Seeds of this annual herb, a member of the pea family, were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb and reference to it first appears on ancient Egyptian papyrus dated to 1500 BC. Its aromatic properties make it a staple of Indian and Middle Eastern cookery and it has a long history of uses in traditional medicine. Clinical trials have shown that it can improve metabolic symptoms associated with diabetes by lowering blood glucose levels and improving glucose tolerance. It is alleged to offer many other health benefits (including the relief of digestive problems, gout, erectile dysfunction and eczema) and has been used for centuries by women who are breastfeeding to promote milk production.
How Fenugreek Works
In multiple trials fenugreek has been shown to decrease blood glucose and cholesterol. The powdered seed, available as capsules, is high in soluble fiber that slows the absorption of sugars in the stomach, while the presence of the amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine may help to stimulate insulin production. One small trial found that adding about 1–2 ounces per day per day of powdered fenugreek seed to the diet reduced blood levels of triglycerides and LDL (“bad cholesterol”) over a 20-day period. Fenugreek seeds are also a good source of vitamins, minerals , and antioxidants, helping to protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals.
How to Use Fenugreek
Fenugreek leaves and seeds can be used to add a slightly sweet, nutty flavor to savory dishes. Fenugreek can also be taken as capsules, tablets or as a tea. (Some people soak seeds overnight to produce fenugreek water to consume in the morning.) With all products, follow label instructions or take as professionally prescribed. Mild diarrhea, gas or bloating can occur during the first few days of use, but these side effects usually pass quickly.
Fenugreek is safe when consumed in food but check with your doctor before using supplements if you are taking prescribed diabetes medications or anticoagulant medications such as warfarin or aspirin. Fenugreek is best avoided during pregnancy, when it could cause early contractions.
Where to Find Fenugreek
Fenugreek capsules are available in health food stores and supermarkets. Fenugreek—or “Methi”—leaves can be found in Asian supermarkets or from a qualified herbalist.
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