For millennia, fenugreek has been used both as a medicine and as a food spice in Egypt, India, and the Middle East. It was traditionally recommended for increasing milk production in nursing women and for the treatment of wounds, bronchitis, digestive problems, arthritis, kidney problems, and male reproductive conditions.
What Is Fenugreek Used for Today?
Present interest in fenugreek focuses on its potential benefits for people with diabetes or high cholesterol. Numerous animal studies and preliminary trials in humans have found that fenugreek can reduce blood sugar and serum cholesterol levels in people with diabetes. Like other high-fiber foods, it may also be helpful for constipation.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Fenugreek?
In a 2-month, double-blind study of 25 individuals with type 2 diabetes, use of fenugreek (1 g per day of a standardized extract) significantly improved some measures of blood sugar control and insulin response as compared to placebo.5 Triglyceride levels decreased and HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels increased, presumably due to the enhanced insulin sensitivity.
Similar benefits have been seen in animal studies and open human trials, as well.1,2,3
Because the seeds of fenugreek are somewhat bitter, they are best taken in capsule form. The typical dosage is 5 to 30 g of defatted fenugreek taken 3 times a day with meals. The one double-blind study of fenugreek used 1 g per day of a water/alcohol fenugreek extract.
As a commonly eaten food, fenugreek is generally regarded as safe. The only common side effect is mild gastrointestinal distress when it is taken in high doses.
Animal studies have found fenugreek essentially non-toxic,6 and no serious adverse effects have been seen in 2-year follow-up of human trials.7
However, extracts made from fenugreek have been shown to stimulate uterine contractions in guinea pigs.4 For this reason, pregnant women should not take fenugreek in dosages higher than is commonly used as a spice, perhaps 5 g daily. Besides concerns about pregnant women, safety in young children, nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has also not been established.
Because fenugreek can lower blood sugar levels, it is advisable to seek medical supervision before combining it with diabetes medications.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking diabetes medications, such as insulin or oral hypoglycemic drugs, fenugreek may enhance their effects. This may cause excessively low blood sugar, and you may need to reduce your dose of medication.
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