The Lamen

What Science Says About The Health Benefits of Fenugreek

by | Oct 5, 2022

Fenugreek seeds, also known as “methi”, have been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years. The suggested benefits of fenugreek include improved breast milk production, testosterone, and type-2 diabetes management.

In This Article

What it is  •  Nutritional facts  •  Benefits  •  How to use it  •  Side effects  •  FAQs  •  In a nutshell

Fenugreek is a common ingredient in Indian dishes and a part of traditional medicine since ancient times. This article looks into the potential benefits of fenugreek, its side effects, and how you could use it.

What is fenugreek?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant known for its trifoliate leaves and small white flowers. The plants stand erect at less than 1 meter tall.

The plant bears slender ponds which contain golden-brown seeds. These seeds are what are commonly used as ingredients in cooking and alternative medicine.

Raw fenugreek seeds are bitter in taste and are usually roasted before use. This gives them their characteristic nutty taste. They can be ground into a powder or used whole for a variety of applications.

Fenugreek seeds are used to make extracts or are taken in supplemental form as a part of herbal medicine.

Nutritional facts for fenugreek

1 tablespoon (11.1) grams of fenugreek seeds contain 36 calories and the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 36
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 2.7 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Iron: 21% of the Daily Value (DV Based on a 2,000-calorie diet)
  • Manganese: 7% of DV
  • Magnesium: 5% of DV
  • Copper: 6% of DV

Fenugreek seeds contain several chemical compounds shown to be beneficial for health, including:

  • phenolic acids
  • mucilage
  • 4-hydroxy isoleucine
  • diosgenin

A variety of plant compounds present in fenugreek seeds are responsible for its wide variety of health benefits.

Health Benefits of Fenugreek

Boosts testosterone in men

Testosterone is a vital hormone for men (and women), being essential for a variety of functions including:

  • sperm production
  • promoting muscle mass
  • bone mass
  • sex drive
  • fat distribution
  • red blood cell production

Testosterone levels are at their highest during adolescence and in their 20s. As men age, however, their testosterone levels may decline by about 1 percent every year after 30.

These low levels of testosterone are accompanied by:

  • reduced strength and muscle mass
  • decreased bone density
  • erectile dysfunction (ED)
  • low libido
  • infertility

Fenugreek is a widely consumed supplement for boosting testosterone in men. These qualities are attributed to the compounds called furostanolic saponins, which are believed to increase testosterone production.

A randomized control trial supplemented healthy males with fenugreek seeds during an 8-week resistance training program with a 4-day per week training (1).

Half of the subjects were given a 300 mg fenugreek capsule twice per day. Compared to the placebo group, the fenugreek group showed multiple positive outcomes, including:

  • increased testosterone levels
  • reduction in body fat
  • increased muscle strength

Another study tested a patented fenugreek seed extract in 50 males between the ages of 35 and 65 over a period of 12 weeks (2).

The men were given 500 mg of the extract every day over a period of 12 weeks. The study showed that 85 percent of the subjects showed improved sperm counts. The free testosterone levels were improved by up to 46 percent in 90 percent of the subjects.

A similar clinical study evaluated the effects of a fenugreek extract on male libido. 60 healthy adult males were given 600 mg of the extract every day for six weeks (3).

The administration showed a significant increase in sexual arousal. The subjects also reported secondary benefits of improved muscle strength, energy, and well-being without any ill effects on mood or sleep.

While these studies show positive effects without any clinical side effects, the subject is still not researched enough. While there is no conclusive evidence of fenugreek boosting testosterone, being a relatively safe supplement makes it easier to add to your routine.

Diabetes and cholesterol management

Fenugreek could help prevent diabetes as well as reduce the risk of developing diabetes in people with prediabetes.

A study gave 5 grams of fenugreek powder to a control group with prediabetes twice a day before meals and observed the progression of type-2 diabetes every three months over 3 years (4).

The subjects showed a significant reduction in fasting plasma glucose, along with an increase in serum insulin. This was also accompanied by a decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels.

Compared to the fenugreek group, the controlled group had an over 4 times higher chance of developing diabetes.

Another small study randomly supplemented young male adults with fenugreek. The subjects showed a 13.4 percent reduction in blood sugar levels 4 hours after intake (5).

Research over the past few decades indicates that fenugreek is a potential natural antidiabetic as it improves glucose tolerance in humans. Animal models suggest that fenugreek seeds improve glucose homeostasis by delaying digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, as well as by enhancing insulin action.

It has a similar action on blood lipids and cholesterol. A study gave fenugreek to patients with coronary artery disease twice a day for 3 months (6).

After this period, the patients showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides without affecting the high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol levels.

Improves breast milk production

Breast milk is the ideal source of nutrition for babies. During the first days after birth, breasts produce a thick, yellowish fluid called colostrum. This is a nutrient-dense, antibody, and antioxidant-rich food source for the baby, essential in developing a strong immune system.

Some mothers struggle with milk production. While you should discuss any concerns with a certified medical professional, fenugreek can be a natural alternative to boost breastmilk production.

Research suggests that fenugreek stimulates the expression of genes involved in milk synthesis. Lab tests showed that fenugreek extended the duration of peak milk synthesis and increased milk ejection by oxytocin secretion (7).

This makes the milk already in the breast for the current feed flow, helping the baby get the milk more easily.

