Because fenugreek seeds have strong antioxidant properties, the herb has been used for centuries in Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine. Fenugreek is considered a tonic for the liver and pancreas, and it is often used to treat problems with digestion as well.
In addition, studies show that people with diabetes may benefit from eating relatively large amounts of fenugreek seeds.
One study showed that 25 grams (about an ounce) of fenugreek seeds per day significantly lowered blood glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
Even larger intakes of fenugreek seeds have a greater effect on blood glucose levels. Another study, this time of people with type 1 diabetes (formerly known as juvenile diabetes), showed that people who ate 100 grams of fenugreek seeds per day were able to excrete 54 percent more glucose through the urine than those who did not consume fenugreek seeds.
It is believed that the part of the seed known as mucilages coat the intestinal lining and prevent the stomach from emptying too quickly. This effectively slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Fenugreek also contains an amino acid called hydroxyisoleucene, which helps the pancreas secrete insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels. Further, compounds in fenugreek help the liver and muscles respond better to the glucose lowering effects of insulin.
Studies also show that fenugreek may be effective in helping to lower levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, and it appears that they can do so without decreasing levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol. This is because fenugreek seeds contain natural substances known as saponins, which act as a cleanser or “soap” to remove larger cholesterol molecules from bile.
Fenugreek may also help to ease symptoms of mastitis, a painful condition that often affects women who are breastfeeding. The seeds inhibit liver enzymes that break down estrogen. This helps to encourage both lactation and the growth of breast tissue, thereby easing the symptoms of mastitis.
What About Fenugreek Side Effects?
Fenugreek seeds can be eaten whole, and they are also ground and used to make capsules and teas. In most cases, doses of up to 100 grams per day can be consumed without side effects. Larger doses may cause intestinal distress and nausea. Since fenugreek prevents the absorption of iron, people with anemia should not use it.
Also, thyroid hormones can be affected by fenugreek, so the herb should not be used by people who take thyroid medications or by those with thyroid disease. Further, pregnant women should not use fenugreek, as the herb has been shown to stimulate uterine contractions in animals.
While it appears safe and even beneficial to take fenugreek in conjunction with insulin or blood-sugar-lowering drugs, people with diabetes should discuss this option with their doctors.