Most of you would scratch your heads if I asked you what fenugreek is and why we use it in medications. Well, in some parts of the world like India, China, and southern Europe, this herb is part and parcel of the life of the people in the form of food ingredient. Fenugreek or methi is an indispensable part of Indian curries and acts as cattle fodder in animal husbandries all over southern Europe. Fenugreek benefits on health and Its medicinal uses were first exploited by ayurvedic and traditional Chinese practitioners to ward off arthritis, menopausal symptoms, and lactation problems.
Today, there is a vast multitude of fenugreek benefits like inhibiting inflammatory reactions in the body, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels, improving digestion, enhancing libido, delaying neurodegeneration, and slowing the spread of cancer.
So, let’s see various fenugreek benefits in details along with its nutritional profile and precautions.
What is fenugreek?
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an annual herb of the pea family (Fabaceae) whose use dates back to the first century AD. Egyptians used it for embalming the dead while the Romans added fenugreek in their wine for taste.
Greeks grew fenugreek for cattle fodder and called it ‘foenum-graecum’ meaning Greek hay. The plant of fenugreek is almost three feet in height and has green leaves and white flowers.
This plant is mostly grown in countries like India, Middle East, North America and Egypt.
Fenugreek plant has seed pods which contain 10 to 20 small and flat seeds. These are fenugreek seeds whose color is yellowish brown. The taste of fenugreek seeds is bitter. However, when cooked, they have good taste and nice aroma.
These seeds have found use in the preparation of medicine, skin cream, cosmetic products, etc. Fenugreek benefits our health by minimizing inflammatory reactions, improving libido, and keeping check on blood sugar and cholesterol level.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses fenugreek extract to relieve menopausal symptoms, digestive problems, and to induce childbirth. It is available as oral tablets, powder, and poultice (to be applied on the skin) forms.
Nutrient status of fenugreek
You can get an idea about the nutrient composition of the fenugreek plant by looking at its various benefits and uses. One tablespoon (11 grams) of fenugreek seeds contains – (22)
- 5 calories
- 4 grams carbohydrates
- 5 gram protein
- 7 gram fat
- 7 grams fibers
- 7 milligrams iron (20% of DV)
- 1 milligrams manganese (7% of DV)
- 1 milligrams copper (6% of DV)
- 21 milligrams magnesium (5% of DV)
- 6 milligrams phosphorus (3 % of DV)
- 1 milligrams vitamin B6 (3% of DV)
- 3 micrograms folate (2% of DV)
1. Minimizes inflammatory reactions within the body
Fenugreek seeds have flavonoids, ethanol extract, and mucilage which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine began the use of fenugreek to treat arthritis and kidney problems along with improving libido in adults and milk production in nursing mothers. (2)
An animal study published in International Immunopharmacology showed that fenugreek reduced edema and cellular infiltration inside joints that were previously inflamed due to injection of an adjuvant.
2. Protects us from inflammation on external application
Fenugreek extract paste or poultice (soft, moist material applied on the skin) relieves inflammation in the skin and subcutaneous regions.
Regular application of fenugreek extract can treat various skin conditions like wounds, ulcers, dandruff, and eczema.
This poultice can be used in sciatic, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, and gout by applying it to the affected area and allowing it to seep in. (4)
However, before applying fenugreek paste on an eroded area, make sure it doesn’t increase the burning and pain in that area.
3. Lowers blood cholesterol levels
Fenugreek benefits health by keeping a check on blood cholesterol levels. It effectively reduces the blood levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.
Thus, prevents various age-related conditions like hardening of the arteries, weakened heart, and diminished circulation.
A clinical study involving patients of coronary artery disease and diabetes mellitus showed that regular fenugreek and ginger intake for three months had beneficial effects on blood lipids, blood sugar, and platelet aggregation. (5)
A 2011 study published in the International Journal of Experimental Pathology revealed that fenugreek reduced blood cholesterol and lipid levels in laboratory animals that were previously fed a high-fat diet.
This significantly reduced the risk of getting cholesterol stones in their gallbladder (storage site for bile produced by the liver). (6)
4. Keeps blood sugar at baseline values
Fenugreek benefits in keeping blood sugar level to baseline values. It may soon be used as an adjuvant in the therapy for type 2 diabetes mellitus.
According to a study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, fenugreek seeds soaked in warm water showed significant improvement in the blood glucose levels of diabetic patients as compared to the group who took fenugreek seeds with yogurt. (7)
So, your dilemma of finding an effective herbal sugar-lowering agent is solved with fenugreek seeds coming to your rescue.
5. Improves digestion and gut motility
Fenugreek benefits are quite popular when it comes to better digestion and gut mobility. It has large amounts of water-soluble fibers which make it an ideal therapeutic agent for relieving constipation.
Fibers not only increase gut motility and the bulk of feces, but they also produce early satiety which leads to lower food intake and weight loss. (8)
Inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease cause bloody diarrhea with a lot of mucus secretion, and if they persist for a long time, they may have dangerous consequences.
Research in some Eastern Asian countries reveals that use of herbal medicines like fenugreek, slippery elm, Devil’s claw, tormentil, and Mexican yam reduce the damage caused by inflammatory intermediates and also soothe the gut wall. (9)
6. Increases libido in males
Fenugreek seed supplementation can minimize various problems which are arising in men due to aging like diminished libido, erectile dysfunction, etc. Fenugreek extract not only increases testosterone levels in the blood but also elevates sexual desire and arousal in males.
