According to numerous scientific studies, fenugreek, a.k.a (Trigonella foenum-graecum) can promote milk production in breastfeeding women, reduce insulin sensitivity in diabetics, and it can even improve physical strength & testosterone – which is great for powerlifters and bodybuilders to name a few. (I). It doesn’t stop there!
Have you ever felt bloated? Swelled up like your body is fighting back against a bout of illness? Or perhaps you’re suffering from a little over-indulgence? If you answered yes then fenugreek may be your answer.
Fenugreek has been shown to reduce internal inflammation to the degree that sciences and doctors are recommending this ancient plant for its enhanced healing benefits. (II) If that wasn’t enough, fenugreek can also induce labour (III) and it’s also been linked to the reduction of fat mass on the body. Sounds too good to be true? read on to discover more.
Quick Fenugreek Summary:
What makes Fenugreek so popular? – This is thanks to elements inside the plant such as 4-hydroxyisoleucine. This is the main compound responsible for balancing blood sugar levels in diabetics. There are also three other compounds named trigonelline, galactomannan, and trigoneosides.
These compounds found within the seeds of fenugreek work to stabilize blood sugar levels. Especially after a meal. The most common side effects, apart from the more serious ones such as birth malformations, are; the excretion of bodily odours from the mouth, skin, and urine.
This is due to a metabolite within Fenugreek known as sotolon. When this odour occurs, it’s often referred to as a maple syrup smell.
Overall, fenugreek holds many health benefits surround that of blood sugar control which leads to other health benefits. Such as the reduction of fat mass. However, it’s worth mentioning that fenugreek is also attached to some concerns which we’ll discuss in this article.
But just to give you an example before I move on, fenugreek prevents the normal cycle of testosterone into DHT (Dihydrotestosterone). It’s DHT’s role to help form normal hormone levels in men linked to muscle growth and repair. (IV)
What is Fenugreek?
One of the original names for fenugreek is ‘Greek Hay’ (Trigonella foenum-graecum). This was due to the Roman’s using it as ‘fodder’ to feed their animals. Fenugreek has been widely used throughout India for centuries as an ‘ayurvedic’ healing medicinal plant.
It cures a variety of illnesses such as sore throats, external wounds, and ulcers to name a few. (VII) One thing we know about ancient civilizations found in countries such as India and China is; natural remedies such as fenugreek have been widely used to improve health and well-being for centuries.
It’s been well recorded in the Eastern part of the world, that plant forms and other ayurvedic variations have been used for thousands of years to heal the body and mind, such as ashwagandha:
“The Chinese book on roots and grasses “Pen T’Sao,” written by Emperor Shen Nung circa 2500 BC, treats 365 drugs (dried parts of medicinal plants), many of which are used even nowadays such as the following: Rhei rhizoma, camphor, There folium, Podophyllum, the great yellow gentian, ginseng, jimson weed, cinnamon bark, and ephedra.” (VIII)
Fenugreek’s Appearance and Taste
When it grows, the Fenugreek plant can reach to roughly three feet tall. Inside each flower, the seed pod contains 10–20 seeds which are small in size with a yellow-brown, pungent and aromatic smell.
If you were to taste Fenugreek seeds without any processing first (such as cooking) you’d taste a strong bitter seed. It would resemble a taste similar to celery. Generally speaking, you can either take Fenugreek orally, or you can apply it to the skin to heal sores, burns, or reduce inflammation.
Fenugreek’s Nutrition Facts
One serving — 1 tablespoon — of fenugreek seeds contain:
- 35.5 calories
- 6.4 grams carbohydrates
- 2.5 grams of protein
- 0.7-grams fat
- 2.7 grams of fibre
- 3.7 milligrams iron (20 per cent DV)
- 0.1-milligram manganese (7 per cent DV)
- 0.1-milligram copper (6 per cent DV)
- 21 milligrams magnesium (5 per cent DV)
- 32.6 milligrams phosphorus (3 per cent DV)
- 0.1-milligram vitamin B6 (3 per cent DV)
How Does Fenugreek Work?
