This plant is thought to originate from India or the Middle East. It is now primarily grown in India and in the Mediterranean countries. It is an herbaceous plant belonging to the Fabaceae family, 40-60 cm high, with alternate trifoliate leaves and pale yellow flowers. Its pods are curved, 10-15 cm long, with narrow ends. These pods contain 10-12 seeds, brown or yellowish, lozenge-shaped, 4-5 mm long, 2-3 mm wide.
Plant Part Used:
Fenugreek is above all a condiment used in Indian and North African cuisine. As a traditional medicine, there is a variety of claims relative to its use. It is widely considered as antidiabetic and anticholesterol herb. It is used as a tonic and appetite stimulant in North Africa. In India, it is used to treat various GIT disorders. It is also said to be galactogogue and uterine stimulant.
Fenugreek also has been used in therapeutic treatment such as CNS stimulant, anti ulcer, anti-inflammatory, intestinal pain, skin diseases, sexual impotence, wound healing, immunomodulatory, antioxidant, anti-neoplastic and anti-pyretic. (40),(41)
The hypoglycaemic activity of fenugreek seeds was demonstrated on several animal models (normal mice and rats, insulin-dependant dogs, alloxan-induced diabetic mice, rats and dogs) (3), (4), (5). The activity was related to various components of the seeds. The soluble dietary fibre fraction, the main components of which are the galactomannans, was shown to reduce glycaemia after glucose administration (3). This fraction was further shown to decrease the serum fructosamine level with no significant change in insulin level (6). Another experiment using fenugreek seed mucilage administrated to streptozocin-induced diabetic rats confirmed the antidiabetic properties (7). Trigonelline is known to have some hypoglycaemic effect. However, most attention was given to 4-hydroxyisoleucine. In vitro, it was shown to increase the insulin secretion by isolated Langerhans islets in a dose-dependant manner. It was also shown to induce a biphasic insulin response in isolated perfused rat pancreas. In vivo, it was shown to be effective in type 2 diabetic rats as well as in conscious fasted dogs in improving oral glucose tolerance after oral administration (3). 4-Hydroxyisoleucine has been shown to increase glucose-induced insulin release without interacting with other agonists of insulin secretion such as tolbutamide and glyceraldehydes, thus demonstrating a novel in vitro insulinotropic activity (8). The bio-molecular mechanism is still unclear. However, it was shown that seed powder was able to both increase the glutamate deshydrogenase and decrease that of D-b-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase in aloxanized rats. Ultrastructures of the rat liver showed a reduction in abnormalities (9). An alcoholic seed extract exerted an anti-cataract in alloxanized diabetic rats (5).
Fenugreek seeds showed some hypocholesterolemic activity. This activity was credited to both the galactomannans and the saponins. Galactomannans decrease the uptake of bile acids, lower blood and liver concentration of cholesterol and decrease hepatic cholesterol synthesis (3). Indeed, the soluble dietary fibre fraction of the seeds significantly decreases the atherogenic lipids in type 2 diabetic rats (6). Saponins were also shown to interact with bile salts in the GIT (3).
Studies to verify these traditional claims provide somewhat contradictory results. Some studies using fenugreek seeds as food supplement did not alter the food intake of animals (10). When given to type 2 diabetic patients, no significant changes were observed on the food consumption, mean energy intake or body weight. However, the seed extract was reported to increase appetite and food intake in rats. The saponins seem to be responsible for this effect, as a total saponin extract significantly increased appetite and body weight of normal as well as diabetic animals (3).
An aqueous extract and a gel fraction of fenugreek seeds were shown to protect the gastric mucosa as efficiently and more efficiently, respectively than omeprazole in protecting rat from HCl-ethanol-induced gastric ulcers (11).
