Fenugreek: Health Benefits, Side Effects & Contraindications

Updated in December 2023

Fenugreek is a medicinal plant of the Trigonella foenum-graecum species that contains anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antidiabetic properties. It is often used as a home remedy for the treatment of diabetes, menstrual cramps or high cholesterol. 

The part of the plant that is commonly used in medicine is the seed, from which  active substances with medicinal properties are extracted. However, fresh or dry fenugreek leaves can also be used for culinary purposes, to season dishes or bread.

Fenugreek taken for health purposes can be found in natural health stores or open markets. It can be taken as a tea, powder or capsules, which are prepared using fenugreek seeds. The use of this plant for specific health goals should be monitored by a doctor or medicinal plant specialist. 

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Health benefits

Studies completed on fenugreek have shown that this plant and its seeds have various medical applications. The health benefits of fenugreek include: 

1. Managing blood sugar 

Some studies show that the soluble fiber present in fenugreek seeds is rich in galactomannan. This substance is able to reduce the absorption of sugar from food, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. 

In addition, the seeds from this plant can help to improve insulin resistance, as they contain an amino acid, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which stimulates insulin production in the beta cells of the pancreas.

Check out other natural herbs that can be prepared as teas to lower blood sugar

2. Promoting weight loss

Fenugreek helps with weight loss as it is rich in fiber which reduce hunger and keep you full. Its other substances,  like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories (specifically the flavonoids and caffeic acid) help to decrease fat and sugar absorption in the intestines, which aid in weight loss. 

Learn more about weight loss teas that stimulate fat burning and weight loss. 

3. Preventing cardiovascular disease

Because it is rich in fiber, fenugreek seeds help to reduce the absorption of fat from food. As a result, this plant is able to regulate LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure, which reduces the risk for serious cardiovascular diseases like heart attack or atherosclerosis.  

4. Reducing menstrual cramps

Some studies show that fenugreek powder prepared from seeds can be used during your period to relieve symptoms like cramping, fatigue, headache, lack of energy or dizziness. These seeds contain anti-inflammatories, like alkaloids, saponins and apigenins, which reduce uterine inflammation during menstruation. 

In addition, fenugreek extract can be used to relieve symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome, as it regulates LH and FSH hormones. These can help to reduce cyst sizes, regulate menstrual cycles and improve fertility. 

5. Improving digestive system function 

Because they are rich in giver, fenugreek seeds help to improve digestive system function. This contributes to optimal digestion and softens the stool, which can help with constipation. 

In addition, fresh fenugreek leaves can be used to aid problems like indigestion, excess intestinal gas or a slow-functioning liver. 

6. Stimulating testosterone production 

Some studies show that fenugreek extract can help to regulate LH and GnRH hormones. This increases sensitivity in the testicles and boosts testosterone production. This plan also seems capable of increasing spermatozoid count, improve mental alertness and mood, and increase libido. 

7. Treating inflammation 

Fenugreek seeds are rich in anti-inflammatory substances like alkaloids, flavonoids, 4 hydroxyisoleucine and furostanol. These help to reduce the production of inflammatory substances like prostoglandins and cytokines, and is very useful for the treatment of sore throats, arthritis and muscular pain.

8. Improving skin quality

The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances present in fenugreek help to cleanse the skin. They have antiseptic and exfoliating properties that improve skin quality and treat problems like allergies, acne, eczema or psoriasis. 

In addition, antioxidant substances in fenugreek interfere with the formation of free radicals that damage cells and prevent skin aging.

Fenugreek also contains antifungal and antibacterial action and can be used to treat dandruff, boils or skin wounds. 

9. Helping to fight cancer

Some lab studies that looked at breast, pancreatic, lung, and lymph cell cancers showed that some substances present in fenugreek fluid or alcohol, like diosgenin, squalene and naringenin, which can help to reduce cell multiplication and kill these cancer cells. However, more studies in humans are needed to support this benefit. 

How to take

Fenugreek leaves are popular in Indian cuisine, and can be used to season dishes or as an addition to recipes, like bread.

For medicinal purposes, fenugreek seeds should be used. They can be prepared in the following ways: 

  • Fenugreek seed tea: Add 2 teaspoons of fenugreek leaves to 1 cup of cold water and soak for 3 hours. Then boil these ingredients, strain, and drink while warm up to 3 times per day. 
  • Fenugreek dressings (to use on the skin): Add 2 teaspoons of fenugreek seeds to 1 cup of water. Boil the seeds in the water for 10 minutes, then strain and soak clean gauze in the solution. Apply directly to the scalp for the treatment of dandruff. 
  • Fenugreek seed dressing for boils: Add 110 g of fenugreek seeds and water or vinegar to a blender and mix until it becomes a paste. Then boil the paste until it starts to bubble. Spread this pulp on a clean cloth, wait for it to cool, then apply directly to a boil or skin wound. Leave it on until it cools, and repeat 3 to 4 times per day. 
  • Fenugreek capsules: The recommended dose is 1 500 to 600 mg capsule once or twice per day, as prescribed. To help with the treatment of diabetes, you should take these capsules before or during a meal. 

The use and duration of fenugreek seeds should be monitored by a doctor or medicinal plant specialist. 

Possible side effects

The use of fenugreek seeds is safe for most people when consumed orally, in capsule or tea form. Nonetheless, some side effects can emerge with prolonged use or if taken in large quantities, like diarrhea, excessive intestinal gas and strong urine odor. 

Fenugreek can also cause an allergic reaction in some people. you should seek urgent medical attention if you experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, stuffy nose, coughing, or swelling in the mouth, tongue or face. 

Contraindications for use

Fenugreek should not be used by pregnant women, as it can stimulate uterine contractions and induce labor. This plant should not be used by children or people undergoing cancer treatments that are sensitive to hormones, like breast or prostate cancer treatments.

In addition, people who use insulin or other diabetic medications should be cautious when using fenugreek, as it can greatly reduce blood sugar and cause hypoglycemia. 

The use of fenugreek should be interrupted 2 weeks before any sugery, as it can affect blood clotting and increase the risk for bleeding and hemorrhages.