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FENUGREEK Health Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

Fenugreek (Trigonellafoenum graecum , native to Southern Europe and Asia), is an annual herb with white flowers and hard, yellowish-brown and angular seeds. Commonly known as methi in Hindi and vendhayam in Tamil, it is a popular ingredient in many North and South Indian dishes and home remedies.

Fenugreek seeds and leaves are strongly aromatic and flavorful. The seeds are bitter, but lose their bitterness if lightly roasted. They are rich in vitamins such as thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamins A, B6, and C, and are a rich storehouse of many minerals such as copper, potassium, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, manganese, and magnesium. Fenugreek leaves are a rich source of vitamin K as well.

Fenugreek seeds are a rich source of trigonelline, lysine and l-tryptophan. The seeds also contain a large number of saponins and fibres that may account for many of the health benefits of fenugreek. The following are some of how the fenugreek herb has been used traditionally for treating a variety of conditions.

Fenugreek contains saponins that help reduce the body’s absorption of cholesterol from fatty foods. Some studies also indicate saponins have a role to play in reducing the body’s production of cholesterol, especially LDL or bad cholesterol. For example, Reddy and Srinivasan from the Central Food Technological Research Institute, CSIR, Mysore, India, found that fenugreek helped regress existing cholesterol gallstones in mice. Further, they claimed that fenugreek could significantly reduce cholesterol concentration.

An unusual amino acid (4HO-Ile), so far found only in fenugreek, has possible anti-diabetic properties such as enhancing insulin secretion under hyperglycemic conditions, and increasing insulin sensitivity. Iranian researchers from Qom University of Medical Science suggest the potential of 4HO-Ile as an adjunct to diabetes treatment for type 1 as well as type 2 diabetes.

Fenugreek has been known since ancient times as a herbal galactagogue - or a herb that increases milk production. Fenugreek has been used traditionally by mothers to increase the production of breast milk and stimulate milk flow while nursing and breastfeeding. Other examples of herbal galactagogues include blessed thistle, milk thistle, fennel, anise, nettle, and others. However, it must be noted that there are very little modern data on their safety and efficacy. This is supported by some studies that have found that consumption of herbal tea containing fenugreek seeds enhanced the production of breast milk in mothers and facilitated infant birth weight regain in early postnatal days.

Studies have shown that the fibres in fenugreek may help prevent certain cancers. For example, Researchers at Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram, found that fenugreek has estrogenic effects and could be a possible alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Other studies have shown that saponins and mucilage in fenugreek bind to toxins in the food and flush them out, thus protecting the mucus membrane of the colon from cancers.

An Australian study reported the significant positive effect of fenugreek on physiological aspects of male libido and also found that it may assist in maintaining normal healthy testosterone levels. The study recruited 60 healthy males between the ages of 25 and 52, without erectile dysfunction and randomized to 2 tablets per day of 600mg Testofen (a Fenugreek extract and mineral formulation) or a placebo for 6 weeks. The researchers found that Testofen significantly increased sexual arousal and orgasm in the study men.

Fenugreek is said to be an effective heartburn or acid reflux remedy because the mucilage in fenugreek seeds assists in soothing gastrointestinal inflammation, and coating the stomach and intestinal lining. According to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, a 2-week intake of a fenugreek fibre product taken 30 minutes before two meals/per day, by subjects with frequent heartburn, diminished heartburn severity. The researchers found that the effects were similar to that of ranitidine at 75mg, twice a day.

Fenugreek complements diet and exercise for weight loss. This thermogenic herb aids weight loss by suppressing appetite, increasing energy in the short term, and potentially modulating carbohydrate metabolism.

Fenugreek is widely known for its culinary properties and also as a traditional remedy for several conditions. It has been used traditionally in India, China, and the Middle East for thousands of years to treat many ailments and conditions.

Fenugreek seeds are rich in vitamin E and are added as preservatives in pickles.

Dried leaves of the fenugreek are used for flavouring meat, fish and vegetable dishes.

Herbal tea made with fenugreek, lemon and honey are traditionally used as a remedy for fevers.

Fenugreek has been used traditionally as a remedy for eczema, burns, abscesses, and gout.

Fenugreek has also been used to stimulate uterine contractions and induce childbirth.

Fenugreek extract has been suggested to assist in balancing women’s hormones and also to enlarge breasts.

A paste made from fresh fenugreek leaves applied regularly to the scalp before a bath may help with hair growth, improve hair complexion, and reduce dandruff.

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