Trigonella foenum-graecum L.
Fenugreek is a one- year old plant with white flowers and hard, yellowish-brown, angled seeds and belongs to fabaceae or fabacecae family. Its height reaches up to 30 to 60 centimeters. Its leaves are three-parts, jagged and egg-shaped and in gray-green color. Every of its thin sword-shaped pods contain 10-20 seeds. Fenugreek seeds are small and their length is 5mm. It is native to South Europe and West Asia regions and according to some experts and researchers, this plant was native to Iran at first and then it was transferred to other regions. Fenugreek is cultivated in India, China, Africa, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Spain and Italy extensively.
Extensive distribution of fenugreek cultivation all over the world is indicative of its adaption with various climatic conditions and growth environment; colder nights may have a useful effect on sapoenin content (steroidal saponins) of fenugreek seed. In traditional books it is known as halabeh. In France it is called Trigonella. The name of this plant comes from Greek word Trigonous that means triangle, because of its triangle-shaped leaflets and “Foenum-graecum” that means “hay Greek” or “Greek grass” because of its abundant applications in ancient Greece.
1. Relieving Menstrual Pain
In 2015, a double blinded clinical trial study was done on 101 people and its results were published in The Journal of Urmia Nursing and Midwifery Faculty. The samples were simulated regarding dysmenorrhea severity and then were randomly placed in two groups of 50 and 51 people. Fenugreek seed capsules containing 900mg seed powder three times daily and every time 2 to 3 capsules was prescribed during the first three days of menstrual and during two cycles. Control group people were prescribed similar capsules with the same instruction which contained starch (placebo). The findings showed that before interference there wasn’t any difference between the two groups regarding pain severity. During the first and second cycles after interference a significant difference was observed. Difference of average pain severity in the group that received fenugreek seed before interference and first and second cycles after interference was significant.
Duration of pain between the two cycles was not significant statistically in the placebo group, but in the fenugreek seed group duration of pain between the two cycles had a significant reduction statistically.
But only lethargy severity was reduced in placebo group. During the research no side effects were reported in the groups. According to the results, it seems that fenugreek can reduce dysmenorrhea severity.
2. Relieving Menopause Symptoms
In 1390, a research with the purpose of investigating the effect of fenugreek seed and linseed on severity and times of flushing was done and its results were published in complementary medicine magazine. During this controlled random clinical trial, 60 postmenopausal women with flushing complaints were divided in two equal groups. The first group was given 6gr fenugreek seed and the second group was given 25gr linseeds daily for 4 consecutive weeks. Lack of menstruation during last 12 months, normal blood pressure, no use of drugs such as anti-anxiety, anti-depression, estrogen progesterone hormones during last 6 months, anticoagulant, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen and not suffering from asthma and allergy were parameters of entering in this research and exiting parameters included: lack of proper consumption of herbal medicine, creating skin irritation, sensitivity to drugs and changing location. At the beginning of the study, 4th and 8th weeks, severity and times of flushing was investigated and analyzed statistically. Severity of flushing in 8th week in the linseed group was 1.614, 1.389 and 1.163 and in the fenugreek seed group, it was 1.767, 1.992 and 1.541. Flushing times in 8th week in the fenugreek seed group with the average of 1.194, 1.373 and 0.926 and in linseed group, with the average of 1.322, 1.542 and 1.102 was achieved. The results of this study showed that fenugreek seed and linseed reduced flushing severity and times in women who participated in this study.
3. Regulating Blood Glucose Levels
Dietary fibers have significant benefits for people with sweet diabetes (mellitus). Fenugreek seeds are rich in dietary fibers and therefore are useful in diabetes field. Fenugreek contains fiber (mucilage and neutral). Also it contains trigonelline, an alkaloid affecting glycosuria (glucose levels in urine). Comprehensive clinical trials and animal experiments performed in National Nutrition Institute in India showed the useful effect of fenugreek in both types of diabetes 1 and 2.
In another study it was observed that 17 out of 21 patients with non-insulin dependent sweet diabetes who received 15gr fenugreek daily showed a significant reduction in blood glucose level without any change in insulin levels.
Reductive effect of fenugreek seed powder in a human trial including 60 non-insulin dependent diabetic patients was investigated. During trial 25 gr fenugreek seed powder was divided in two equal doses and it was added to diet and consumed during lunch and dinner. Fasting blood glucose level reduced and glucose tolerance improved. Sugar excretion reduced significantly. Also hemoglobin glycation and insulin levels reduced. When 25 gr fenugreek seed was given to diabetic people for 21 days, significant improvement in glucose plasma response was observed, while insulin levels decreased.
