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Fenugreek is an herb that may help with your PMS symptoms, cholesterol, and more

Madeline Kennedy,Samantha Cassetty   

Fenugreek is an herb that may help with your PMS symptoms, cholesterol, and more
  • Fenugreek may help lower cholesterol, ease menstrual cramps, and reduce acid reflux.
  • It also contains 4-hydroxyisoleucine, a compound that may help regulate insulin.
  • If you're a new mother who needs help with lactation, fenugreek may increase milk production.

Fenugreek is an herb with a maple syrup-like flavor that's native to the Mediterranean region, western Asia, and southern Europe. You may have tasted it in traditional Indian dishes like saag paneer and tikka masala.

But fenugreek isn't just a flavor-enhancing ingredient. The herb has also been used as a health supplement for centuries and modern studies show that it may have benefits like lowering blood sugar and treating acid reflux.

1. Lowering blood sugar

Fenugreek may reduce blood sugar and help with diabetes because the seeds contain a compound called 4-hydroxyisoleucine. This compound may help regulate the secretion of insulin, a hormone that helps reduce blood sugar.

A small 2013 study gave type-2 diabetes patients a daily drink of fenugreek tea, made from 10 grams of fenugreek seed powder soaked in hot water. After eight weeks, participants' blood sugar levels were reduced by 25%.

Note: If you have diabetes and want to try fenugreek, you may need to adjust your insulin intake. This is because combining insulin and fenugreek may drop your blood sugar too low, putting you at risk for complications associated with hypoglycemia including seizures and fainting. Please talk to your doctor about how to proceed.

2. Increasing milk production in breastfeeding women

Thousands of nursing parents have reported fenugreek helps boost milk flow to meet their baby's needs. Likely because of how the herb increases oxytocin - a hormone that triggers breast milk production

And while some scientific studies support this benefit, research results are mixed:

  • A 2018 analysis found four studies that indicated taking fenugreek "significantly increased" the amount of breast milk people produced compared to people given a placebo.
  • Whereas, a small 2013 study found no significant difference in milk production from those who took a fenugreek supplement three times/day for three weeks compared to participants who took a placebo.

If you're considering taking fenugreek to boost milk production, consult your doctor about if it's right for you and proper dosage.

3. Reducing menstrual cramps

Fenugreek may reduce your period cramps because it has natural pain-relieving properties.

A small 2014 study gave participants about 2 grams of fenugreek seed powder three times per day for the first three days of their period. Over two menstrual cycles, people who took fenugreek reported lower levels of pain, compared with people who didn't get treatment. The fenugreek users also had reduced systemic symptoms like fatigue, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

4. Lowering cholesterol

Fenugreek may help to reduce cholesterol because it contains steroidal saponins, compounds that prevent your intestines from absorbing cholesterol and reduce how much cholesterol your liver produces.

A small 2006 study looked at how fenugreek affects cholesterol in people with both high cholesterol and type-2 diabetes. Study participants either took 25 grams of fenugreek seed powder orally twice per day for up to six weeks or did not receive treatment. At the start of the study, both groups had cholesterol levels of 285 mg/dL but after 6 weeks:

  • Fenugreek users saw a drop in cholesterol to 278 mg/dL
  • Group without treatment saw an increase in cholesterol to about 290 mg/dL

5. Treating acid reflux

Fenugreek fiber may help treat acid reflux because it creates a barrier to stop stomach acid from flowing upward into the esophagus and cause heartburn.

For a small 2010 study, researchers gave people with frequent heartburn a fenugreek fiber supplement 30 minutes before two main meals each day. After two weeks, people who took the supplement had reduced acid reflux symptoms and took fewer antacid medications, compared with people who didn't get the fenugreek.

Moreover, the researchers reported that the fenugreek showed similar "results produced by an OTC antacid medication" suggesting that "people with certain degrees of heartburn can benefit from fenugreek fiber product."

How to take fenugreek

There are several ways you can take fenugreek, including tea and capsules.

The right dose of fenugreek depends on what condition you're managing and if you have certain health conditions like diabetes.

In research studies, participants generally take between 7 and 10 grams of fenugreek per day. To find the best dosage for you, talk to your doctor.

Risks of fenugreek

Schwarcz cautions that taking fenugreek can carry some risks, including:

  • "As a food, fenugreek rarely causes problems but as a supplement, it can result in loose stools and intestinal discomfort," says Joe Schwarcz, PhD, director of the McGill Office for Science and Society and specialist in food chemistry.
  • You shouldn't take fenugreek while pregnant, because it's been associated with an increased risk of birth defects in both humans and animals.
  • It's possible to be allergic to fenugreek, especially in people who have allergies to peanuts and chickpeas, which are in the same botanical family.
  • You shouldn't take fenugreek if you take blood-thinning medications like warfarin, as it can increase your risk of bleeding.

Insider's takeaway

Fenugreek is a seed that offers many health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, treating acid reflux, and decreasing menstrual cramps.

Like any herbal supplement, you should always talk with your doctor before taking fenugreek to avoid any negative side effects.

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