The Many Benefits of Fenugreek Seeds
Dietary supplements are a booming industry: currently valued at more than 132 billion USD, the supplement industry isn’t likely to diminish in popularity anytime soon. While many dietary supplements are sold in blends and individual micronutrient capsules, some dietary supplements are a little more earthy in nature.
Fenugreek seeds are a component of the Fenugreek plant. Native to the Middle East, India, and Asia, fenugreek seeds have been used medicinally for centuries. The plant can also be made into Fenugreek oil, and Fenugreek powder. However, just because a natural remedy has been used throughout history doesn’t mean it’s an effective or safe treatment. So what exactly are fenugreek seeds used for, and do they work?
Fenugreek Seed Use in Traditional Medicine
The seed component of the fenugreek plant, fenugreek seeds are used both medicinally and in culinary applications. A component of the popular Indian spice blend called garam masala, fenugreek seeds are also used in the production of imitation maple syrup and in condiments.
Fenugreek extract is also used regularly in soap, beauty, and cosmetic modalities. You can also make Fenugreek tea and Fenugreek seed powder. Historically, fenugreek seeds, sometimes refer to as methi seeds, have been used in an effort to treat a variety of health conditions, with some applications more successful than others.
Today, methi seeds are commonly used in dietary supplements as an adjunct treatment for diabetes or as a milk stimulant for breastfeeding women. Occasionally, fenugreek seeds are used topically as a treatment for wounds or certain skin conditions, including eczema.
Fenugreek Seeds Health Benefits
While research is ongoing in the world of supplements and adjunct therapies, a number of studies have suggested the possible health benefits that fenugreek seeds could be a useful therapy in conjunction with other treatments and/or medications.
Male Sexual Health
A small number of research studies have supported the use of fenugreek seeds as an adjunct therapy for varying areas of male reproductive health, including sperm count, erectile dysfunction, and low libido. Preliminary research has suggested that fenugreek supplements may aid in elevating low sperm count, while other small studies have shown elevations in free testosterone with fenugreek supplementation.
It’s important to note that reductions in sexual performance or libido are a natural component of the aging process. While certain adjunct therapies and supplements may be helpful in some cases, individual causes of sexual dysfunction or low libido are highly variable. Certain supplement therapies (even natural therapies) can be harmful or interact with other supplements or medications in a potentially dangerous manner.
Even in the absence of drug interactions, many natural therapies or herbal supplements may be dangerous or ineffective in treating sexual dysfunction, so always check with your individual care provider before self-prescribing.
Improves exercise performance
Studies of fenugreek supplementation and exercise performance are limited in number and the results are mixed. In a study of healthy young men, fenugreek seed supplementation did not show increases in strength or performance, reductions in body fat, or increase in testosterone. However, a similar study of healthy young men showed an increase in leg press and bench press performance.
Another small study of men showed improvements of men in resistance training; supplementation showed a greater effect in upper and lower body strength when compared to ingestion of a placebo. Other studies have shown that fenugreek may be used effectively as an adjunct to other strength-enhancing supplements, such as creatine, to enhance upper body strength and increase creatine absorption and utilization.
Remember that dietary supplements- including fenugreek- may interfere with other medications or dietary supplements. Always check with your personal physician before adding fenugreek seeds to your current exercise program or nutrition regime.
Fenugreek Seeds for Hair Health
Hair thinning and hair loss are common albeit bothersome conditions with few effective treatments. A small number of studies have suggested that fenugreek supplementation may help improve markers of hair loss or thinning or aid in the production of new hair.
Aids Digestive Problems
Digestive problems may present in a variety of ways, including (but not limited to) diarrhea, pain upon exertion, constipation, digestive pain, gas, nausea, or bowel irregularity. In recent years, the gut microbiome has become a key point of digestive health research.
The gut microbiome refers to the community of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract. The balance of good and bad bacteria varies dependent upon lifestyle factors, including diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, environmental toxicity, and antibiotic use. Oftentimes, a disrupted microbiome- in which the community of harmful microorganisms outnumbers the community of beneficial microorganisms- is the cause of digestive abnormalities.
A number of rodent studies have shown that fenugreek seed supplementation may modulate the gut microbiome in a way that prevents various diseases. Specifically, rodents undergoing supplementation with fenugreek seed showed improvements in markers of gastric motility, gastric emptying, and the action of various digestive enzymes.
While fenugreek has been used anecdotally in the treatment of various gastrointestinal conditions, including ulcerative colitis, fenugreek supplementation is not known to have any beneficial effect in the treatment of ulcerative colitis or other gastrointestinal conditions, diseases, or syndromes. However, a number of small studies have suggested that the fiber content of fenugreek seeds may aid in reducing symptoms of constipation.
High cholesterol increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and various forms of dementia. Studies on the efficacy of fenugreek seeds and cholesterol are mixed: some studies have shown that fenugreek may reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol to a small degree. However, the ability of fenugreek seeds to boost “good” HDL cholesterol or aid in triglyceride reduction is null.
Improves brain health
In rodent studies, supplementation with fenugreek seed powder has shown to elicit neuroprotective effects against the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. Other rodent models have suggested that fenugreek seed supplementation may reduce the plaque formation that serves as a trademark for Alzheimer’s disease.
Research reviews of fenugreek seed supplementation and markers of neurological health have suggested that fenugreek may be beneficial as an adjunct treatment in various neurological conditions, eliciting antidepressive and neuroprotective effects, as well as cognitive modulation in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
While these studies are experimental in design and feature rodent models, research will likely continue to evolve in this area in an effort to determine the effect of fenugreek consumption on dementia markers in the human brain.
