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. Scientists are not certain how this effect happens, but propose 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. Fenugreek has anticancer properties but human studies are needed.
Fenugreek acts as an estrogenic receptor modulator and was shown to stimulate breast cancer cells in vitro. Patients with hormonal-sensitive cancers should avoid this product.
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 few clinical trials 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
No clinical trials have studied this use, but fenugreek seeds do contain high levels of fiber.
To treat disorders of the digestive tract
No scientific evidence supports this use. Fenugreek seeds contain high levels of fiber.
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
No scientific evidence supports this use.
As a lactation stimulant
Although fenugreek is often used to stimulate lactation in folk medicine, there are no data to back this claim.
For wound healing
Fenugreek shows antibacterial properties in laboratory experiments, but there is no scientific evidence supports this use.
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, wheezing, numbness of head, facial angioedema 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.
Fenugreek is derived from the dried seeds of the plant and is used in ayurvedic medicine as a demulcent, laxative, and as a lactation stimulant. 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).
Fenugreek also 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). Hypoglycemic activity is also attributed to the trigonelline, nicotinic acid, and coumarin fractions. 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 involving 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).
In MCF-7 estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cells, fenugreek extract induced cell cycle arrest as well as apoptosis (9).
Fenugreek acts as an estrogen receptor modulator and was shown to stimulate breast cancer cells in vitro (26). Patients with hormonal-sensitive cancers should avoid this product.
Allergic reactions including rhinorrhea, wheezing, numbness of head, facial angioedema and fainting were reported following inhalation and external application of fenugreek seed powder (31).
Fenugreek seed extract caused developmental abnormalities in mice (27), but this has not been shown in humans.
Warfarin: Fenugreek may potentiate the effects of warfarin (28)(29).
Cyclophosphamide: Fenugreek may interfere with the cytotoxic effects of cyclophosphamide (25).
Theophylline: Fenugreek altered the bioavailability in an animal model (32).