Orally, fenugreek is used for diabetes, loss of appetite, dyspepsia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, constipation, atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, and for stimulating lactation. Fenugreek is used orally for kidney diseases, beriberi, hernia, and impotence and other male problems. Fenugreek is also used orally for fever, mouth ulcers, boils, bronchitis, cellulitis, tuberculosis, chronic coughs, chapped lips, baldness, and cancer.
Topically, fenugreek is used as a poultice for local inflammation, myalgia, lymphadenitis, gout, wounds, leg ulcers, and eczema.
In foods, fenugreek is included as an ingredient in spice blends. It is also used as a flavoring agent in imitation maple syrup, foods, beverages, and tobacco.
Diabetes. Consuming fenugreek, mixed with food during a meal, seems to reduce postprandial blood glucose levels in patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It may be given in combination with guar gum or by itself. Muffins made from a batter consisting of foxtail and barnyard millet, in combination with legumes and fenugreek, do not produce a substantial increase in postprandial blood glucose in diabetic patients.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Clinical research shows that taking a specific fenugreek product (FenuLife, Frutarom Belgium), 2 grams twice daily 30 minutes before the two biggest meals of the day, significantly improves symptoms of heartburn after one week of treatment and continuing through the 2-week study period. Fenugreek was as effective as taking ranitidine 75 mg twice daily.
Hypercholesterolemia. There is conflicting evidence about the use of fenugreek for lowering serum cholesterol.
Hypertriglyceridemia. Preliminary clinical research suggests fenugreek might lower triglycerides in people with type 2 diabetes.
More evidence is needed to rate fenugreek for these uses.
Mechanism of Action
The applicable part of fenugreek is the seed. The active constituents include trigonelline, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, and sotolon. Fenugreek seeds have a distinctive bitter taste and odor. Sotolon is frequently used as a flavoring for artificial maple syrup. Soaking fenugreek seeds overnight and washing the seeds in water can decrease some of the taste and odor.
Fenugreek seeds contain about 50% dietary fiber and pectin and may affect gastrointestinal transit, slowing glucose absorption. About 80% of the total content of free amino acids in the seeds is present as 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which appears to directly stimulate insulin. This effect is glucose dependent and only occurs in the presence of moderate to high glucose concentrations.
Some evidence suggests the seed consumption might decrease calcium oxalate deposition in the kidneys.
Fenugreek contains coumarins and other constituents that might affect platelet aggregation, but this might not be significant clinically.
Preliminary research suggests fenugreek has stimulating effects on the uterus, intestine, and heart.
Connie Dello Buono
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