- Bird's foot
- Greek hayseed
- hu lu ba
For Patients & Caregivers
How It Works
Fenugreek may lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels in people with diabetes.
Much research on fenugreek has been conducted in India and other countries, focusing on its potential for the treatment of diabetes. In healthy and diabetic animals and humans, fenugreek lowers cholesterol, blood triglyceride levels, and blood glucose levels. It is believed that the fiber in fenugreek binds to glucose and cholesterol in the digestive tract and prevents it from being absorbed by the body, or increases insulin secretion. Laboratory studies in rats show that fenugreek normalizes their blood levels of antioxidants and metabolic enzymes, but it is unclear whether this effect occurs in humans. It may also help relieve menopausal and postmenopausal symptoms.
Fenugreek also has anticancer properties but human studies are needed. It was shown to act as an estrogen receptor modulator and was shown to stimulate breast cancer cells, in vitro. Patients with hormonal-sensitive cancers should consult their physician before using fenugreek.
- To treat cancer Laboratory and animal studies show that fenugreek has anticancer properties. Human studies are needed.
- To treat diabetes Several animal studies and a small clinical studies show that fenugreek can lower blood glucose levels when taken with meals. However, more research is needed to support its use as a replacement for diabetes medications.
- As a laxative Although fenugreek seeds contain high levels of fiber, clinical data are lacking.
- To treat disorders of the digestive tract Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
- To lower high cholesterol Several animal studies and a few clinical trials support this use.
- To induce childbirth Although laboratory studies show that fenugreek stimulates contraction of the uterus, human data are lacking.
- To fight infections Fenugreek shows antibacterial properties in laboratory experiments, but it has not been studied in humans.
- To reduce inflammation Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
- As a lactation stimulant Although fenugreek is often used to stimulate lactation in folk medicine, evidence is lacking to support this claim
- For wound healing Evidence is lacking to support this claim.
Do Not Take If
- You are taking warfarin (fenugreek can increase the risk of bleeding).
- You are taking cyclophosphamide (fenugreek may interfere with the actions of cyclophosphamide).
- You have hormone-sensitive cancer (fenugreek acts as an estrogenic receptor modulator and was shown to increase growth of breast cancer cells in vitro).
- Allergic reactions including rhinorrhea (runny nose), wheezing, numbness of head, facial angioedema (area of swelling under the facial skin) and fainting were reported following inhalation and external application of fenugreek seed powder.
- Fenugreek seed extract caused developmental abnormalities in mice, but this has not been shown in humans.
- Excessive use of fenugreek milk porridge was reported to cause severe coagulation failure in a patient with compensation cirrhosis (heavily scarred, but functional liver).
- A fenugreek seed extract was found to improve insulin secretion and decrease glucose level, but impaired the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT) that regulates metabolism, in diabetic rats. Clinical relevance is not known.
For Healthcare Professionals
Fenugreek is derived from the dried seeds of the plant and is used in ayurvedic medicine as a demulcent, laxative, and as a galactagogue. It is also used as a dietary supplement to treat various conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, wounds, inflammation, and gastrointestinal complaints. In vitro and animal studies indicate that fenugreek has hypocholesterolemic (1), hypolipidemic (2) (23), hypoglycemic (3), antimicrobial (20), hepatoprotective (5) (6) effects, and may be effective in reducing peripheral neuropathy (30).
Small studies suggest benefits of fenugreek against mild asthma (33), for alleviating menopausal (34) and postmenopausal (35) symptoms; and against polycystic ovary syndrome (42). It was also reported to improve glycemic control and to decrease insulin resistance in mild type-2 diabetic patients (36), but well-designed studies are needed to confirm these observations (37).
In other studies, fenugreek demonstrated chemopreventive properties against certain cancers (7) (8) (9) (24), and reduced the toxicity associated with buthionine sulfoximine and cyclophosphamide in mice (25). Human studies have not yet been conducted. Fenugreek acts as an estrogen receptor modulator and stimulates breast cancer cells in vitro (26). But evidence of its potential to stimulate lactation is limited.
Mechanism of Action
The hypoglycemic activity of fenugreek may be associated with the galactomannan fiber and saponin components that reduce gastrointestinal glucose and cholesterol absorption, and increase bile acid excretion (14); computational analyses also revealed galactomannan as a potential drug candidate against type-2 diabetes and breast cancer (38). 4-Hydroxyisoleucine, an amino acid constituent of fenugreek, potentiates insulin secretion in non-insulin-dependent diabetic (NIDD) rats when administered intraperitoneally (15). In addition to lower fasting and postprandial glucose levels, fenugreek-treated diabetic rats have higher hemoglobin, GSH, and plasma antioxidant levels and lower glycosylated hemoglobin, plasma lipids, and TBARS levels than diabetic controls (4). Dietary fenugreek also normalizes the activities of glucose and lipid-metabolizing enzymes in diabetic rats (3). Studies using healthy mice and rats indicate that dietary fenugreek is associated with increased serum T4, liver GSH, glyoxalase I, and GST activities, and decreased T3 levels and T3/T4 ratio (17) (18) (19). Fenugreek intake in humans was associated with an increase in molar insulin binding sites of erythrocytes, which may enhance glucose utilization (16).
Fenugreek has been studied for its anticancer potential. In MCF-7 estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cells, a fenugreek extract induced cell cycle arrest as well as apoptosis (9). Dioscin, a steroidal saponin isolated from fenugreek, was shown to suppress cell viability of ovarian cancer cells by regulating the vascular endothelial growth factor receptor (VEGFR)2, phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), phosphorylated AKT and phosphorylated p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways (39).
Fenugreek acts as an estrogen receptor modulator and was shown to stimulate breast cancer cells in vitro (26). Patients with hormonal-sensitive cancers should consult their physicians before using fenugreek.
- Allergic reactions including rhinorrhea, wheezing, numbness of head, facial angioedema and fainting were reported following inhalation and external application of fenugreek seed powder (31).
- Excessive use of fenugreek milk porridge was reported to cause severe coagulation failure in a patient with compensation cirrhosis (40).
- Fenugreek seed extract caused developmental abnormalities in mice (27), but this has not been shown in humans.
- A fenugreek seed extract was found to improve insulin secretion and decrease glucose level, but impaired the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT), in diabetic rats. Clinical relevance is not known (41).