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Fenugreek

Botanical name: Trigonella foenum-graecum

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Although originally from southeastern Europe and western Asia, fenugreek grows today in many parts of the world, including India, northern Africa, and the United States. The seeds of fenugreek are used medicinally.

Fenugreek has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
3Stars

High cholesterol

Type 2 diabetes

2Stars

Atherosclerosis

High triglycerides

1Star

Constipation

Type 1 diabetes

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

A wide range of uses were found for fenugreek in ancient times. Medicinally it was used for the treatment of wounds, abscesses, arthritis, bronchitis, and digestive problems. Traditional Chinese herbalists used it for kidney problems and conditions affecting the male reproductive tract.1 Fenugreek was, and remains, a food and a spice commonly eaten in many parts of the world.

Active constituents

Fenugreek seeds contain alkaloids (mainly trigonelline) and protein high in lysine and L-tryptophan. Its steroidal saponins (diosgenin, yamogenin, tigogenin, and neotigogenin) and mucilaginous fiber are thought to account for many of the beneficial effects of fenugreek. The steroidal saponins are thought to inhibit cholesterol absorption and synthesis,2 while the fiber may help lower blood sugar levels.3 One human study found that fenugreek can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in people with moderate atherosclerosis and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes.4 Preliminary and double-blind trials have found that fenugreek helps improve blood sugar control in patients with insulin-dependent (type 1) and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes.5 6 7 Double-blind trials have shown that fenugreek lowers elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood,8 9 This has also been found in a controlled clinical trial with diabetic patients with elevated cholesterol.10 Generally, fenugreek does not lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

How much is usually taken?

Due to the somewhat bitter taste of fenugreek seeds, de-bitterized seeds or encapsulated products are preferred. The German Commission E monograph recommends a daily intake of 6 grams.11 The typical range of intake for diabetes or cholesterol-lowering is 5–30 grams with each meal or 15–90 grams all at once with one meal. As a tincture, 3–4 ml of fenugreek can be taken up to three times per day.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Use of more than 100 grams of fenugreek seeds daily can cause intestinal upset and nausea. Otherwise, fenugreek is extremely safe. Due to the potential uterine stimulating properties of fenugreek, which may cause miscarriages, fenugreek should not be used during pregnancy.12

Are there any drug interactions?
Certain medicines may interact with fenugreek. Refer to drug interactions for a list of those medicines.

References:

1. Escot N. Fenugreek. ATOMS 1994/5;Summer:7–12.

2. Sauvaire Y, Ribes G, Baccou JC, Loubatieres-Mariani MM. Implication of steroid saponins and sapogenins in the hypocholesterolemic effect of fenugreek. Lipids 1991;26:191–7.

3. Ribes G, Sauvaire Y, Da Costa C, et al. Antidiabetic effects of subfractions from fenugreek seeds in diabetic dogs. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1986;182:159–66.

4. Bordia A, Verma SK, Srivastava KC. Effect of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc) and fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L) on blood lipids, blood sugar, and platelet aggregation in patients with coronary artery disease. Prostagland Leukotrienes Essential Fatty Acids 1997;56:379–84.

5. Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Rao NS. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr 1990;44:301–6.

6. Madar Z, Abel R, Samish S, Arad J. Glucose-lowering effect of fenugreek in non-insulin dependent diabetics. Eur J Clin Nutr 1988;42:51–4.

7. Raghuram TC, Sharma RD, Sivakumar B, Sahay BK. Effect of fenugreek seeds on intravenous glucose disposition in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Phytother Res 1994;8:83–6.

8. Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Dayasagar Rao V. Hypolipidaemic effect of fenugreek seeds. A clinical study. Phytother Res 1991;5:145–7.

9. Prasanna M. Hypolipidemic effect of fenugreek: A clinical study. Indian J Phramcol 2000;32:34–6.

10. Sharma RD, Sarkar DK, Hazra B, et al. Hypolipidaemic effect of fenugreek seeds: A chronic study in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Phytother Res 1996;10:332–4.

11. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 130.

12. Brinker F. Herb Contradictions and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998, 70–1.

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