Fenugreek? What is that? If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry—you’ve probably eaten it a time or two and didn’t even know. It’s delicious in many Indian dishes and other Mediterranean dishes. Fenugreek is also known to have some fantastic health benefits that can be good for lowering blood sugar, fight inflammation, and even improve your sex life!
Fenugreek is actually a member of the pea family. Fenugreek is a plant that grows in parts of Europe and western Asia. The leaves are edible, but the small brown seeds are best known for their use in medicine, and as a spice. The first recorded use of fenugreek was in Egypt, dating back to 1500 B.C. Across the Middle East and South Asia, the seeds were traditionally used as both a spice and a medicine.
Fenugreek has an interesting taste—something like a combination of celery and maple syrup. It has a very pleasant taste, however, when cooked in recipes. Fenugreek can also be taken by mouth or used to make a paste for the skin, and is often used in soaps and cosmetics.
In fact, fenugreek extract or oil has antimicrobial, antioxidant, antidiabetic, and tumor-fighting abilities, and actually has a long history of being used in traditional medicines. You can buy fenugreek as:
- a spice (in whole or powdered form)
- supplement (in concentrated pill and liquid form)
- skin cream
What Is Fenugreek Good For?
1. Helps Lower Blood Sugar
Fenugreek seeds are known to be a help to those with diabetes. While the seeds contain fiber which slows the absorption of some high-glycemic foods, they also contain other natural chemical compounds that improve glucose levels while stimulating insulin.
One study found that ingesting a daily dose of 10 grams of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water helps control glucose levels in type 2 diabetes. Another study suggests using ground fenugreek in baked goods as a flour substitute, which reduces insulin resistance, and lowers blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
One other study showed that taking high doses of fenugreek every day for several weeks causes noticeable improvements in plasma glucose levels. While fenugreek is a good addition to help control diabetes, it is not a substitute for a healthy, low glycemic diet and exercise. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re thinking of taking fenugreek as a supplement.
2. Helps Ease Digestion
Fenugreek is known to help with digestive problems, such as upset stomach, constipation or indigestion. Because fenugreek is high in fiber, the water-soluble fiber helps to relieve constipation.
3. Helps Fight Heart Disease and Lowers Cholesterol
Fenugreek helps to lower cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, keeping HDL (good cholesterol) high.
Currently, there are only a few studies showing fenugreek’s effectiveness in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides. Findings have showed that total cholesterol was lowered by up to 16 percent, LDL was decreased 10-16 percent, and triglycerides were lower as well. HDL (the good cholesterol) actually increased by up to 11 percent in some studies.
4. Reduces Inflammation
Internally, fenugreek helps with inflammation in the body with a wide range of things including mouth ulcers, bronchitis, coughs, arthritis, kidney issues, and even skin infections. It is known to help break up phlegm in the body, making it good for colds, coughs and bronchitis. It is also especially helpful at reducing swelling and inflammation related to arthritis.
Externally, fenugreek helps heal inflammation including pain and swelling in the muscles or lymph nodes, wounds, eczema and rashes.
5. Increases Libido in Men
Fenugreek works on men to relieve erectile dysfunction, increase sexual arousal, and help maintain healthy testosterone levels. One study published in Phytotherapy Research, looked at 60 men between the ages of 25 and 52 years who supplemented with either a placebo or 600 milligrams of fenugreek extract per day for six weeks. The participants noted their results, reporting that the fenugreek dietary supplement had a positive effect on their libidos.
6. Promotes Milk Flow in Breastfeeding
Fenugreek also helps breastfeeding women increase their milk supply. Fenugreek acts as a galactagogue. Galactagogues are substances that help with increasing milk supply. It helps to stimulates the milk ducts and can increase milk production in as little as 24 hours. Complementary & Alternative Medicine, the Annals of Pharmocotherapy, Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine International, among others, have all published studies on fenugreek and breastfeeding benefits.
7. Helps with Eating Disorders
Fenugreek has been shown to increase appetite for those with eating disorders or other health issues where appetite is an issue. A study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry, and Behavior showed subjects had a renewed desire to eat, and the fenugreek increased food intake significantly.
For those with anorexia, it is recommended that 250 to 500 milligrams of fenugreek up to three times a day is helpful, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. However, it may not be safe for children — so as with any medication or natural treatments, check with your doctor first.
8. Improves Exercise Performance
Fenugreek actually improves body composition, muscular strength, endurance and anaerobic capacity according to the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. The study shows the positive effects of combined creatine and fenugreek extract supplementation on strength and body composition in men.
The creatine/fenugreek group showed significant increases in lean mass, bench press and leg press strength. The study concluded that creatine combined with fenugreek extract supplementation had a significant impact on upper body strength and body composition.
The use of fenugreek with creatine supplementation may be effective in eliminating the need for excessive amounts of simple carbohydrates to improve athletic performance.
9. Tastes Great in Food
Fenugreek is often included as an ingredient in spice blends like curry seasoning for Indian dishes. Oddly enough, it’s also used as a flavoring agent for maple syrup flavoring, and used often in foods, beverages and tobacco as a flavor additive. The leaves from the plant can be used in salads, and the dried leaves can also be used as a seasoning agent as well.
Fenugreek can have an effect on the nerves, especially the sciatic nerve. Too much of it, can actually cause you to lose feeling in your nerves or cause your muscles to feel weak.
Some people have reported a maple syrup-like smell coming from their bodies after extended use.
Fenugreek can cause some allergic reactions. Talk to your doctor about food allergies you have before adding fenugreek to your diet. The fiber in fenugreek can also make your body less effective at absorbing medications taken by mouth. Don’t use fenugreek within a few hours of taking these types of medication. When taken in large doses, side effects can include gas and bloating. Fenugreek can also react with several medications, especially for blood clotting disorders and diabetes medications. Talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek if you’re on these types of medication.
Fenugreek is found in most health food stores, and dosages can range from 5 to 30 grams a day—depending on the reason, but be sure to consult with your physician first.
Fenugreek used in cooking is generally considered safe.
Pregnant women should limit fenugreek use to only amounts used in cooking, and avoid taking any fenugreek supplements, because of its potential to induce labor.