Modern science is shedding new light on another traditional remedy which delivers excellent health benefits. Fenugreek is an herb native to the Mediterranean, Ukraine, India, and China. Its medicinal use was first mentioned 3,500 years ago in the Egyptian Ebers Papyri. And practitioners of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine have used the herb for more than 2,000 years.
Grown as a type of bean, fenugreek has slender stems which grow from 1 to 2 feet high. The plant has gray to green jagged leaves and pale yellow flowers which develop into slender bean pods. Each pod contains 10 to 20 yellow to brown seeds. The seeds are dried to form fenugreek spice. The plant grows best in full sun in rich dry soil.
Fenugreek is also known as Greek Hay and Fenigreek. It is an herb that is commonly found growing in the Mediterranean region of the world. While the seeds and leaves are primarily used as a culinary spice, it is also used to treat a variety of health problems in Egypt, Greece, Italy, and South Asia.
Fenugreek is derived from the dried seeds of the plant and is used traditionally in ayurvedic medicine as a laxative, and lactation stimulant. It is also used as a dietary supplementto treat various conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, wounds, inflammation, and gastrointestinal complaints.
Fenugreek has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels in healthy and diabetic animals and humans. The exact mechanism by which it works is uncertain, but its activity may be associated with the galactomannan fiber and saponin components that reduce glucose and cholesterol absorption and increase bile acid excretion. Blood sugar lowering effects can also be attributed to an amino acid constituent of fenugreek that increases insulin secretion in diabetics. Fenugreek intake in humans is associated with an increase in glucose binding to red blood cells, which may enhance glucose utilization.
The herb can be useful as a way to lose weight because it helps with blood sugar utilization. This inhibits blood sugar spikes which result in insulin spikes and causes fatty deposits in the mid-section. The cholesterol lowering effects are and added bonus. However, I would not proclaim it to be useful as a way to quickly lose weight.
A review of the literature turns up the following studies indicating that fenugreek is useful in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These two studies are listed to demonstrate the cholesterol and blood sugar lowering effects of fenugreek. They are not meant to demonstrate a comprehensive review of all studies related to fenugreek, and exercise which is beyond the scope of this article.
The first of these studies demonstrates the cholesterol lowering properties of fenugreek.
Sharma RD, et al. Hypolipidemic effect of fenugreek seeds: a chronic study in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Phytother Res 1996;10:332-4.
A prospective, one-arm study of dietary fenugreek in 60 patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes of differing severity levels. 40 patients were taking oral hypoglycemic drugs. Each subject underwent 7 days of control diet followed by 24 weeks of consuming 25 g/day fenugreek seed powder prepared in a soup. Diets in each period were similar in calorie and nutrient composition, except for higher fiber content in the fenugreek diet. Mean serum cholesterol decreased from baseline (approx. 241 mg/dl) to 24 weeks (approx. 199 mg/dl), as did LDL cholesterol (approx. 143 to 114 mg/dl), LDL+VLDL cholesterol (approx. 179 to 148 mg/dl), and triglycerides (approx. 187 to 159 mg/dl). Diarrhea and flatulence were reported in a few patients.
This next study demonstrates the blood sugar lowering effect of fenugreek.
Raghuram TC, Sharma RD, Sivakumar B. Effect of fenugreek seeds on intravenous glucose disposition in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Phytother Res 1994;8:83-6.
The following study demonstrates the blood sugar lowering effect of fenugreek.
A randomized, controlled, crossover evaluation of dietary fenugreek in 10 non-insulin dependent diabetics taking glibenclamide, 2.5-7.5 mg/day, with stabilized diet and drug dose. The study consisted of two 15-day periods: 5 patients received bread containing 25 g fenugreek powder daily for the first 15 days, while the other 5 received it in the second 15-day period. Control bread contained the same nutrient content without fenugreek. Food intake and body weight were similar between treatment arms. An intravenous glucose tolerance test at the end of each period showed significantly lower mean plasma glucose levels at 40, 50, and 60 min and an 11% reduction in the area under the curve (AUC) in the fenugreek group. Erythrocyte insulin receptors were significantly higher in number in the fenugreek group.