Reduces blood sugar
In individuals with Diabetes, blood glucose levels management is crucial. While lifestyle modifications focusing on diet and exercise are crucial for disease management, blood sugar lowering medications and adjunct therapies are also commonly employed in an effort to reduce or otherwise control blood sugar.
While research is ongoing and each case of diabetes is very individual, research has suggested that- when consumed with a meal- fenugreek seeds may lower postprandial blood sugar. However, dosing appears to be very individual, with some individuals showing little to no improvement with doses of 2.5g or less. It’s important to always check with your individual care provider before self-dosing any medication or supplement.
Contain Antioxidant Properties
Like many plant-based foods, fenugreek seeds appear to elicit antioxidant properties. In rodent models, the antioxidant properties of fenugreek seeds have shown to reduce c-reactive protein and other markers of arthritic joint pain. In vitro studies have also echoed the notion that fenugreek seeds protect the various cellular structure from the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
In studies of obese rodents, fenugreek seed supplementation showed to be effective in reducing the cellular inflammation associated with high levels of adipose tissue and a high-fat diet. Some studies have suggested that the flavonoid and polyphenol content of germinated fenugreek seeds are responsible for the anti-inflammatory nature of fenugreek seed supplements.
What Are Fenugreek Seeds’ Healthy Compounds?
Given the antioxidant properties of fenugreek seeds, it’s useful to examine the compounds responsible for an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action. These compounds include flavonoids, polyphenols, trigonelline, saponin, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Research on trigonelline is still in its infancy. However, some benefits of this plan hormone have been suggested in a clinical study, including the prevention of diseases of the central nervous system and diabetes. In rodent studies, trigonelline has been shown to elicit antioxidant properties, reducing inflammation and reducing memory deficits and learning impairments in rats with cognitive decline.
Saponins, phytochemicals present in many plant-based foods (including fenugreek) are fairly new in the scientific literature. Thus far, little is known about their efficacy or use in human health. However, a number of studies have shown that saponins elicit anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the release of inflammatory molecules known as cytokines. Other studies have shown that saponins may have a beneficial impact on cholesterol.
Nutritional analysis of germinated fenugreek seeds has shown antioxidant compounds, including flavonoids and polyphenols. Flavonoids and polyphenols are powerful antioxidants found in a variety of plant-based food that has been shown to enhance markers of cardiovascular health. A number of studies have shown that foods high in flavonoid content may reduce symptoms of erectile dysfunction or reduce the risk for Parkinson’s disease. Polyphenols have also shown a beneficial impact on cognitive function throughout the aging process, reductions in heart disease risk and mortality, and reductions in cellular inflammation.
Dietary fat exists in three forms: saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans fat. Saturated fat and trans fat have a detrimental effect on cardiovascular health, increasing “bad” LDL cholesterol. Mono and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, have a beneficial effect on heart health, acting to reduce LDL cholesterol when used as a substitute for saturated and/or trans fats. Unsaturated fats have also been shown to reduce inflammation, improve heart rhythm, and lower blood pressure when consumed in the context of a healthy, balanced diet.
How To Use Fenugreek Seeds Supplements
Fenugreek leaves and seeds have been used in culinary and medicinal applications for centuries. Fenugreek is a component of many exotic spice blends, including the popular Indian spice blend Garam Masala. In India, fenugreek leaves are also commonly eaten as a vegetable. The flavor of fenugreek seeds is often compared to maple or maple syrup. Leaves can be used fresh in stir-fries, curries, and salads, while dried leaves and seeds can be used in these applications as well as soups, roasted meats, and baked goods.
Culinary applications aside, fenugreek supplements are available as dietary supplements. While dietary supplements are available for purchase at a variety of retailers, it’s important to remember that dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), leaving the potential for issues of contamination, lack of potency, toxicity, or errors in labeling.
Always take care when purchasing dietary supplements, and never self-prescribe or self-dose, as dietary supplements can and do interact with other medications and dietary supplements in a potentially dangerous manner.
The Recommended Dosage of Fenugreek Seeds
The dosing for fenugreek supplements will vary widely depending upon the weight, age, specific ailment, and other medications or dietary supplements currently being consumed. Given the individuality of supplement dosage, it’s a good idea to speak to your medical provider before self-dosing. However, daily doses of 5-50g fenugreek seed have been used as an adjunct to diabetic therapies, as have doses of 1g/day fenugreek seed extract.
Where To Buy Fenugreek Seeds
Fenugreek seed supplements can be purchased at both in-store and online retailers, pharmacies, and specialized supplement stores. Fenugreek seeds and leaves, while not common to standard grocery stores, can be purchased at some specialty grocery stores and natural markets, as well as online retailers.
Fenugreek Seeds Side Effects
As is the case for any dietary supplement, fenugreek seeds and supplements may interact with other medications and dietary supplements. Always check with your medical provider before self-prescribing or self-dosing. Fenugreek seeds have been shown to cause diarrhea, GI upset, bloating gas, strange smelling urine, coughing and/or wheezing, nasal congestion, and potentially severe allergic reactions or low blood sugar.
Fenugreek Seeds: Where To Go From Here
While research on the health effects of fenugreek seeds is ongoing, studies have suggested that fenugreek seed supplementation may hold promise in the areas of diabetes management and the management of neurological disorders.
Fenugreek seeds hold many uses in the culinary application with very low risk to consumers, whereas supplements should be taken with a higher degree of caution. If you are interested in fenugreek supplements, always speak to a healthcare provider to determine your specific requirements for dosing, and always purchase from a reputable supplement provider.