4. Regulating Blood Cholesterol Levels
The effect of fenugreek germinated seed powder in human samples was investigated. Consumption of germinated seeds (in two levels of 5/12 and 18 gr daily for 1 month) led to hypocholesterolimic effect (reductive of blood lipid). In high level consumption (18gr germinated seed) a significant reduction in total cholesterol level and LDL was observed. Significant changes were not observed in people’s HDL and VLDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Fenugreek creates hypocholesterolimic effect through excretion of bile acid and neutral strolls of the stool; and also elimination of cholesterol stored in liver are involved in this feature.
5. Increasing Antioxidant Activity
The effect of fenugreek seed powder supplement on diet (in a dose of 2gr/kg body weight for 30 days), on lipid peroxidation and antioxidant statues of rats with diabetes induced by alloxan has been investigated. In diabetic rats lipid peroxidation and an increase in sensitivity to oxidative tension due to elimination of liver, kidney and pancreas antioxidants was observed that treating rats with fenugreek seed powder caused them to return to normal levels.
Also protective effect of aqueous extract of the seeds on Ca2+-ATPase (a type of protein which transfers calcium from cell membrane) in liver homogenate in presence of double positively charged ions or ascorbate in vitro (in artificial environment out of living body) was investigated. Ca2+ -ATPase activity in liver was maintained about 80% of the initial activity by aqueous extract. Findings show that soluble part of the seeds can be responsible for antioxidant feature.
6. Boosting Immune System
“Immune system moderator” activity of aqueous extract of fenugreek in Swiss Albino male rats was assessed through treating animals with three doses of the extract (50, 100 and 250 mg/kg body weight) for 10 days. Generally, fenugreek had a stimulant effect on immune functions in rats.
7. Improving Thyroid Gland Function
In diabetic rats, reactive oxygen species (ROS) caused thyroid damage that was proved by reduction in TSH levels and increase in T4 levels in comparison with control samples. In fact, disorder in thyroid function can also be explained through hyperglycemia (high blood glucose level) that is related with liver toxicity and kidney function disorder. Protective effects of fenugreek seeds added to diet, on oxidative tension and disorder of kidney, thyroid and liver function of rats with diabetes induced with alloxan were investigated. Diabetes originated by alloxan caused:
1. Increase in blood glucose level, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels
2. Increase in alkalin phosphatase and transaminase activity in blood
3. Increase in creatinine, urea and protein levels in blood
4. Decrease in TSH level and increase in free thyroxine levels in plasma.
In addition, an oxidative tension was observed and it was proved through increase in lipid peroxidation levels and superoxide dismutase due to glutathione peroxidase and catalase activities in liver and kidney tissues. When fenugreek powder in dose of 100 (gr/kg) was added to diet for 30 days, all of these parameters changed to normal amounts significantly. Therefore, fenugreek seeds powder showed useful effects on liver toxicity, nephropathy, thyroid function disorder and oxidative tension in rats with diabetes induced by alloxan. This feature can be due to presence of antioxidant ingredients such as complex polysaccharides and phenolic acids.
In another study, Fenugreek seed extract in dose of 200 (mg/kg body weight) had improving effect in hyperthyroidism in rat samples. Hyperthyroidism was created through daily injection of L-thyroxine in dose of 300microgram/kg body weight.
8. Treating Anemia
In a random clinical trial 30 female students who ranged between 20-22 years old in childbearing age and were exposed to usual diet and environmental conditions were selected for investigation. Under study people were divided in two groups of 15 people. The group that received fenugreek seed powder daily in dose of 5 gr orally for 3 consecutive months showed a significant increase in blood hemoglobin levels compared with the group which didn’t receive it. This clinical trial proved that fenugreek seeds are rich in proteins with essential amino acids, iron, ascorbate and folate that have tonic and nutritive effects. Fenugreek has beneficial effects in increasing blood hemoglobin and can help more in prevention and treatment of anemia.
Fenugreek seed extract in dose of 200 (mg/kg body weight) controlled breast hyperplasia originated by 7, 12- dimethyl benzene (alpha) anthracene significantly and decreased its access in rats. This study suggested that protective effects of fenugreek against breast cancer can be due to apoptosis (planned cell death). A diet containing fenugreek seed powder reduced colon tumor and lipid peroxidation access in liver tissue in rats treated with 1, 2-dimethl hydrazine (colon carcinogen) and also increased catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathione S- transferase and glutathione peroxidase in liver activity.