Antioxidant activity and chemopreventive activity
Consumption of an aqueous extract of fenugreek seeds concurrently with ethanol for 60 days reduced liver and brain damage in rats compared with use of alcohol alone. The aqueous extract had an in vitro antioxidant potential in liver cells comparable to vitamin E and glutathione (12). Ethanol-induced lipid peroxidation was prevented to rise in rats by an aqueous extract of fenugreek seeds. Similarly, during 1,2-dimethylhydrazine-induced rat colon carcinogenesis the circulatory lipid peroxidation was decreased and chemoprevention was exerted by adding fenugreek to the diet (13). A water extract of fenugreek seeds showed chemopreventive activity against 7,12-dimethylbenz-(a)-anthracene (DMBA)-induced breast cancer in rats (14). A polyphenolic extract was able to prevent ethanol-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis in Chang liver cells (15). The same extract was also shown to protect erythrocytes from H2O2-induced oxidative damage (16).
The studies reported the Trigonella foenum-graecum have antidiabetic properties when its combine with sodium orthovanadate. The low dose in vanadate is mixed with fenugreek seed to prevent toxicity and antidiabetic effects are evaluated on membrane-linked functions and antioxidant enzymes in diabetic rat brains. Vanadium salts play a role as mimic of promoting effects of insulin. The previous study has reported diabetes reduced Na+/K+ ATPase activity in brain microsomal membrane. The 21 days after effectiveness treatment of Trigonella and 0.2mg/ml vanadate was restored the reduced activity of Na+/K+ ATP, altered membrane fluidity and increased lipid peroxides. This alternative treatment can be explored further as a means of diabetic control. (39)
Fenugreek seeds showed some stimulatory effect on immune functions in mice (17).
A laboratory animal study found that T. foenum-graecum is useful as antiobesity properties. The result reported that the body weight gain induced by high-fat diet in obese mice was decreased. It also has been elucidated the potential of fenugreek in inhibition of lipid accumulation in the liver without affected tissue weights of the kidney and spleen, where as this process not involve toxicity activity of the extract. The absorption of triglyceride in the intestine also was investigated by a lipid-loading test to indicated reduction of body weight mechanism. The resulted was representing the corn oil administration caused reduction of plasma triglyceride. Also, 4-hydroxyisoleucine has the potential to decrease the plasma triglyceride gain by the same cause without reduce body weight gain induced by a high-fat diet. (38) In other study, the extract of sapogenins in the seeds of fenugreek is used to decrease the level of cholesterol as its potential to increase biliary secretion. (42)
Fenugreek seeds are considered as essentially non-toxic, either in acute or sub-chronic studies (18), (10). There is a report that links fenugreek (whole plant) with myopathy in ruminants (19).
Genotoxicity and Mutagenicity Studies
No genotoxicity found when fenugreek seeds were evaluated by the standard battery of tests recommended by the US FDA for food ingredients (20).
A study on cyclists showed that a fenugreek extract increases insulin concentration and glycogen resynthesis after exercise (21). Various clinical trials of fenugreek showed improvement in glucose tolerance in healthy volunteers as well as in type 2 and type 1 diabetic patients (22), (3), (23), (24). However, all these studies were considered as methodologically weak and classified as preliminary (25).
A clinical trial on hyperlipidemic non-diabetic patients whom diet was supplemented in defatted fenugreek showed significant reduction of serum total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while HDL cholesterol levels were unchanged (3). In another trial, fenugreek seed powder did not affect the blood profile in healthy subjects, but significantly reduced the total cholesterol and triglyceride without affecting the HDL-cholesterol in patients with coronary artery disease (26). Similar results were obtained with germinated seeds, which are less bitter (27). Long lasting hypo-cholesterolemic activity was also demonstrated in diabetic subjects. Altogether, the methodology of these studies were considered as poor (28), (25).
One study involving ten women indicated that fenugreek seeds would increase milk production. However a stronger methodology would be required before this claim could be endorsed.
Adverse Effects in Human:
Used in Certain Conditions:
Pregnancy / Breastfeeding
Neonates / Adolescents
Chronic Disease Conditions
Interactions with Drugs
Interactions with Other Herbs / Herbal Constituents
Fenugreek seeds extract and garlic extract are less effective in the regulation of hyperthyroidism in rats than administrated independently (36).
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes (speculative).
Interaction with warfarin
False maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)