Wednesday, August 19, 2009



Fenugreek is a popular spice in Indian cuisine and has a long use in both Ayervedic and Chinese traditional medicine, for uses including inducing lactation, inducing labor, aiding in digestion, and as a general health and wellness tonic (Basch et al., 2003; Gabay, 2002). Both animal and human clinical studies are finding that fenugreek shows promising therapeutic activity as a hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolaemic agent. The unique dietary fibers along with the high saponin content, and possibly an amino acid (4-Hydroxyisoleucine) in fenugreek is thought to be responsible for its activities (Madar, 2002; Sauvaire et al., 1998).


Vajifdar et al. (2000) included fenugreek dietary fiber in a dietary fiber mixture in a study which had favorable results on lowering LDL cholesterol, apolipoproteine A-1, body mass index and waist circumference. As the mechanisms of action of dietary fiber are assumed to be similar, this study shows promise for the use of fenugreek fiber for being helpful in ischemic heart disease. Likewise, fenugreek was found beneficial in the diabetic diet when combined with millet and legumes in another clinical study, and a combination of other herbs (Pathak et al., 2000; Bhardqaj et al., 1994).

Scientific Support

Type I & II Diabetes

Madar et al. (2002) tested the dietary effect of fenugreek in type II diabetics (non-insulin dependent) following the meal tolerance test (MTT). Powdered fenugreek (15 g) was added to the diets of type II diabetics, and found to significantly reduce the postprandial glucose levels, and non-significantly lower the plasma insulin levels as well. There was no effect on the blood lipid levels after 3 hours following the MTT.

Gupta et al. (2001) performed a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study to determine the effect of fenugreek on glycemic control and insulin resistance in type II diabetics. The participants were given either fenugreek extract (hydroalcoholic; 1 g daily) or placebo for two months. Serum triglycerides were found to be reduced in the treatment group, as well as insulin control a a decrease in insulin resistance.

Sharma et al. (1990) tested the effect of fenugreek seeds on type I diabetic’s blood glucose levels and serum lipid profiles in a placebo-controlled clinical study. Fenugreek seed was administered in the treatment group diet (100 g daily), whereas isocaloric diets without fenugreek served as the control, and the diets were followed for 10 days. A 54% reduction in 24-hour urinary glucose excretion, along with significantly reduced serum total cholesterol, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol and triglycerides was found in the treatment group. The HDL levels remained unchanged between groups. The authors noted that fenugreek appeared useful in the diets of diabetics.

Hypocholesterolemic Effect

Sowmya and Rajyalakshmi (1999) tested the effect of dietary germinated fenugreek seed powder on blood lipid levels in hypocholesterolemic adults. Twenty participants were divided into two groups and asked to add the fenugreek powder to their meals for one month, the groups differed in the amount of fenugreek in the packet: either 12.5 g or 18 g daily. Both treatment levels resulted in a hypocholesterolemic effect, but the 18 g dosage resulted in significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels. There were no changes found between the groups in HDL, VLDL and triglyceride levels. The authors claimed that the germination of the seeds was able to increase the solubility of the fiber content of fenugreek.

Safety / Dosage

Fenugreek seed powder has been found to be beneficial in the typical dosages of between 15-20 (and up) grams daily for reducing serum cholesterol levels and improving blood sugar control in diabetics. Fenugreek is considered quite safe, even at the higher doses needed for therapeutic use (Muralidhara et al., 1999). As is the case with other botanicals with high coumarin contents, there is concern with the potential adverse reaction of increasing bleeding, and an interaction with other blood-thinning drugs (Abebe, 2002).


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2.Basch E, Ulbricht C, Kuo G, Szapary P, Smith M. Therapeutic applications of fenugreek. Altern Med Rev. 2003 Feb;8(1):20-7.

3.Bhardwaj PK, Dasgupta DJ, Prashar BS, Kaushal SS. Control of hyperglycaemia and hyperlipidaemia by plant product. J Assoc Physicians India. 1994 Jan;42(1):33-5.

4.Gabay MP. Galactogogues: medications that induce lactation. J Hum Lact. 2002 Aug;18(3):274-9.

5.Gupta A, Gupta R, Lal B. Effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) seeds on glycaemic control and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a double blind placebo controlled study. J Assoc Physicians India. 2001 Nov;49:1057-61.

6.Hibasami H, Moteki H, Ishikawa K, Katsuzaki H, Imai K, Yoshioka K, Ishii Y, Komiya T. Protodioscin isolated from fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L.) induces cell death and morphological change indicative of apoptosis in leukemic cell line H-60, but not in gastric cancer cell line KATO III. Int J Mol Med. 2003 Jan;11(1):23-6.

7.Madar Z, Abel R, Samish S, Arad J. Glucose-lowering effect of fenugreek in non-insulin dependent diabetics. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1988 Jan;42(1):51-4.

8.Madar Z, Stark AH.New legume sources as therapeutic agents. Br J Nutr. 2002 Dec;88 Suppl 3:S287-92.

9.Muralidhara, Narasimhamurthy K, Viswanatha S, Ramesh BS. Acute and subchronic toxicity assessment of debitterized fenugreek powder in the mouse and rat. Food Chem Toxicol. 1999 Aug;37(8):831-8.

10.Pathak P, Srivastava S, Grover S. Development of food products based on millets, legumes and fenugreek seeds and their suitability in the diabetic diet. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2000 Sep;51(5):409-14.

11.Sauvaire Y, Petit P, Broca C, Manteghetti M, Baissac Y, Fernandez-Alvarez J, Gross R, Roye M, Leconte A, Gomis R, Ribes G. 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a novel amino acid potentiator of insulin secretion. Diabetes. 1998 Feb;47(2):206-10.

12.Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Rao NS. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1990 Apr;44(4):301-6.

13.Sowmya P, Rajyalakshmi P. Hypocholesterolemic effect of germinated fenugreek seeds in human subjects. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1999;53(4):359-65.

14.Vajifdar BU, Goyal VS, Lokhandwala YY, Mhamunkar SR, Mahadik SP, Gawad AK, Halankar SA, Kulkarni HL. Is dietary fiber beneficial in chronic ischemic heart disease? J Assoc Physicians India. 2000 Sep;48(9):871-6.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This monograph can be found in The Health Professional's Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins) by Shawn M. Talbott, PhD and Kerry Hughes, MS

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