10. Alleviating Peptic Ulcer Disease
In 2011, a research with the purpose of diagnosing fenugreek seeds effect on stomach mucous layer ulcer originated by Aspirin in rats was done and its results were published in World Journal of Dairy & Food Sciences. 48 Albino male rats of the Sprague Dawley race were divided in normal control group and 5 groups with peptic ulcer originated by Aspirin: the untreated group (positive control) and groups treated with drug, fenugreek seeds extract, and fenugreek oil and fenugreek powder. Rat groups under treatment with fenugreek extract, oil and powder showed a significant reduction in “percentage of treatment ratio” and reduction in “total acidity percentage” compared with the group under treatment with drug. These observations showed that fenugreek seeds have anti- peptic ulcer potential. Also Lipid peroxidation increase originated by ethanol is prevented by fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek increases antioxidant potential of stomach mucous and therefore it can decrease mucous damage. With various researches it can be shown that fraction gel solutions originated by fenugreek seeds are more effective than Omeprazole in preventing ulcer formation.
11. Improving Kidney Function
In 2007, controlling effect of fenugreek seeds aqueous extract on formation of calcium oxalate kidney stone originated by ethylene glycol with ammonium chloride was investigated. At the end of the study all kidneys were taken out of rats’ body and were investigated microscopically for probability of stone or crystal locations. Total calcium amount in kidney tissue was assessed. Blood sample was taken in order to diagnose calcium, phosphor, creatinine and urea levels.
The results showed that the level of calcification (calcium accumulation) in kidneys and calcium level of the total kidney tissue in rats that were treated by fenugreek in comparison with untreated group reduced significantly. Therefore, fenugreek can be helpful in treating patients with calcium stone of the urinary tract.
12. Increasing Breast Milk Production
The effect of fenugreek seed on the amount of milk production and fat percentage was investigated in 21 lactating goats for 9 weeks. Goats were divided according to the amount of fenugreek in food (zero, 25 and 50%) in three groups of A, B and C respectively. All diets were the same. The amount of milk produced daily and fat percentage was recorded weekly. Group B showed more significant amount of produced milk daily and fat percentage in comparison to the other two groups. However, group C showed lower amount of produced milk daily and fat percentage in comparison to the control group. No significant difference was observed in total protein, globulin, albumin, cholesterol, glucose and total lipids among the three groups.
However, according to the results of a study which was done in 2013, the volume of milk or prolactin levels had no significant difference in mothers who received fenugreek or those who received placebo.
13. Regulating Blood Pressure
Endothelial dysfunction is a disease that is associated with induction of various disorders such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, sweet diabetes (mellitus) and etc. Essential oils produced of fenugreeks in combination with other essential oils are applied for decreasing systolic blood pressure in rats with spontaneous blood pressure. Serotonin receptors (HT-5) has an important role in improving hypertension and anti-blood pressure activity of ethanolic extract and methanolic fractions of fenugreek seeds can be due to antagonism of serotonin 2B receptors (5-HT2B) to some extent.
In a research 6 weeks treatment with ethanolic extract of the fenugreeks seeds (100mg/ kg daily, orally) in Wistar male rats which suffered from hypertension through diet with high fructose or 10% fructose solution showed that fenugreek seeds have significant anti- blood pressure effect.
Active phytochemicals including terpenoids, alkaloids, flavonoids, steroidal glycosides are considered as responsible for diuretic activity. These active ingredients exist in fenugreek seeds extracts which can be responsible for diuretic activity and “sodium elimination activity through urine”.
Aqueous and benzene extract of fenugreek “diuretic activity” in a dose dependent method through increasing urine amount and also “sodium elimination activity through urine” through increasing ratio levels of sodium ions to potassium ions in Wistar rats have shown that it can be applied for treating hypertension.
15. Strengthening Bones and Joints
Fenugreek is effective in treating osteomyelitis (bone infection) and bone tuberculosis in children. Due to containing iron, phosphorus, carbohydrates, diastases and other nitrogenic substances existing in this plant, it can eliminate some diseases originated by anorexia, weakness and thinness. Also it can be used for different cases in which prescribing iron and phosphorous supplements are necessary.
16. Promoting Weight Loss
Studies have shown that food rich in dietary fibers and protein increase secretion of anti-appetite hormone and insulinotropic (stimulant or effective in insulin production and activity), peptid-1 pseudo glucagon (GLP-1), (reductive of blood glucose levels through increase in insulin secretion) in order to improve glucose tolerance and reduce weight gain process.
In some studies, it is emphasized that fenugreek seed extract supplement is effective in reduction of body weight and fat tissue.
The probable mechanism may be due to discharge of carbohydrates from body before entrance to blood flow that causes weight loss; also, high amount of fiber solution in fenugreek that forms a gelatin form structure can be effective in slowing down digestion and food absorption from intestine and create feeling full.
A research has shown that oral consumption of fenugreek seed extract in doses of 150 and 300 (mg/ kg body weight) for 4 weeks reduced fat accumulation significantly. According to the results, fenugreek improved body resistance through an increase in consumption of fatty acids as an energy source. The results of this study were published in Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology in 2006.
