Fenugreek is a plant that grows in parts of Europe and western Asia. The leaves are edible, but the small brown seeds are famous for their use in medicine.
The first recorded use of fenugreek was in Egypt, dating back to 1500 B.C. Across the Middle East and South Asia, the seeds were traditionally used as both a spice and a medicine.
You can buy fenugreek as:
- a spice (in whole or powdered form)
- supplement (in concentrated pill and liquid form)
- skin cream
Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking of taking fenugreek as a supplement.
Fenugreek seeds may be helpful to people with diabetes. The seeds contain fiber and other chemicals that may slow digestion and the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and sugar. The seeds may also help improve how the body uses sugar and increases the amount of insulin released.
Few studies support fenugreek as an effective treatment for certain conditions. Many of these studies focus on the seed’s ability to lower blood sugar in people with diabetes.
One study found that a daily dose of 10 grams of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water may help control type 2 diabetes. Another study suggests that eating baked goods, such as bread, made with fenugreek flour may reduce insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.
An additional study showed that taking high doses of fenugreek every day for several weeks causes noticeable improvements in plasma glucose levels. But long-term plasma glucose levels weren’t measured in this study. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that at this point the evidence is weak for fenugreek’s ability to lower blood sugar.
Fenugreek may also have effects on sciatic nerve issues and peripheral neuropathy. This can cause you to lose feeling in your nerves or cause your muscles to feel weak.
Some people report a maple syrup-like smell coming from their armpits after extended use. One study verified these claims by finding that certain chemicals in fenugreek, such as dimethylpyrazine, caused this smell. This smell shouldn’t be confused with the smell caused by maple syrup urine disease (MUSD). This condition produces a smell that contains the same chemicals as the smells of fenugreek and maple syrup.
Fenugreek can also cause allergic reactions. Talk to your doctor about any food allergies you might have before adding fenugreek to your diet. The fiber in fenugreek can also make your body less effective at absorbing medications taken by mouth. Don’t use fenugreek within a few hours of taking these types of medication.
The amounts of fenugreek used in cooking are generally considered safe. When taken in large doses, side effects can include gas and bloating.
Fenugreek can also react with several medications, especially with those that treat blood clotting disorders and diabetes. Talk to your doctor before taking fenugreek if you’re on these types of medication. Your doctor may need to lower your diabetes medication doses to avoid low blood sugar.
Pregnant women should limit fenugreek use to only amounts used in cooking because of its potential to induce labor.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not evaluated or approved fenugreek supplements. The manufacturing process is not regulated, so there may be undiscovered health risks. Also, as with all unregulated supplements, you cannot be sure that the herb and amount listed on the label are what is actually contained in the supplement.
Fenugreek seeds have a bitter, nutty taste. They’re often used in spice blends. Indian recipes use them in curries, pickles, and other sauces. You can also drink fenugreek tea or sprinkle powdered fenugreek over yogurt.
If you’re not sure how to use fenugreek, ask your dietitian to help you add it to your current diabetes meal plan.
There have not been any serious or life-threatening side effects or complications connected with fenugreek. One study even found that fenugreek can actually protect your liver from the effects of toxins. One study also suggests that fenugreek can stop the growth of cancer cells and act as an anticancer herb. Fenugreek can also help alleviate the symptoms of dysmenorrhea. This condition causes severe pain during menstrual cycles.
Along with fenugreek, you have other options for treating your diabetes.
Keeping your blood sugar at normal levels is essential to maintaining a high quality of life with a diagnosis of diabetes. You can help your body maintain healthy blood glucose levels by making lifestyle changes, including:
- sticking to a diet of foods with little processed foods and high amounts of fiber, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
- choosing lean protein sources and healthy fats, and avoiding excessive processed meat, boxed and processed foods, and sweetened beverages
- being active at least half an hour a day, at least five days a week
Taking medications can also help you keep your blood sugar at healthy levels by controlling your body’s creation and/or use of insulin. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about medications used to treat diabetes.
Talk to your doctor about which activities and treatments will work best for you before attempting to make any changes to your diet, lifestyle, or medications.