Clayton's Health Facts: Fenugreek.

Clayton South, SPN (ISSA), is a recognized expert in the bodybuilding / fitness industry with over 150 bodybuilding, fitness and nutrition publications to his credit.

What is it and where does it come from?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is an herb native to southern Europe and Asia. Fenugreek has been used for thousands of years by native populations to treat a myriad of garden variety ailments and conditions.

What does it do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?

Fenugreek is used primarily as a food additive and spice. Its maple odor and flavor make it a popular addition to baked goods and specialty dishes.

4-hydroxyisoleucine (4-OH-Ile) is an amino acid extracted from fenugreek seeds.

As a dietary supplement, fenugreek has been used in so-called "breast enhancing" products1 and as an aphrodisiac. Fenugreek has also been shown to induce lactation in females.2

Fenugreek contains high concentrations of choline, tryptophan, ascorbic acid, niacin and potassium. Choline is important for athletic performance, tryptophan is a serotonin precursor, ascorbic acid is a powerful antioxidant3, and niacin and potassium are critical for immune function.

Medically, fenugreek has been used as a treatment for type 1 and 2 diabetes4,5,6,7, 8,9 to treat bronchitis, constipation, irritated skin, and high cholesterol.10 The presence of 4-hydroxyisoleucine may be responsible in part for fenugreeks effectiveness as a diabetes treatment.11 It is hypothesized that fenugreek prevents the synthesis of cholesterol, thereby preventing atherosclerosis and high-triglyceride levels.12

Fenugreek may also offer protection to the brain and liver against alcohol.13

Who needs it and are there any symptoms of deficiency?

No physiological need for fenugreek exists and thus no symptoms of deficiency exist.

Athletes and persons with the above medical conditions may benefit from fenugreek supplementation. Fenugreek may also be of benefit to those who wish to add flavoring to food dishes.

How much should be taken? Are there any side effects?

Though overdose and side effects associated with fenugreek supplementation are rare, overdose can include symptoms of nausea. Some persons have allergies to fenugreek supplementation, and thus it is of importance to be aware of your allergies prior to fenugreek purchase and supplementation.14

Pregnant women should not supplement with fenugreek as it has been linked with several miscarriages15


1. Fugh-Berman A. "Bust enhancing" herbal products. Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Jun;101(6):1345-9.

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

3. Langmead L, Dawson C, Hawkins C, Banna N, Loo S, Rampton DS. Antioxidant effects of herbal therapies used by patients with inflammatory bowel disease: an in vitro study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Feb;16(2):197-205.

4. Saxena A, Vikram NK. Role of selected Indian plants in management of type 2 diabetes: a review. J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Apr;10(2):369-78.

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

6. Raghuram TC, Sharma RD, Sivakumar B, Sahay BK. Effect of fenugreek seeds on intravenous glucose disposition in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Phytother Res 1994;8:83-6.

7. Ribes G, Sauvaire Y, Da Costa C, et al. Antidiabetic effects of subfractions from fenugreek seeds in diabetic dogs. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1986;182:159-66

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

9. 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.

10. Thompson Coon JS, Ernst E. Herbs for serum cholesterol reduction: a systematic view. J Fam Pract. 2003 Jun;52(6):468-78.

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. Sauvaire Y, Ribes G, Baccou JC, Loubatieres-Mariani MM. Implication of steroid saponins and sapogenins in the hypocholesterolemic effect of fenugreek. Lipids 1991;26:191-7.

13. Thirunavukkarasu V, Anuradha CV, Viswanathan P. Protective effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) seeds in experimental ethanol toxicity. Phytother Res. 2003 Aug;17(7):737-43.

14. Patil SP, Niphadkar PV, Bapat MM. Allergy to fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum). Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1997 Mar;78(3):297-300.

15. Brinker F. Herb Contradictions and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 1998, 70-1.