids” from fenugreek seed extract did have the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that people have long reported. A 2012 study also found that fenugreek reduced joint inflammation and arthritis in rats.
People have been consuming fenugreek for thousands of years, and have discovered it to possess a wide range of physical benefits. Some of the other reported benefits of fenugreek include balancing cholesterol, soothing upset stomach and digestive problems, reducing menstrual cramps, reducing appetite, reducing fat mass, maintaining liver and kidney health, soothing muscle pain, and reducing fever. With thousands of years of traditional use and many scientific studies to support it, fenugreek is truly a powerful medicinal herb worth consuming for its health benefits.