Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a clover-shaped herb from the legume family of plants. Fenugreek is native to the Mediterranean, southern Europe, and western Asia. Spices made from the plant’s leaves and seeds have a sweet, slightly bitter maple syrup-like flavor, similar to burnt sugar.
You can buy fenugreek as a spice or supplement at most health food stores. The plant may offer essential health benefits, like helping manage type 2 diabetes and cholesterol. Some evidence suggests that fenugreek may ease painful menstrual cramps and boost breast milk supply.
Read on to find out how fenugreek may benefit you and healthful ways to consume it.
Research on the benefits of fenugreek is limited. Still, a few studies have looked at the possible effects of the plant on human health.
Helps Lower Blood Sugar in People With Diabetes
Fenugreek may help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. A review published in 2016 found that fenugreek significantly decreased fasting blood sugar levels in people with diabetes or prediabetes.
If uncontrolled, high fasting blood sugar can increase the risk of complications for people with type 2 diabetes, such as:
- Diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage
- Hearing and vision loss
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease
The researchers found no reports of liver or kidney toxicity in people who consumed fenugreek. Though, fenugreek supplements can potentially lead to liver toxicity in excess. The main side effect of fenugreek use was digestive discomfort.
May Regulate Cholesterol
Fenugreek might lower cholesterol levels. High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol are significant risk factors for heart disease, the leading cause of death among adults in the United States.
A review published in 2020 found that fenugreek supplements helped significantly reduce total cholesterol levels. The researchers reported that fenugreek lowered LDL and raised HDL cholesterol. The herb was particularly effective for people with diabetes, who are twice as likely to develop heart disease.
The researchers noted that fenugreek might best control risk factors related to heart diseases if paired with medications and lifestyle changes. Still, further research is needed to understand how effectively fenugreek can lower heart disease risk.
Potentially Relieves Menstrual Cramps
Some compounds found in fenugreek may reduce pain, including pain from menstrual cramps.
A study published in 2014 found that, among 101 participants, those who took 900 milligrams of fenugreek seed powder on each of the first three days of their periods reported less pain than the placebo group.
The researchers found that fenugreek supplements reduced other period symptoms, including:
Can Increase Breast Milk Supply
Incorporating fenugreek into your diet may be a quick and easy way to boost breast milk production if your supply is low. People in North Africa, Asia, and southern Europe have traditionally used fenugreek to increase breastmilk supply in lactating women.
Research has found that compared to a placebo, fenugreek significantly increases the amount of breast milk. Other herbal supplements, like palm date, are more effective than fenugreek.
Fenugreek might also cause some side effects in breastfeeding women. A study published in 2018 found that supplementing with fenugreek increased thirst and “maple syrup-like” sweat and urine in some lactating women.
Consult a healthcare provider before taking fenugreek while breastfeeding if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking medication.
Could Raise Testosterone Levels
Some evidence suggests that fenugreek may raise testosterone levels. Low testosterone levels may lead to irritability, poor focus, and high bone fracture risk. As people age, testosterone levels naturally drop. Research has found that the amount of men with testosterone deficiency ranges from 10% to 40%.
A 2017 study funded by Cepham, Inc., an herbal supplement manufacturer, assessed the effects of a fenugreek supplement on men aged 35–65. The researchers found that, after 12 weeks, testosterone levels increased by up to 46% in 45 participants.
The researchers reported that the fenugreek supplement improved other factors, such as:
- Mental alertness
- Sex drive
- Sperm count, which may indicate fertility and illness and death risk
One tablespoon of fenugreek seeds provides the following nutrients:
- Calories: 36
- Fat: 0.7g
- Sodium: 7.4mg
- Carbohydrates: 6.5g
- Fiber: 2.7g
- Added sugars: 0g
- Protein: 2.6g
Despite its potential health benefits, fenugreek is not a great source of essential nutrients. Most recipes call for less than one tablespoon of the herb.
Fenugreek is a good iron source, with about 3.7 milligrams per tablespoon. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen through your body. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that adult women get 18 milligrams of iron daily, while adult men consume eight milligrams.
Try the following if you are cooking with fenugreek:
- Soak the seeds overnight to help them soften.
- Use fenugreek in dishes with long cook times to allow the flavors fully infuse.
- Finish sauces, curries, and vegetables with frozen or dried fenugreek leaves.
- Add fenugreek to warm, hearty dishes, like a vegan red lentil soup.
There is no standardized recommendation for fenugreek formulation or dose. Talk to a healthcare provider before using fenugreek for a therapeutic purpose. They can help figure out how much and for how long it would be best to take fenugreek supplements.
Fenugreek is safe in amounts commonly found in foods, but its safety in larger doses is uncertain. Fenugreek is unsafe for use during pregnancy in any amount greater than what’s found in food. Experts advise against children consuming fenugreek supplements.
Specific allergies can also be a signal to avoid fenugreek, whether in food or as supplements. Research has found that fenugreek may cause complications like chronic asthma in people with peanuts or chickpea allergies.
Potential Drug Interactions
Research has found that fenugreek may interact with drugs, including:
- Blood thinners: These medicines, such as warfarin, help treat and prevent blood clots. Fenugreek may thin the blood, increasing the action of blood thinners.
- Hypoglycemic medicines: People with diabetes may take these medicines, like metformin, which help lower blood sugar. Fenugreek may interact with hypoglycemic drugs and lead to a dramatic decrease in blood sugar. Low blood sugar symptoms may include a rapid heartbeat, shaking, sweating, and anxiety.
- Diuretics: These medicines help remove excess fluid and lower your blood pressure. If taken with diuretics, fenugreek may decrease your potassium level. Potassium deficiency may lead to high blood pressure, a lack of calcium in your bones, and a risk of kidney stones.
- Medicines that treat heart disease: These include beta-blockers, calcium-channel blockers, and cardiac glycosides. Some evidence suggests that fenugreek may enhance the actions of these medicines.
More research is needed to know the full effects of fenugreek on certain drugs. Consult a healthcare provider before consuming fenugreek, on its own or as a supplement, if you take any medications. They may advise taking any medications at least two hours before consuming fenugreek. The plant may interfere with how the body absorbs medications.
What To Look For
Fenugreek is not widely grown in the United States. Instead, the plant is most readily available as a spice or supplement.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate supplements. Make sure that a third party tests any fenugreek supplements you buy.
Can You Take Too Much Fenugreek?
Research has found that limiting your intake to 21 grams of fenugreek daily helps avoid an overdose. Some fenugreek supplements have doses as high as 100 grams, so check the label. Excess amounts of fenugreek may cause complications like low blood sugar and liver toxicity.
Research has found that fenugreek, either alone or with other herbs, may cause side effects like:
- A drop in blood sugar when taken in large amounts
Fenugreek is a traditional seasoning in many cultural cuisines that may offer some key benefits, like managing blood sugar and cholesterol. Consider experimenting with fenugreek seeds and leaves in cooking if you enjoy the unique combination of sweet and bitter flavors.
Talk to a healthcare provider before taking fenugreek supplements. They can help figure out how the plant may affect your health needs.