In 2010, a research with the purpose of assessing anti-inflammatory effect of fenugreek seeds extract through application of edema of mouse pad originated by carrageenan compared with Diclofenac Potassium anti-inflammatory drug (10 mg/kg, oral) was done and its results were published in Drug Invention Today Magazine.
Aqueous and ethanolic extracts that were taken from fenugreek seeds consecutively 1 hour before inflammation induction in dose range of 50, 100 and 200 (mg/ kg, oral) were applied.
Edema of mouse pad with injection of 0/1 ml of 1% carrageenan solution (weight/ volume) was induced to back left paw of the rats.
Results of this study showed that ethanolic extract of fenugreek in dose of 200 (mg/kg) caused a significant reduction in inflammation compared with the animals in the group that received fenugreek aqueous essence.
Anti-inflammation feature of fenugreek probably is due to presence of saponins and flavonoids. Flavonoids act as antioxidants and potential controllers of cycloxinage, lipoxinage and nitric oxide synthase.
18. Relieving Constipation
Fenugreek fiber can be helpful in treating constipation and delay diverticulosis development and diverticulitis (diseases of colon area). Fenugreek fiber can soften stool through water imprisonment and minimize the time of its transfer through intestine, also, it can help to keep stool times constant and persistent.
19. Increasing Fertility
Poly cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormone disorders among women in childbearing ages that cause irregular menstruation, face and body unwanted hair, abortion and sterility. In 2015, a study was performed on 50 women ranging between 18-45 years old with PCOS and non-post menopause women and its results were published in International Journal of Medical Sciences. In this study 2 capsules of 500 mg fenugreek seed extract which were enriched by 40% furoustanolic saponins were consumed daily in a 90 consecutive day’s period. The study was performed to diagnose efficiency of this extract in reduction of volume and number of ovary cysts.
About 46% of the under study population, showed a reduction in the cyst size and 36% of people showed complete removing of the cyst. It is important to mention this issue that 71% of people reported return of regular menstrual cycles after the end of the treatment and 21% of people became pregnant consequently. Generally, 94% of patients benefitted from this diet. Significant increase in FSH and LH hormones levels was observed compared with initial amounts. This extract reduced volume and number of ovary cysts significantly.
Carbohydrate, Vitamins (B1,B6, B12, C, Folic acid), Protein & Amino acids (Globulin, Albumin, Lecithin, Histidine, 4- hydroxyisoleucine), Alkaloids (Trigonolline, Cholin, Gentianine, Carpaine), Fibers & Gums (Saponins, Hemicelluloses, Mucilage, Tannins and Pectin), Lipids (Triacylglycerols, Diacylglycerols, Monoacylglycerols, Phosphatidylcholine, Phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol), Flavonoids (Vitexin, Tricin, Naringenin, Quercetin, Luteolin, Rutin), Volatile Compounds (n-hexanol, Heptanoic acid, Dihydroactiniolide, Dihydrobenzofuran, Tetradecane, Pentadecane), Spirostanols and Furastanols (Diosgenin, Gitogenin and Yamogenin).
According to experts of traditional medicine of Iran, fenugreek has a warm and dry nature and its leaves are applied in cough relief, splenomegaly, hepatitis and backache.
Also, the seeds of this plant are used as topical softener, an ointment for topical inflammation and soothing for reduction of joints pain (arthralgia). Herbal tea of this plant mixed with honey is suggested for treating asthma and internal edema.
According to writings gained from ancient civilizations, fenugreek is one of the oldest herbs used in Rome and Egypt for facilitating delivery and increasing breast milk. Even today, Egyptian women use this plant as hilba tea to relieve menstrual pains and stomach problems.
In Chinese traditional medicine this plant had been used for strengthening body, treating body weakness and gout. In eastern countries people with very thin and weak figure have used this plant in order to have a strong and fit body.
In Indian traditional medicine it has been used as tonic, and also stimulant of breast milk and as a spice. According to Aiurada texts this plant reinforces libido.
In Sudan its seeds have many applications, particularly in traditional medicine. The whole seeds are swollen as anti-acid and against dysentery (bloody diarrhea) and stomach problems. Fenugreek is used by nursing women in the form of a soft porridge.
Chinese botanists used it for kidney problems and diseases affecting men’s reproduction system. Nutritive seeds are given to patients during recovery period and for weight increase particularly in case of anorexia. Relieving effect of seeds makes them valuable in treating gastritis (stomach swelling) and stomach ulcers. Fenugreek seeds eliminate halitosis. This plant has a useful function in blood purification and lymphatic system; causes sweating and helps body detoxification; combined with lime and honey lowers the fever. Fenugreek often is used in many teas and other products which help hormones balance in women and/ or breast growth.