Before we go through all of the benefits surrounding fenugreek, let’s look a little closer to see what’s inside this plant which promotes so many healing properties.
Scientists have extracted elements of the seeds within fenugreek. These are known to be the root of healing within the body:
- Trigonelline: is a betaine molecule also linked to the treatment of diabetes.
- 4-hydroxyisoleucine and 2-oxoglutarate: molecules which stimulate insulin response which helps diabetics control blood sugar levels.
- Protodioscin: a compound which has an aphrodisiac effect.
- Diosgenin and Yamogenin: compounds used in the commercial synthesis of progesterone and other steroid products. This is what stimulates pregnancies (induces labour)
- 3-Hydroxy-4,5-dimethyl-2(5H)-furanone: a compound that causes bodily odours, such as a maple-syrup scent.
While a lot more human trials and research needs to be done surrounding fenugreek’s benefits. Overall, this plant seems to hold some worthy medicinal properties. And now that we understand the compounds which make Fenugreek work, let’s look at the most common ways Fenugreek has been used throughout history:
As we’ve previously mentioned, fenugreek contains a whole host of benefits to the human body. Such as; improved testosterone and strength, reduced weight, soothing and healing wounds, less digestive issues, increased milk supply to mothers and reduces pain. Below you’ll find all of these benefits listed in detail, with referenced studies on the use of fenugreek.
Eases Digestive Issues
If you have an upset stomach, then you might want to consider using fenugreek. This is thanks to the water-soluble fibre inside the plant. Fenugreek is great if you’re suffering from constipation or other gut related issues, as the fibre helps the gut healing process. (IX) Fenugreek is often incorporated in an ulcerative colitis diet treatment plans, due to its anti-inflammatory effects. (X)
Improves Heart Health
Fenugreek has been shown to reduce the hardening of arteries. And those who have high blood levels which contain certain fats. So, anyone who has high cholesterol or triglycerides, then you may want to consider using fenugreek in your daily diet.
Lowers Insulin Response and Bad Fats
In a study which administered 2.5 grams of Fenugreek twice daily for three months to people with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, saw a significant drop in their cholesterol levels.
Not only that, but the participants in the study also saw a drop in their triglycerides without affecting the good HDL cholesterol. (XI) What does this mean? This basically means that fenugreek can lower the bad cholesterol without affecting the good HDL cholesterol within your body.
Lowers Blood Sugar
When Fenugreek seeds are soaked in hot water, they show improvements in blood sugar levels with those who have type 2 diabetes after eating. A study took 18 participants, 11 of them drank hot water with soaked Fenugreek seeds. And the remaining group took Fenugreek soaked in yoghurt.
The hot water and fenugreek combination had more of a positive outcome on blood glucose levels. Thus showing positive singles for type 2 diabetes treatment. (XII)
Reduces Inflammation Inside the Body
When used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – it’s known as a ‘phlegm move’. And it’s said to break down hazardous food groups and fats within the body. Along with cooling down inflammation. (XIII) Furthermore, this is also thought to beneficial for those suffering from arthritis.
When studied on rats which had arthritis, fenugreek demonstrated mucilage properties. This means; fenugreek could be used as an effective natural arthritis treatment as it helps to reduce pressure and pain in the joints.
Promotes Milk Flow in Breastfeeding
Fenugreek has been shown to help new mothers who are breastfeeding to produce more milk. It works by acting as a galactagogue – a substance which helps to increase milk supply.
Fenugreek also stimulates the milk ducts within the breasts which also add to the production of more milk. This has been an option for women as it produces milk in short periods of time – reports have suggested as little as 24 hours. (XIV)
Heals External Wounds
Fenugreek has also been used to treat external wounds on the skin. It’s heated and added to oils or creams to act as a poultice. By doing this, it can reduce swelling and external inflammation. Thus treating external wounds, leg ulcers, dandruff, and eczema to name a few. (XV)
Fenugreek is widely known to increase the appetite or people who need assistance that may have an eating disorder (more on this below). However, one study shows that fenugreek can also reduce the appetite in some cases.
