Fenugreek (Cynara scolymus) is a perennial herb native to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It grows wild in many parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe. It is used extensively in Indian cuisine but it also has been cultivated commercially for its oil which is widely used as an ingredient in cosmetics such as face creams and shampoos. Fenugreek is also known as “Indian pennyroyal” because of its resemblance to the poisonous plant poison ivy.
The leaves are used in cooking and the roots are eaten fresh or dried. They have been traditionally chewed before meals for their laxative effects.
The root bark is used as a tea and has medicinal properties similar to those of the leaves. Fenugreek is also used as a spice and in traditional medicine.
It has been reported that fenugreek increases levels of testosterone in men. However, there are conflicting reports about whether it decreases estrogen levels in women.
There is no scientific evidence to support any claims about these effects either way. Some studies show that taking fenugreek may reduce the risk of prostate cancer while others do not show any effect. More research is needed to determine whether fenugreek has any role to play in the traditional uses of alleviating menstrual pain or stimulating milk production.
Fenugreek has been used traditionally as an aphrodisiac and may help with low sexual arousal. It has been used by dipping bread into a fenugreek mixture and eating it.
Other studies have given positive results for fenugreek’s effects on male libido. More research is needed to confirm these findings.
There are no human studies available to indicate whether fenugreek affects testosterone levels in women or men.
There are also conflicting reports about whether fenugreek increases estrogen levels in women. The results of animal studies are mixed.
There have been some suggestions that fenugreek acts like estrogen in the body, but more research is needed to clarify the role of estrogen in humans.
Some studies have shown that fenugreek can increase estrogen levels in men. If this were the case, then long term use could affect fertility.
There is also a possibility that in susceptible individuals fenugreek may aggravate gynecomastia (enlarged male mammary glands). More research is needed to confirm or refute these findings.
Fenugreek may lower blood sugar levels and should be used with caution in people with diabetes. It may also affect blood cholesterol levels and should not be used with certain medications.
The effects of fenugreek on pregnant women are not clear and more research is needed.
In traditional medicine fenugreek has been used to lower blood sugar levels and as an expectorant to relieve coughs. In the cosmetic industry it is used in perfumes, lotions and other products due to its sweet smell.
Fenugreek is LIKELY UNSAFE when taken by mouth or injected into the body. A poisoning called “staggers” may occur with injection, ingestion or inhalation of fenugreek.
The symptoms are lack of muscular coordination (ataxia), nervousness, labored breathing, slow heart rate and yellowish skin. In severe cases it may cause coma and death.
Fenugreek may also cause diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, low blood pressure, nosebleeds, shrunken testicles in men and mastitis in women.
There is conflicting evidence about whether fenugreek causes increased levels of estrogen. However, more research is needed to clarify the role of fenugreek on estrogen levels in people.
Fenugreek has been LIKELY UNSAFE to take in large amounts during pregnancy. It may cause uterine contractions, miscarriage and premature delivery.
Some evidence also suggests that it increases the incidence of labor and decreases the amount of milk a mother will produce.
There is not enough information available to know if fenugreek is safe for use in children.
Fenugreek may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver enzyme CYP3A4. As a result, the levels of these drugs may become too high or too low.
It may also affect how fenugreek passes through the body, resulting in an overdose.
These effects have not been reported with fenugreek use alone.
There are no well-known drug interactions when fenugreek is taken by mouth.
Large amounts of fenugreek seeds have been poisonous to animals. The toxic dose is about 2-5 grams of seed for a 155 pound human.
Fenugreek has been reported to cause at least one death. A 23-month-old child died after eating less than an ounce of the raw seeds.
It is possible that fenugreek poisoning could occur when high amounts of fenugreek are used as an ingredient in herbal products.
Fenugreek contains chemicals called steroidal alkaloids. These may be toxic to the heart and cause rhythm disturbances.
The use of fenugreek should be avoided in patients with kidney or liver disease.
Fenugreek may also increase blood sugar and should not be used in patients with diabetes.
As fenugreek might cause uterine contractions, it should not be used in pregnancy without medical supervision.
In addition, it may decrease the amount of milk a mother produces and should not be used by nursing mothers.
The use of fenugreek should be avoided in patients with the following conditions:
high blood pressure and other conditions related to high blood pressure
gallstones or bile duct obstruction
heart failure or heart rhythm disturbances, such as atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) or Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia)
hereditary electrolyte disorder (disturbance of normal heart rhythm caused by a build-up of potassium in the heart muscle)
glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye)
It should be used with caution in patients with the following conditions:
narrowing of the aortic valve or pulmonary valve heart disease
low blood pressure (hypotension)
problems with blood clotting (hypercoagulability)
patients undergoing anesthesia or having surgery
Pregnancy and lactation: There is not enough reliable information to recommend the use of fenugreek during breastfeeding. It should be used with caution in pregnant women.
Nursing mothers should not use fenugreek due to the potential effects on the infant.
Safety and efficacy in children have not been studied.
The standard dose of fenugreek is 400-500 milligrams (mg) of dried leaf, 100-200 mg of the seeds, or 90-110 mg of the liquid extract, three times a day.
Fenugreek can be taken with food or without food.
Fenugreek can also be made into a tea. One to two teaspoons of dried herb or 0.5-1 g of the seeds can be used per cup.
One cup can be taken up to three times a day.
Fenugreek can also be taken as a liquid or in capsules.
Sources & references used in this article:
A novel protodioscin-enriched fenugreek seed extract (Trigonella foenum-graecum, family Fabaceae) improves free testosterone level and sperm profile in … by A Swaroop, A Maheshwari, N Verma… – Functional Foods in …, 2017 – academia.edu
Biochemical and histopathological studies on the influence of aqueous extract of fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum graecum) on alloxan diabetic male rats. by EAM Khalil – The Egyptian Journal of Hospital Medicine, 2004 – journals.ekb.eg
Efficacy of FurosapTM, a novel Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract, in enhancing testosterone level and improving sperm profile in male volunteers by A Maheshwari, N Verma, A Swaroop… – … journal of medical …, 2017 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Beneficial effects of fenugreek glycoside supplementation in male subjects during resistance training: A randomized controlled pilot study by S Wankhede, V Mohan, P Thakurdesai – Journal of Sport and Health …, 2016 – Elsevier