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Herbs & Botanicals

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Fenugreek (hu lu ba)

What is fenugreek? What is it used for?

Fenugreek is a plant that belongs to the legume family. Originally grown in southeastern Europe and western Asia, fenugreek is now found in many parts of the world, including Africa and the United States. Fenugreek seeds contain the plant's most potent medicinal properties and are often used in herbal preparations.

Historically, fenugreek was used to treat wounds, abscesses, arthritis and digestive problems. Traditional Chinese herbalists used it for kidney problems and reproductive conditions.

Fenugreek seeds are rich in dietary fiber, which has led some researchers to suggest they can lower blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes. Substances called saponins in fenugreek have been shown to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, according to some controlled studies. Generally, fenugreek does not lower HDL, or "good," cholesterol levels.

How much fenugreek should I take?

The German Commission E recommends a daily intake of six grams of fenugreek. To treat diabetes or lower cholesterol, some practitioners recommend taking 5-30 grams with each meal, or 15-90 grams all at once with one meal.

What forms of fenugreek are available?

Fenugreek is available in bulk seed form. However, because the seeds have a bitter taste, many patients prefer taking debitterized seeds, capsules or tinctures.

What can happen if I take too much fenugreek? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Use of more than 100 grams of fenugreek seeds daily can cause intestinal distress and nausea. In addition, fenugreek causes uterine contractions, which means that it should not be used by pregnant women. Children under age two should also not take fenugreek.

Fenugrek may react adversely with a variety of medications, including glipizide: heparin; insulin; ticlopidine; and warfarin. Do not take warfarin if you are taking any of these medications. As always, consult with a health care provider before taking fenugreek or any other dietary supplement.

References

  • Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds) The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, p. 130.
  • Bordia A, Verma SK, Srivastava KC. Effect of ginger (zingiber officinale rocs.) and fenugreek (trigonella foenumgraecum L) on blood lipids, blood sugar, and platelet aggregation in patients with coronary artery disease. Prostagland Leukotrienes Essential Fatty Acids 1997;56:379—84.
  • Raghuram TC, Sharma RD, Sivakumar B, Sahay BK. Effect of fenugreek seeds on intravenous glucose disposition in non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Phytother Res 1994;8:83—6.
  • Sauvaire Y, Ribes G, Baccou JC, Loubatieres-Mariani MM. Implication of steroid saponins and sapogenins in the hypocholesterolemic effect of fenugreek. Lipids 1991;26:191—7.
  • Sharma RD, Raghuram TC, Rao NS. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type I diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr 1990;44:301—6.

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