Fenugreek Seeds Have Anti-Diabetic Properties, Heal Pancreas, Boost Insulin Production
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Herbal action: galactagogue (stimulates lactation), antiulcer, aromatic, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory
Common name: fenugreek, derived from Latin faenum Graecum (”Greek hay”), methi (Ayurveda)
Scientific name: Trigonella foenum-graecum
Family name: Fabaceae
Parts used: seeds, greens
Notable Phytonutrients in Fenugreek Seeds And Their Features
- Galactomannan is a polysaccharide present in the fenugreek gum. It shows prebiotic properties, meaning it stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the guts.
- 4-OH Isoleucine (4-hydroxyisoleucine) may have anti-diabetic properties, reduce inflammation and improve blood cholesterol.
- Saponins support the immune system, decrease blood thickness, and improve blood cholesterol levels.
- Flavonoids and polyphenols are natural antioxidants that reduce inflammation, may fight off cancer, and have antibacterial properties.
Medicinal Uses And Health Benefits of Fenugreek Seeds
For centuries, fenugreek seeds have been used in many different ways—both in cooking (fenugreek is a staple component of classic curry, for example) and in traditional healing doctrines.
Although it’s a bit hard to pick a single medical use to highlight, fenugreek’s galactagogue action surely deserves some extra attention.
In other words, fenugreek seeds can increase the production of breast milk, and this effect was confirmed by recent studies (although Mexican mint and dates seem to work just as well).
Be aware that there are several contraindications to using fenugreek seeds to increase lactation, so check them out in the “Contraindications” section below.
Additional Health Benefits of Fenugreek Seeds
May alleviate painful menstrual cycles
In 2014, a study was carried out to see if fenugreek seeds could help with menstrual pain—and they do!
In a group of 101 women, half of them received 2-3 capsules with powdered fenugreek seeds daily during the first 3 days of menstruation, and half received placebo (a medicine with no action).
Women receiving fenugreek experienced less pain, shorter duration of pain, and way milder systemic symptoms (headache, nausea, lack of energy). No side effects were seen whatsoever, and that’s also great.
May prevent or treat gastric ulcers
Fenugreek seeds have been used as an anti-ulcer natural remedy for centuries, and modern studies just confirm that’s a wise approach.
For example, an animal study from 2002 reported that fenugreek seeds may be more effective than omeprazole (a conventional anti-ulcer drug) in preventing gastric ulcers.
In 2017, a massive Indian study confirmed this benefit and explained that most likely this is based on the high content of flavonoids and saponins that act as antioxidants and regulate the acidity of the gastric juice.
Protect the liver from toxins and free radicals
Animal studies reported that a dried fenugreek seeds extract was able to reduce liver cirrhosis, soothe inflammation, calm down local enzymes, and generally protect the organ from ravaging free radicals activated by a toxin.
This action seems to be effective in cases of alcoholic liver damage too, and almost as effective as the conventional hepatoprotector silymarin.
May boost testosterone levels and increase sperm quality in men
In 2017, a study reported that a fenugreek seed extract with a high content of protodioscin (one of the main saponins of fenugreek) was able to improve free testosterone levels by 44%.
Also, 85.4% of the participants showed improvement in sperm health, suggesting that fenugreek seeds could be beneficial for male fertility.
May help in preventing blood clots
Fenugreek has been reported to decrease blood coagulation in a dose-dependent manner. In other words, the more fenugreek you take, the thinner your blood will be.
This could be beneficial for people with a high cardiovascular risk to prevent the formation of blood clots in the heart, which is a common cause of heart attack.
May prevent and fight cancer
Although more studies are needed to establish specific doses and pinpoint the exact mechanisms of action, it seems that fenugreek seeds have anticancer properties.
Most likely, this has something to do with the antioxidative properties of the spice, but research shows fenugreek can also slow down the division of cancer cells and even kill them too.
Laboratory studies reported this effect of fenugreek on prostate, pancreatic, and breast cancer.
Helps with acute and chronic inflammation
Animal studies confirmed that fenugreek seeds effectively reduce both chronic and acute inflammation. It seems that this effect is based on the action of the spice’s flavonoids and polyphenols, which are powerful natural antioxidants.
Kill several types of bacteria
The flavonoids present in fenugreek seeds can suppress the growth of such nasty bacteria like Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhi, and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which can cause severe infections.
May help in preventing diabetes through multiple different pathways
Fenugreek has a long list of anti-diabetic properties. For example, studies reported that it can directly reduce blood sugar levels, heal damage to the pancreas, boost insulin production, and show an insulin-like action as well.
Potentially, this could mean that fenugreek seeds may be useful in both preventing AND treating diabetes!
How to Use Fenugreek Seeds
The easiest way to reap the potential health benefits associated with fenugreek seeds is to use more of this spice in your cooking.
If that’s not enough and you still want some extra fenugreek, try brewing yourself some fenugreek tea!
Put 1-3 teaspoons of fenugreek seeds in a cup of boiling water and let the tea steep for about 10 minutes. Enjoy up to 3 times per day.
If you’re thinking of going for fenugreek capsules instead, just follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Usually, they’ll suggest taking 1-2 grams per day as a starting daily dose.
Contraindications And Safety
- People with allergies to peanuts and chickpeas shouldn’t take fenugreek to avoid cross-reactions. These plants come from the same family, so the risk is pretty high.
- It’s recommended to avoid fenugreek during pregnancy. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, fenugreek can affect uterine contractions and thus induce premature labor.
- Some other studies reported that fenugreek can cause birth defects in both animals and humans, so that’s one more reason to avoid the spice during pregnancy.
- Also, it’s recommended to avoid fenugreek in cases of hormone-sensitive cancer since many of the compounds in the spice can act like estrogens (female hormones) and thus stimulate tumor growth.
- Keep in mind that fenugreek has significant blood-thinning properties, and thus should be taken with caution, if taken along with conventional antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs.
In women who plan to use fenugreek seeds to increase their production of breast milk, fenugreek should be avoided in cases of:
- Blood clotting disorders
- Vaginal bleeding
- Treatment with conventional anticoagulants
- Pregnancy (current or planned), due to the increased abortion risk
- Asthma (may worsen the symptoms)
People with diabetes should take fenugreek with caution (especially if they’re on insulin treatment) since the potential blood sugar-lowering effect of this spice combined with the action of conventional hypoglycemic drugs can be too powerful.
In most cases, fenugreek seeds are tolerated quite well, and toxicity is rare.
And still, in some cases, fenugreek can cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, excessive sweating, and nausea. As a rule, this is seen after using fenugreek seed extracts, since they usually have higher amounts of the active phytochemicals of fenugreek.
Last but not least, remember that taking fenugreek can make your urine, milk, and sweat become a bit darker and smell like maple syrup. This isn’t dangerous, just a fun thing to know! Fenugreek has been used for quite a long time to make maple syrup substitutes, so that’s a well-known effect.
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