A study which took obese people and gave them 1176mg of Fenugreek saw a reduction in the amount of fatty foods choices they made. This means that the obese participants made better food choices naturally thanks to using fenugreek, which helped them to lose weight.
Fenugreek has been shown to increase the appetite of people who may be suffering from eating disorders, or simply, those lacking appetite. A study which took rats and fed them 42mg/kg of fenugreek showed an increase in their appetite. This process has also been successful with humans, where 40mg/kg body weight of a Fenugreek extract was used.
Another study published by the Pharmacology Biochemistry department looked for an indication that fenugreek may have on ‘feeding behaviour’. The tests were to highlight if fenugreek had an impact on the motivation to eat, along with metabolic-endocrine changes (changes in hormones).
The results? The Pharmacology Biochemistry department found that yes, fenugreek did have an impact on food intake and hormones. Increases in food consumption significantly increased – motivating the participants to eat more food. (XVI)
For more serious treatments, such as those suffering from anorexia, the University of Maryland Medical Centre recommends taking 250 to 500 milligrams of fenugreek up to three times a day.
Prevents Carbohydrate Uptake
Fenugreek can reduce the absorption rate of carbohydrates, as it acts as an alpha-amylase and maltase inhibitor. What does this mean? This means it’s a starch and maltose digestive enzyme. It assists the body in digesting and removing carbohydrates from the digestive tract without being absorbed or affecting blood glucose levels.
Diabetic rats were given fenugreek oil, and the results saw a 51% reduction in blood glucose after a meal which reduced carbohydrate enzyme activity. (XVII)
An extract of fenugreek was given to rats (50-200mg/kg for one month) with spinal nerve damage. The results showed a reduction in hyperalgesia (the sensitivity to pain). This highlights fenugreek as a possible pain relief aid.
Improves Exercise Performance
In a double-blind study lasting 8 weeks, using 500mg of fenugreek showed a significant increase in upper and lower body strength. (XVIII)
Better still, no clinical side effects were reported throughout the whole trial. Thus reporting no adverse effects on the liver, kidneys or other vital human organs. These results show Fenugreek to be a safe and viable option for improved strength performance.
Combined Fenugreek & Creatine
Another study showed that when fenugreek is combined with creatine, it can have just as much positive changes as a ‘creatine and dextrose combination’. This is great news for diabetics or anyone who wished to lower their overall carbohydrate intake. Such as those of you who are looking to lose weight or even if you simply prefer less sugar in your diet.
Here’s the study analysis:
The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine reports a study where 47 resistance-trained men were divided into two groups according to body weight. One group took a placebo dextrose formula consisting of 5 g of creatine and 70 g dextrose.
The other group in this study, on the other hand, took 3.5 g of creatine and 900 mg of fenugreek. And the other All participants, placebo and non-placebo groups took part in a four-day a week resistance-training program – lasting eight weeks in total.
Throughout the study, body composition, muscular strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity was tested. And to no surprise, the fenugreek group showed significant increases in lean mass, bench press, and leg press strength.
This shows that when creatine is combined with fenugreek, it can have a huge impact on total body strength and overall ‘positive’ body composition changes as compared to those who use creatine and dextrose. (XIX)
Increases Libido in Men
Fenugreek has been shown to increase sexual desire in men, which has also been associated with higher testosterone levels. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research, where 60 healthy men from the ages of 25 and 52 years with no history of erectile dysfunction were given 600 milligrams of fenugreek extract per day for six weeks showed some interesting results.
The participants had a positive effect on their feeling of sexual desire. In other words, their libido increased. Not only that, their stamina, arousal, and energy levels also went up. This helped the people taking part in the study to reach healthy testosterone levels. (XX)
Part of this libido increase comes from the stimulation of testosterone production. However, there’s something to pay attention to in this process:
Fenugreek does show to increase testosterone levels, but it also inhibits the conversion from testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This happens as fenugreek blocks the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, which converts testosterone into DHT.