A research article published in Phytotherapy Research studied that when 60 males in the age group 25-52 were given either fenugreek seed extract or placebo, the group supplemented with fenugreek extract showed enhanced sexual arousal and improved blood testosterone levels. (10)
If you are thinking of rekindling that long-lost love by taking fenugreek extract, it will be wise to consult your physician to make sure you don’t have any underlying problem that needs to be fixed.
7. Increases milk production in lactating women
Some nursing mothers face the problem of diminished milk production during lactation. Conventional treatment for this dilemma is the administration of galactagogues substances which increase milk production and secretion in the mammary glands.
Various medications like metoclopramide, domperidone, and chlorpromazine are available, and in addition to them, we have herbal supplements like fenugreek, fennel, milk thistle, and asparagus. (11)
Fenugreek modifies hormonal balance in our body which leads to increased milk production in the mammary glands. However, its safety and toxicity profiles in pregnant and nursing mothers haven’t been studied extensively.
So, it’s always better to ask your doctor before going for any herbal medication. (12)
8. Improves exercise tolerance
You may want to add a hint of fenugreek seed powder to your green tea to give you an extra boost of energy before leaving for a morning jog.
Fenugreek modifies your energy expenditure to a great extent by regulating your body’s hormonal, glucose, and cholesterol levels.
A study published in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that when 49 resistance-trained men of similar age and body type were given either fenugreek extract-containing pills or placebo for eight weeks, the group which was supplied with fenugreek showed improved upper and lower body strength and composition. (13)
When fenugreek is given in combination with creatine and dextrose, it facilitates creatine uptake by the body cells while eliminating the need for simple sugars.
This dramatically improves muscular strength, body composition and anaerobic capacity of the muscles. (14)
9. Makes your food tastier
Apart from numerous fenugreek benefits on health, this spice is must for kitchen when it comes to adding extra flavor to dishes. Fenugreek seeds have a slightly bitter taste but when cooked, it enhances the flavor and palatability of your recipes.
Roasted and crushed fenugreek seeds, also known as methi, are a common ingredient in Indian curries. You can use this marvelous spice to modify your dishes both nutritionally and tastewise. (15)
10. Helps in eating disorders
Anorexia nervosa is highly prevalent among the emotionally vulnerable groups like adolescents and young adults.
Chronic malnutrition leads to a variety of hormonal, neurological, and growth problems if proper therapeutic interventions are not available.
A study on Wistar rats published in the Journal of Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior chronic oral administration of fenugreek seed extract increased the motivation to eat and promoted healthy eating habits. (16)
In addition to the conventional treatment of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, certain herbs like fenugreek, milk thistle, and catnip are used to stimulate appetite and promote digestion. (17)
11. Delays degeneration of brain cells
Fenugreek benefits are also seen in Alzheimer disease which is the most common cause of age-related dementia worldwide.
The underlying pathology in this disease is the accumulation of amyloid plaques and tau proteins which alters nerve conduction and deteriorates memory.
- Suggested read: 18 Best Brain Foods to Enhance Memory & Concentration
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Diseases showed that administration of fenugreek seed powder to Alzheimer’s rat models reduced the ongoing tau pathology, oxidative stress, and tissue inflammation. (18)
Fenugreek also has the ability to reverse the biochemical changes and delay memory damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s. (19) However, their use with conventional medicines is still in the distant future due to lack of human trials.
12. Prevents the growth of cancer cells
Diosgenin, a saponin found in fenugreek extracts, effectively inhibits NF-KB and TNF-alpha which in turn prevents cell division and induces cancer cell apoptosis (programmed cell death). (20)
In addition to preventing cancer spread, the anti-inflammatory action of fenugreek seeds helps in preventing the genesis of cancerous cells.
Hence, supplementing your diet with fenugreek seeds, powder, leaves, etc. can protect you from cancers of breast, colon, bone, prostate, and blood (leukemia). (21)
Points to keep in mind while using fenugreek
- Fenugreek can be used as an herb (dried or fresh leaves), spice (powder of crushed seeds of roasted seeds) or a vegetable (sprouts and fresh leaves).
- You may make a ‘methi and ginger tea’ by adding ground fenugreek seeds and grated ginger to a cup of heated water.
- If you wish to get rid of dandruff that won’t budge in spite of using various expensive shampoos, you can massage your scalp with a paste made by soaking fenugreek seeds in water overnight and keep it for thirty minutes.
- You can mix an assortment of spices like fenugreek, turmeric, chili powder, and coriander powder and add them to your curry to make it mouthwatering.
Precautions while consuming fenugreek
- Oral fenugreek supplements can cause some problems like flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea.
- Application of fenugreek paste or poultice on a raw area in the skin may increase irritation and burning, and hence, you must test it before use.
- Although fenugreek’s use in labor induction is known. It can have adverse effects on the mother and the child. Make sure you talk to your health provider before using this herb in any form.
- If you are on blood thinners or anti-coagulants of any kind, you must restrict the intake of fenugreek seeds as they may potentiate the action of these drugs leading to their toxicity. Your warning bells must ring if you suffer from easy bruising, delayed wound healing or blood in vomit/stool.
Points to take home on fenugreek benefits
Fenugreek leaves and seeds are used worldwide for different purposes like cattle fodder, spices, medications, herbs, and cleansing agents. Its anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering activity keeps your heart and cardiovascular system in the pink of health.
Fenugreek benefits in maintaining a balance between your hormones and enhances your sexual desire while also improving milk production in nursing women.
The complications of diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and some cancers can be mellowed down by regular use of fenugreek.
Several fenugreek benefits on health and its uses have increased its popularity tremendously in the last few decades. However, if you’re ingesting fenugreek for the first time, you must be aware of its side effects like bloating, gas, and diarrhea.