Natural health benefits of fenugreek (check the evidence rating *)
*** Good evidence of a health benefit
** Some evidence of a health benefit
* Traditionally used with only anecdotal evidence
Fenugreek has been used as a food, spice and medicine since ancient times. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used it for kidney problems and conditions of the male reproductive tract.
Medicinally it has also been used for the treatment of wounds, abscesses, arthritis, bronchitis and digestive problems such as constipation. Fenugreek is commonly eaten in many parts of the world.
It has in recent times been found to be effective in treatment of diabetes and high cholesterol.
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.
It contains steroidal saponins (diosgenin, yamogenin, tigogenin and neotigogenin) that are thought to inhibit cholesterol absorption and synthesis. Fenugreek also contains a mucilaginous fibre that helps lower blood sugar levels by slowing digestion of carbohydrates. These two main active constituents are thought to account for many of the beneficial effects of fenugreek.
One human study found that fenugreek helped lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in people with moderate atherosclerosis and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes. Other double-blind trials have shown that fenugreek lowers elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. This has also been found in a controlled clinical trial with diabetic patients with elevated cholesterol. Another benefit is that fenugreek does not lower the good HDL cholesterol levels.
Generally, fenugreek is regarded as extremely safe.
At a high dose of more than 100g of fenugreek seeds daily, nausea and intestinal upset can occur.
Fenugreek does have potential uterine stimulating properties and should not be used during pregnancy as it may increase the risk of miscarriage.
If you are using any medication, always check with your doctor before taking herbal remedies.
Insulin: supportive interaction. People using insulin should talk with their prescribing doctor before using fenugreek. It supports the action of insulin and requires medication adjustment.
In a controlled study of patients with type 1 diabetes, fenugreek (100g per day for ten days) was reported to reduce blood sugar, urinary sugar excretion, serum cholesterol and triglycerides, without any change in insulin medication.
In a controlled study of people with type 2 diabetes, fenugreek (25g per day for 24 weeks) was reported to significantly reduce blood sugar levels.
Warfarin: adverse reaction. There are no specific studies demonstrating interactions with anticoagulants. However, fenugreek does contain coumarin-like substances that may interact with warfarin and may cause bleeding.
Heparin: adverse reaction. Although there are no specific studies demonstrating interactions with anticoagulants, fenugreek does contain coumarin-like substances that may interact with heparin and may cause bleeding.
Ticlopidine: adverse reaction. Although there are no specific studies demonstrating interactions with platelet inhibitors, fenugreek does contain coumarin-like substances that may interact with ticlopidine and may cause bleeding.
Where does fenugreek come from and what parts are used?
Fenugreek is originally from southeastern Europe and western Asia, but today it is grown in many parts of the world, including India, northern Africa and the United States. The seeds of fenugreek are used for medicinal purposes.
How much is usually taken?
Fenugreek has a bitter taste, so de-bitterised seeds or encapsulated seed powder products are most often used.
The German Commission E monograph recommends a daily intake of 6g.
The typical range of intake for diabetes or cholesterol-lowering is 5–30g with each meal or 15–90g all at once with one meal.
As a tincture, 3–4ml of fenugreek can be taken up to three times per day.
(Dr Chase Webber ND, Health24)
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