It’s thought that DHT is more powerful than actual testosterone at increasing muscle mass, sex hormones, and other features that are important to men. So, why would you want to increase testosterone but lower DHT? In my opinion, you wouldn’t, unless for a medical reason.
“In men, the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase (5-AR) converts testosterone into DHT in the testes and the prostate. Up to 10 percent of testosterone is normally converted into DHT.” (XXI)
However, the aged old saying ‘too much of anything isn’t always a good thing’ rings true here. Why is that? Too much DHT can cause some negative side effects which well get into right now:
Side Effects of Fenugreek?
With all of the positives, there must be some negatives, right? Fenugreek has also shown to cause malformations in pregnancies, an increase in body odour, and a disruption of natural hormone levels:
Fenugreek Lowers DHT Levels
Following on from the above topic, DHT is vital for men’s health and the formation of many important features which separate men from women. Such as; facial hair growth, sexual function, skeletal muscle growth, prostate health, and cognitive functioning to name a few. However, if we lower our DHT too much with fenugreek, we could offset the positive effects that DHT has to offer.
However, in some cases, lowering DHT may be a good thing. This is because higher levels of DHT can stimulate hair loss and also prostate growth. So, fenugreek isn’t for everyone, you’ll either welcome higher levels of DHT (if trying to build muscle) or you’ll prefer to lower your chances of prostate cancer and hair loss with the use of fenugreek.
So, as I’ve already mentioned, using fenugreek may not be for everyone. You may wish to have higher levels of DHT or not. That’s where fenugreek could help you decide.
Fenugreek and Malformations In Pregnancies
While currently the only reported side effects of using Fenugreek while pregnant were in mice, it’s safe to say these negative side effects could also pass onto humans.
This is because fenugreek is known as a Teratogenic (an agent that causes malformations in embryos). Therefore, I advise those who may be pregnant to avoid large doses of fenugreek over prolonged periods of time. (XXII) This happens because Fenugreek disrupts the correct formation of DNA stem cells in embryos while infants are in the womb.
Fenugreek and Unwanted Bodily Odours
On a lighter note, unwanted body odours and even bad breath are common negative symptoms linked to the usage of fenugreek. It creates a strong pungent smell throughout the whole body, which can sometimes last for days.
As little as 100mg a day has been used with great success at increasing strength and health, and for anti-inflammatory or pain relief. (XXIII) However, there have been studies that show 500mg a day may decrease body fat, increase testosterone, strength, and sexual desire.
One study, held by Dept. of Exercise and Sports Science, at the University of Texas, concluded that 500mg of Fenugreek per day was enough to see noticeable results:
“The authors concluded that 500 mg of daily supplementation significantly affected per cent body fat, total testosterone, and bioavailable testosterone compared with a placebo in a double-blind fashion.” (XXIV)
To summarise, if you’re taking fenugreek for the first time, you may want to start with a lower dose of 100mg per day. Or on the other hand, if you’re familiar with fenugreek and you know how it reacts with your body, then dosages of up to 500mg has been proven to be safe and effective.
Sport Nutrition Expert Recommendation?
For those considering the use of fenugreek for the increase of testosterone production, it shows to be a viable option. Also, if you are a mother who’s currently breastfeeding, fenugreek also shows to be useful in this area. Some of the most noticeable benefits are highlighted in the area of treating blood sugar levels in diabetics. The research and efficacy surrounding the use of fenugreek for this purpose greatly outweigh other supposed benefits of fenugreek.
However, if you’re a man wishing to use fenugreek for testosterone and vitality purposes, you may wish to consider the block of DHT production, which in turn could cause some complications in natural hormone levels, preventing optimal muscle growth and repair. Also, for women who may be pregnant, it may be advisable to avoid large doses of fenugreek due to the way it causes malformations in embryos.
As always, when starting any supplement regime, I suggest consulting your doctor first. If you’re in the clear, then fenugreek could be the natural plant medicine you’ve been looking for.
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