Fenugreek is an herb in the same family as soy. People use its fresh and dried seeds, leaves, twigs, and roots as a spice, flavoring agent, and supplement. While more research is necessary, some studies show that fenugreek may have varied health benefits.
Fenugreek may be able to help reduce the risk of:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- heart conditions
- bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
However, using or consuming compounds in fenugreek may cause uterine contractions during pregnancy and worsen hormone-sensitive types of cancer.
Fenugreek may also cause mild gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and bloating.
Fenugreek is one of the oldest medicinally used plants, with roots in both traditional Indian and Chinese systems of medicine.
Fenugreek extracts are ingredients in many common products, including:
- garam masala, a spice blend
- imitation maple syrup products
Fenugreek contains many essential nutrients, and these help make it a strong antioxidant.
Some of these nutrients include:
Currently, there is not enough conclusive evidence to fully support the use of fenugreek for any medical purpose.
However, people have been using fenugreek in varying forms for hundreds or potentially thousands of years to treat a very wide range of conditions, such as:
- digestive problems, including constipation, loss of appetite, and gastritis
- breast milk production and flow
- low testosterone or libido
- painful menstruation
- high blood pressure
- breathing problems
- low exercise performance
- open wounds
- muscle pain
- migraines and headaches
- childbirth pains
Of all the reported health benefits of fenugreek, only a few have been substantially backed by scientific evidence.
Among other benefits, some research suggests that fenugreek may:
Reduce the risk of diabetes
Quite a few studies in animals have shown that at least four compounds in fenugreek have antidiabetic properties. They primarily:
- reduce intestinal glucose absorption
- delay gastric emptying
- improve insulin sensitivity and action
- reduce concentrations of lipid-binding protein
However, the fenugreek did not improve glucose tolerance in the mice who ate a low-fat diet. Also, the authors concluded that 4 days of voluntary exercise on a spinning wheel was ultimately more effective at improving glucose tolerance in all the mice than fenugreek.
Overall, the researchers found fewer benefits from fenugreek than they expected.
Improve milk production and flow
Fenugreek may help stimulate breast milk production and ease the flow. Practitioners of traditional Asian medicine have long recommended fenugreek for this purpose.
In a 2014 study, 25 women who had recently given birth drank three cups of fenugreek tea daily for 2 weeks and saw an increase in milk volume in the first weeks.
Improve weight loss
Fenugreek may suppress the appetite and increase feelings of fullness, which could help reduce overeating and lead to weight loss.
Because of the fiber content, fenugreek fiber extract powders may also lead to a feeling of fullness.
Raise testosterone and boost sperm count
Fenugreek may help increase low testosterone and sperm levels.
The results also indicate that the extract consistently improved mental alertness, mood, and libido.
The substantial levels of antioxidants in fenugreek give it great potential as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Results of a 2012 study in mice suggest that the high antioxidant flavonoid content in fenugreek seeds can reduce inflammation.
Reduce the risk of heart and blood pressure conditions
Fenugreek may help regulate cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of developing heart conditions and improve heart health.
This may be because fenugreek seeds contain roughly 48 percent dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is very hard to digest, and it forms a viscous gel in the intestines that makes it harder to digest sugars and fats.
Fenugreek has long been used for pain relief in traditional systems of medicine.
Researchers think that compounds called alkaloids in the herb help block sensory receptors that allow the brain to perceive pain.
Some common unwanted effects of fenugreek include:
- an upset stomach
- the urine, sweat, or breast milk taking on a maple-like odor
Some people have had allergic reactions to fenugreek, although this is rare.
Pregnant women should avoid using fenugreek because it contains compounds that can stimulate contractions and may cause birth abnormalities.
Fenugreek can also act similarly to estrogen in the body, so it may negatively impact people with hormone-sensitive cancers.
In general, a person with any health issue should avoid fenugreek or use it cautiously. Talk to a doctor before trying it.
Fenugreek does not negatively interact with many drugs, but some of the herb's compounds may perform similar functions as medications, so taking both may not be safe.
Understanding the risks of overdosing on fenugreek will require more research. As with any medicinal food or supplement, it is best to add fenugreek to the diet at a slow, steady rate.
People have used fenugreek for hundreds of years to treat conditions ranging from unstable blood sugar to low testosterone.
While it may have health benefits, fenugreek cannot cure any condition. A doctor should assess all symptoms as soon as possible to prevent complications.
People, particularly those with chronic conditions and lactating women, should speak with a doctor before starting fenugreek supplements or significantly increasing their dietary intake.