A study evaluated the effects of fenugreek herbal tea on breast milk production and weight gain in infants in the early postnatal period (8). 66 infant-mother pairs were assigned into one of three groups:

  • mothers in group 1 received herbal tea containing fenugreek every day
  • group 2 was a placebo group
  • the mothers in group 3 were assigned the control group

The results showed that mothers who received the tea produced more breast milk than the other two groups. Additionally, the infants in group 1 also regained their birth weight earlier than those in the other groups.

Could help treat menstrual cramps

Why this claim lacks substantial evidence, anecdotes suggest that fenugreek seeds can be used to treat menstrual cramps.

A randomized control trial assigned females into a place group and a group that received fenugreek (9). The fenugreek group received 900 mg of fenugreek seed powder three times every day for two consecutive menstrual cycles.

It was observed that the fenugreek group experienced a larger pain reduction along with a decreased duration of pain.

Weight loss and appetite control

Fenugreek has gained the reputation of being a potential aid for fat loss.

Besides research suggesting that it could act as a potential performance enhancer and blood sugar modulator, some studies also claim that fenugreek can act as an appetite suppressant.

A study involved giving 12 healthy male volunteers two different doses of fenugreek seed extract at random (10). They were given this extract for three 14-day periods separated by a 14-day washout period.

The results showed that the group receiving the higher dose of fenugreek seed extract (1176 mg) saw a significant decrease in daily fat consumption, leading to a lower total energy intake with no significant effect on other nutrients.

Another study involved giving 18 healthy obese people a randomized dose of isolated fenugreek fiber:

  • 0 grams
  • 4 grams
  • 8 grams

The group receiving the highest dose significantly increased the satiety and fullness rating and reported reduced hunger. The research suggested that it had short-term beneficial effects, like increasing satiety and reduced energy intake (11).

Improves skin health

Fenugreek extract contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds but has not been well-researched for skin aging and health.

Research claims that the collagenase inhibitory activity of fenugreek extract is 2.6 times more potent than that of vitamin C (12).

In vitro study of fenugreek for skin health showed the following results:

  • protection from ultraviolet rays
  • oxidative damage protection
  • anti-collagenase activity
  • inducing collagen production
  • inhibiting collagen degradation

Collagen is a vital component of your skin, responsible for strengthening your skin, and improving skin moisture, elasticity, as well as hydration.

Collagenase is the protein responsible for the degradation of the skin by breaking down collagen. Therefore, agents like vitamin C and fenugreek, which have collagenase-inhibiting activity can be beneficial for maintaining healthy skin and reducing skin aging signs.

How to use fenugreek?

There is no single recommended dose for fenugreek, as the dosage may vary depending on your needs.

For appetite and blood sugar control, research indicates that taking fenugreek supplements before meals gets the best results. You can take these supplements 2 to 3 times a day in a safe dosage.

For a testosterone-boosting effect, researchers use different doses of fenugreek. Many readily available supplements have different formulations, so it is best to follow the dosage on their labels.

For breastmilk production, a fenugreek tea preparation provides a beneficial effect. Supplementation is likely to provide similar benefits. Here’s how you can prepare your own fenugreek tea:

  • Ground 1 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds into a powder.
  • Boil 1 cup of water.
  • Add 2 grams of fenugreek powder and 1 teaspoon of honey to the water.
  • Cover and let the ingredients steep for 2-3 minutes.
  • Sieve the liquid before consumption.

For direct skin application, it is best to first apply the fenugreek to a small part of your arm or inner elbow. If you experience any skin reactions like redness or bumps, you should avoid using them on your skin.

Here’s how you can prepare fenugreek for skin application:

  • Soak fenugreek seeds in water for a few hours.
  • Crush the seeds to form a paste.
  • Apply as a facial mask and rinse after some time.

Fenugreek has been part of Indian cuisine since ancient times and is safe to consume as part of meals as a spice.

Side effects

Fenugreek has been long used as an ingredient in foods and is considered safe in normal amounts.

However, it can cause the following side effects at larger doses:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • gas and abdominal bloating

Due to its blood sugar-lowering effects, fenugreek should be avoided or taken with caution with diabetes medication or other blood sugar-lowering supplements.

Some people have also reported allergic reactions to fenugreek. If you experience rashes, abdominal pain, or swelling of the tongue or neck, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

Fenugreek has also been linked to an increased risk of birth defects in both animals and people. It is therefore considered unsafe during pregnancy in large doses.

Frequently asked questions

Are there any benefits of taking fenugreek when breastfeeding?

Many families in the United States do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to. An estimated 45 percent of infants don’t receive any breast milk after 6 months. 

Studies show that fenugreek can stimulate breast milk production, allowing the baby to get the milk more easily.

How much fenugreek can I take per day?

The exact dosage of fenugreek depends on the supplement you’re taking and your intended usage. To increase breast milk production, you typically take a 610 mg capsule three times a day.

How much fenugreek should I take for diabetes?

Studies involving people with type 2 diabetes use varying amounts of fenugreek. It is typically recommended that you start with 500 milligrams to a gram of fenugreek twice a day.

In a nutshell

Fenugreek has been a staple of alternative medicine. Current evidence suggests that it is one of the best natural supplements to lower blood sugar levels and increase milk production in breastfeeding mothers.

Despite claiming a wide variety of health benefits, fenugreek has not been widely researched. It is, therefore, best to consult with a medical practitioner before using it as a supplement.