Fenugreek is an herb to watch, with benefits ranging from blood sugar support and stress relief.
There’s no doubt that U.S. herbal supplement usage is on the rise, with HerbalGram report data showing a year-over-year sales increase of 8.5% in 2017, the strongest growth in U.S. herbal supplements sales in over 15 years, surpassing $8 billion.1 A growing body of research and industry recognition have raised the profile of trending herbs like turmeric, green tea, cranberry, and echinacea. Interestingly, another herb that saw tremendous growth in U.S. mainstream sales channels is fenugreek. According to the HerbalGram report, sales of fenugreek in that channel increased over 33.5% in 2017 compared to 2016, indicating that this herb is gaining serious momentum.
Fenugreek is a versatile herb with traditional use based in the Ayurvedic tradition. While it is well-renowned for its blood sugar supportive properties-and this remains a primary indication for the herb-recent research highlights fenugreek’s benefits in other areas, as well. These include women’s health (by reducing menopausal symptoms) and men’s health (by promoting healthy testosterone levels and sexual function). Fenugreek is also being studied for its potential benefits for stress and anxiety. Studies summarized here attest to the broad range of this herb’s utility, suggesting that its growth and appreciation with consumers is likely to continue.
1. Smith T et al., “Herbal Supplement Sales in US Increased 8.5% in 2017, Topping $8 Billion,” HerbalGram, No. 119 (2018): 62-71
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Fenugreek contains compounds that have hormonal modulatory activity, as previous studies have found a phyto-estrogenic effect and the ability of these compounds to bind to estrogen receptors. A recent study led by Elizabeth Steels from Sydney Medical School at the University of Sydney (Sydney, Australia) aimed to look at the effect of a de-husked fenugreek seed extract on menopausal symptoms.2
A total of 115 women aged 40 to 65 experiencing menopausal symptoms were recruited to participate in the randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Participants were asked to supplement with 600 mg/day of de-husked seed extract for 12 weeks or the equivalent dose of a placebo.
The results showed a significant reduction in menopausal symptoms with fenugreek compared with the placebo group, including in vasomotor, psychosocial, physical, and sexual symptoms. Among the vasomotor symptoms that improved were hot flashes and night sweats. Estradiol levels were also measured in both groups and were found to be similar after treatment. Thus, fenugreek extracts may be an effective option for women experiencing menopausal symptoms.
2. Steels E et al., “Efficacy of a proprietary Trigonella foenum-graecum L. de-husked seed extract in reducing menopausal symptoms in otherwise healthy women: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study,” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 31, no. 9 (September 2017):1316-1322
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Stress and Anxiety
When combined with curcumin from turmeric (Curcuma longa), fenugreek fiber has been shown to substantially enhance curcumin’s normally poor bioavailability. Both ingredients are paired in a branded ingredient called CurQfen, supplied by Akay Group (Dubai). CurQfen was recently studied in 60 individuals experiencing occupational stress.3 Researchers from Kerala, India, conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study during which participants experiencing anxiety and fatigue secondary to occupational stress were randomized to receive the curcumin-fenugreek combination, standard curcumin, or a placebo (all 500 mg twice daily) for 30 days. The Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) questionnaire, a measure of quality-of-life indicators, was used along with blood measures of antioxidant activity, to monitor the effects of treatment.
The curcumin-fenugreek combination significantly outperformed standard curcumin and placebo and led to significant improvements in quality-of-life measures. The combination was shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Blood markers of antioxidant function and oxidative stress also showed significant improvements, including enhanced endogenous antioxidant status as well as reduced lipid peroxidation, indicating the benefits of the combination in those experiencing work-related stress.
3. Pandaran Sudheeran S et al., “Safety, tolerance, and enhanced efficacy of a bioavailable formulation of curcumin with fenugreek dietary fiber on occupational stress: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study,” Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, vol. 36, no. 3 (June 2016): 236-243
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Testosterone concentrations in men are known to decrease at a rate of 1%-2% per year after the age of 40. This decrease can be associated with a decrease in sexual activity and desire, as well as potential negative effects on musculoskeletal and metabolic health. Results from a recent 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study led by Amanda Rao from the University of Sydney (Sydney, Australia) indicate that fenugreek extracts may be a natural way to enhance testosterone levels and improve symptoms of androgen deficiency.
In the study, researchers assessed the effect of Testofen, a branded ingredient from Gencor (Irvine, CA). This extract of fenugreek containing steroidal saponins, and specifically furostanol glycosides, was given at a dose of 600 mg/day, or placebo, to the study subjects, which included 120 healthy men aged 43 to 75.4 Participants were assessed using the Aging Male Symptom (AMS) questionnaire, which measures psychological, somatic, and sexual parameters associated with androgen deficiency. Sexual function and drive were evaluated, as were serum total and free testosterone levels.
Fenugreek supplementation led to significant decreases in the AMS score compared to placebo. Sexual function also improved-specifically, the number of morning erections and frequency of sexual activity. Total and free testosterone levels showed statistically significant increases after 12 weeks in the fenugreek group, indicating its effectiveness in improving parameters associated with androgen deficiency.
4. Rao A et al., “Testofen, a specialized Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract reduces age-related symptoms of androgen decrease, increases testosterone levels and improves sexual function in healthy aging males in a double-blind randomised clinical study,” Aging Male, vol. 19, no. 2 (June 2016):134-142
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Post-Meal Blood Sugar Support
Fenugreek is known to have blood-sugar-lowering properties and has a history of traditional use in Ayurvedic medicine for this purpose. Recently, a research group from Malaysia decided to explore the benefits of fenugreek seed powder as an additive to high-glycemic buns and flatbreads to determine fenugreek’s ability to change the glycemic response and glycemic index of these foods.5
In the randomized controlled trial with a crossover design, 10 healthy adults were fed buns and flatbreads with and without added fenugreek seed powder (10%) on six different occasions. Blood samples were taken at intervals between 0 and 120 minutes post-meal.
The post-meal concentrations of blood sugar were significantly lower with flatbreads and buns containing fenugreek powder than with those without. Adding fenugreek powder significantly reduced the glycemic index of buns from an average of 82 to an average of 51 and of flatbread from 63 to 43, indicating that a partial replacement of refined flour with fenugreek seed powder may lead to a reduction in postprandial (post-meal) blood sugar levels.
4. Robert SD et al., “Reduction of postprandial blood glucose in healthy subjects by buns and flatbreads incorporated with fenugreek seed powder,” European Journal of Nutrition, vol. 55, no. 7 (October 2016): 2275-2280
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