Fenugreek is used as an herb (dried or fresh leaves), spice (seeds), and vegetable (fresh leaves, sprouts, and microgreens). Sotolon is the chemical responsible for fenugreek's distinctive sweet smell.
They contain alkaloids (mainly trigonelline) and protein high in lysine (Lysine is an essential amino acid needed for growth and to help maintain nitrogen balance in the body.) and L-tryptophan. Its steroidal saponins are thought to inhibit cholesterol absorption and synthesis. Trials have shown that fenugreek lowers elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, but does not lower HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. The typical range of intake for cholesterol-lowering is 5-30 grams with each meal or 15-90 grams all at once with one meal. As a tincture, 3-4 ml of fenugreek can be taken up to three times per day. Due to the potential uterine stimulating properties of fenugreek, which may cause miscarriages, fenugreek should not be used during pregnancy. Cuboid-shaped, yellow-to-amber colored fenugreek seeds are frequently encountered in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, used both whole and powdered in the preparation of pickles, vegetable dishes, daals, and spice mixes such as panch phoron and sambar powder. They are often roasted to reduce bitterness and enhance flavor.
It is recognized as a member of the pea family listed as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Fenugreek is high in iron and selenium and is a rich source of viscous fiber (about 27%) and protein (about 25%). Fenugreek contains generous amounts of choline and vitamin A, as well as biotin, inositol, lecithin, PABA and vitamins B1 , C and D. Fenugreek also supplies a sizeable amount of the amino acids arginine, histidine, leucine and lysine.
1) BLOOD SUGAR
Scientists from the National University of Singapore, McMaster University (Canada), and Harvard University report that medium and high doses (at least 5 grams per day) of fenugreek seed powder were associated with significant reductions in fasting blood glucose levels in diabetics.
"Our systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that fenugreek seeds may contribute to better glycemic control in persons with diabetes mellitus with a similar magnitude of effect as intensive lifestyle or other pharmaceutical treatment added to standard treatment," they wrote in the Nutrition Journal.
"Fenugreek is widely available at low cost and generally accepted in resource poor countries such as India and China where a large proportion of persons with diabetes in the world reside. Therefore, fenugreek may be a promising complementary option for the clinical management of diabetes."
Studies have indicated a potential role of compounds in fenugreek to inhibit enzymatic digestion and the absorption of glucose from the gut, while there is also the potential for an amino acid derivative called 4-hydroxyisoleucine to stimulate glucose-dependent insulin.
"The fenugreek herbal product must be standardized and tested for the composition and can be administered in the form of capsules with a recommended dose of at least 5 g per day.
Results from clinical trials support beneficial effects of fenugreek seeds on glycemic control in persons with diabetes. Fenugreek significantly changes fasting blood glucose.
French scientists have also shown fenugreek stimulates general pancreatic secretion, of use for improving severe diabetes. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed fenugreek lowered blood glucose and serum lipid levels in type I diabetes. An earlier study published in this same journal showed similar results in non-insulin-dependent diabetics. Experiments have shown a reduction in urinary glucose by 54%, along with decreased blood glucose and cholesterol levels when defatted fenugreek seed powder was added to the diets of diabetic participants. Other studies have further confirmed fenugreek's hypoglycemic activity, as well as its hypocholesterolemic ability, due to the high amount of fiber, cellulose and lignin in the defatted portion of the seeds. Fenugreek's rich supply of steroidal saponins, including diosgenin, have also been implicated as responsible for lowering cholesterol.
Fenugreek seeds are galactagogue, meaning they promote lactation. They are often used to increase milk supply in lactating mothers. Studies have shown that it is a potent stimulator of breast milk production and its use was associated with increases in milk production.
When it comes to enhancing lactation, fenugreek is in the same class as milk thistle, anise, fennel seeds, and marshmallow. Usual dose of fenugreek is one to four capsules (580-610 mg) three to four times per day, although as with most herbal remedies there is no standard dosing. The higher of these doses may be required in relactating or adoptive mothers. Alternatively, it can be taken as one cup of strained tea three times per day (1/4 tsp seeds steeped in 8 oz water for 10 minutes).
Fenugreek increases milk supply within 24 to 72 hours. Use during pregnancy is not recommended because of its uterine stimulant effects.
Cancer is the final outcome of a plethora of events. Targeting the proliferation or inducing programmed cell death in a proliferating population is a major standpoint in the cancer therapy and more herbs are being recognized for their potential to effectively stimulate apoptosis as effectively as drugs.
Proliferation of cancer is regulated by several cellular and immunologic processes. Fenugreek inhibits the proliferation by augmenting immune surveillance, silencing acute inflammation, and inducing mediated apoptosis of cancer.
In the journal Integrative Cancer Therapy researchers found that fenugreek along with other medicinal extracts reduced the number, incidence, and multiplicity of tumors, which was confirmed by the pathologic studies that showed regressed tumors.
Results of the study confirmed that fenugreek extract not only limits the rate of proliferation by inhibition of the processes integral to cancer development but also induce programmed cell death of cancer cells leading to fewer and regressed tumors.
Various animal experiments have shown fenugreek inhibits liver cancer cells. In China, fenugreek is employed as a pessary in the treatment of cervical cancer.
4) REDUCE ALUMINUM TOXICTY
In open access, peer-reviewed journal Nutrition Research and Practice, researchers demonstrated that a diet supplemented with fenugreek seeds could offer protection from aluminum toxicity for the kidney, bone and brain, at the same time.
The researchers concluded that fenugreek seeds can be used as a regular nutrient to alleviate the side effects of aluminum ingestion, especially for anybody populations who are more susceptible to developing aluminum toxicity.
The known multiple pharmacological effects of fenugreek, including its antidiabetic, antioxidative, antineoplastic, anti-inflammatory, antiulcerogenic, antipyretic, antitumor and immunomodulatory effects assist in the detoxification process. The active components of fenugreek seeds behind their most common properties have been described as polyphenolic flavonoids, steroid saponins, and mainly galactomannans.
5) COUGHS AND RESPIRATORY
Fenugreek increases the production of mucosal fluids to help remove allergens and toxins from the respiratory tract. Fenugreek acts as an expectorant and antispasmodic to loosen phlegm and help stop chronic coughs. Research has also found that fenugreek induces perspiration to help lower fever, a quality which has been compared by some authorities with that of quinine. It is often included in lung-healing formulas for treating emphysema and lung congestion, as well as allergies, bronchitis, fever, hayfever and respiratory tract infection.
6) ENHANCES DIGESTION
Fenugreek also stimulates the production of digestive fluids to enhance digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Fenugreek is even recommended during convalescence and in cases of anorexia to promote weight gain. Fenugreek provides anti-inflammatory properties which help soothe inflamed tissues, as confirmed by Belgian researchers. In fact, these soothing properties have been found to help stomach problems such as dyspepsia, gastric ulcers and gastritis. Fenugreek even acts as a mild laxative to relieve constipation.
In general, fenugreek encourages an overall improvement in health, weight gain, more efficient protein utilization, reduced phosphorous secretion, and increased red blood cell counts. It is a worthy medicinal herb in any kitchen or medicine cabinet.
John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.