Fenugreek is an ancient medicinal plant. It’s indigenous to North Africa and India, but it’s now cultivated worldwide for food and supplemental uses.
The plant has been historically used for treating a variety of health ailments. But now fenugreek is typically used in the food market. It’s most commonly used as a flavor in maple syrup. The spice itself may be used in cooking. Fenugreek extracts are also found in cosmetics, supplements, and teas.
Historical uses of the plant have prompted people to investigate fenugreek’s healing effects. The problem is that it can cause side effects, especially if you’re taking other medications.
Food and beauty products may contain small traces of fenugreek. The seeds of this plant are where many of the benefits come from. The seeds contain the following components:
- phenolic acid
Research is ongoing about the possible benefits of fenugreek seeds. The evidence supporting their efficacy is mixed.
Type 2 diabetes
Fenugreek is sometimes used as an alternative treatment for type 2 diabetes. But the evidence is conflicting. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) says evidence from the small studies that looked at these connections are weak. But new research is promising. A 2017 study found fenugreek seed extract is safe and effective for reducing fasting blood sugar levels, and people with type 2 diabetes needed less medication.
Fenugreek has been used in skin dressing to help heal wounds. Some people with eczema may apply extracts directly to rashes as a nonchemical treatment.
Less common uses of fenugreek include:
- conditions characterized by inflammation, such as arthritis
- cancer prevention
- liver disease
- cholesterol treatment
- weight loss
Fenugreek is thought to act on dopamine levels to increase a hormone to help breastfeeding. This may explain its possible role in increasing breast milk in women who are breastfeeding. Fenugreek seeds are thought to act as a substance that increases breast milk quantity (galactogogue). One study found that after four weeks breast milk production increased along with babies’ weights and the number of wet diapers when compared with a control group.
Women wanting to take fenugreek for breastfeeding may take oral supplements in doses of 1 to 6 grams once per day. There are also herbal teas that contain fenugreek.
According to the NCCIH, there aren’t enough studies to show a risk for fenugreek.
Some studies have looked at fenugreek and testosterone production in men. However, these studies in men lack scientific support.
In a 2010 study, 49 men were given either 500 milligrams of fenugreek or a placebo. Researchers concluded that there weren’t any significant differences in strengths between the groups. But this amount of fenugreek wasn’t shown to cause any side effects.
While more research is needed on the benefits of fenugreek on health, researchers know more about its side effects. These include:
- asthma symptoms that worsen
- allergic reactions
- maple-syrup smelling sweat, urine, and breast milk
- interactions with blood thinners
- breast growth in men
It’s also important to note that children and infants should not use fenugreek. You also shouldn’t use fenugreek if you:
- have respiratory issues
- are pregnant
- have a high risk for developing hormone-related cancers
- take estrogen treatments
- have undiagnosed or untreated medical conditions
With your doctor’s consent, you may be able to take fenugreek in small amounts. The FDA recognizes fenugreek as generally safe, which means that many people can safely use it without side effects or toxic effects. But side effects are still possible. You should stop using fenugreek right away if you notice any reactions.
It is important to remember that the FDA does not monitor quality, purity, or packaging of herbs or remedies. It’s important to purchase them from a reliable source.
The bottom line
As public interest in alternative medicine grows, so does the availability of supplements like fenugreek. It’s easy to purchase online or in health food stores in capsules and extracts.
If you decide to use fenugreek, check with your doctor first. This can help reduce the chances of fenugreek interacting with other medicines or supplements you’re already taking.