Fenugreek reinforces good health but professional advice is imperative

Fenugreek has many medicinal qualities but please seek medical advice (Pinterest Photo)

Sandhya Govind
Auckland, September 30, 2022

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a spice as “one of the various types of powder or seed that come from plants and are used in cooking” and a herb as “a plant whose leaves, flowers or seeds are used to add taste to food, in medicines or for their pleasant smell.”

Each herb or spice is unique in its origin, its history of use among different cultures, its flavour, and its contribution to good health and disease prevention.

The accounts of the usage and benefits of various herbs and spices have been passed down through generations, and herbs and spices have now incorporated themselves as crucial elements in all cuisines.

This article, the second in my series about the health benefits of various herbs and spices that have been validated by research over the past few decades, will elaborate on some health benefits to be gained from using fenugreek as a spice that is added to the food while cooking, and also the precautions that should be taken when incorporating this spice into the diet.

Sandhya Govind

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The treasure of Egyptians

Fenugreek is considered to be one of the oldest medicinal plants in recorded history, with its earliest recorded use dating back to the ancient Egyptians, having been mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical documents in Egypt. Its scientific name Trigonella foenum-graecum, translates to ‘little triangles of Greek hay’, referring to the yellowish-white triangular flowers of the plant.  Fenugreek is believed to have originally been grown in central Asia around 4000 BC in the area extending from Iran to Northern India but is now grown in various other parts of the world.  In many parts of India, this very popular spice is called ‘methi’.  It is called ‘hilbeh’ in Arabic and ‘Hú lú bā’ by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

Fenugreek is an extremely versatile plant with its leaves being used as a herb and its seeds as a spice. The most important components found in fenugreek seeds are Galactomannan, a complex carbohydrate, Diosgenin, a Phyto-oestrogen (plant-based oestrogen)  and 4‒hydroxyleucine, an amino acid.

Galactomannan is a mucilaginous soluble fibre – a form of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the body. Galactomannan has been found to help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and also with weight loss.

This happens because soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance (mucilage) in the stomach.  This gel moves slowly through the digestive tract, thereby slowing down the rate at which carbohydrates and sugars are absorbed by the small intestine, which helps keep blood sugar levels under control.

Help in weight loss

The slow movement of soluble fibre through the digestive tract suppresses the appetite and makes one feel fuller for a longer time, as there is a delay in the release of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating the appetite. This has been shown to help with weight loss, especially with losing visceral fat, which is the fat around the abdominal organs. It has been shown that people with visceral fat are at more risk of developing insulin resistance, as a result of which the body is not able to effectively respond to the insulin produced by it, which ultimately leads to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Galactomannan helps reduce levels of LDL cholesterol because soluble fibre cause bile, which is produced in the liver using cholesterol and bile acids, to be excreted at a faster than the normal rate from the body. As a result, the body uses more cholesterol to increase its bile production, which in turn decreases the levels of cholesterol in the blood.

Toxin remover

The soluble fibre in fenugreek also binds to toxins in the food and safely excretes it from the body, thereby protecting the mucus membrane lining of the colon from harmful toxins and carcinogens.

The diosgenin in fenugreek has anti-inflammatory properties, which might help with controlling arthritis. Diosgenin has also been shown to help with controlling insulin resistance, thereby helping with the prevention of the development of type 2 diabetes.  Studies have also shown that diosgenin can act as a vasodilator i.e. it helps more blood to flow through the blood vessels by causing the muscular walls of the blood vessels to relax and therefore become wider.

The above-mentioned properties of diosgenin combine to contribute to reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease.

The amino acid  4‒hydroxyleucine found only in fenugreek seeds has been found to help with the regulation of blood glucose, triglycerides, and total cholesterol as well as the improvement of liver function.

Author’s caution

It is very important to note here that this article only talks about adding fenugreek as a spice to food while cooking and not taking it in large quantities or the form of supplements. Nutritional supplements should only be taken if they are prescribed by a health care professional after a personal consultation, as they might be harmful if taken incorrectly.

Fenugreek is believed to be safe in the amounts commonly found in foods.

However larger amounts may cause a harmful drop in blood sugar, especially in people who are on diabetic medications, which could be life-threatening.

Cases of liver toxicity have been reported in people taking large amounts of fenugreek.

It has also been found that taking large amounts of fenugreek during pregnancy could cause an increased risk of birth defects in the baby.

Possible allergies

People who are allergic to foods belonging to the Fabaceae family such as soybeans, peanuts, green peas, and other legumes might also be allergic to fenugreek.

Fenugreek has been found to have blood thinning properties. Therefore, people who are on blood thinning medication such as aspirin, warfarin, dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), apixaban, enoxaparin and heparin among others, should be very cautious about consuming fenugreek and should only do so after consulting with their doctor as it might cause excessive bleeding.

People who are on the antiplatelet medicine clopidogrel (Plavix) that is prescribed to prevent blood clots should avoid fenugreek as it might increase the risk of bruising and bleeding.

Fenugreek may also have harmful interactions with other drugs.

Therefore, please seek professional advice before including fenugreek in your diet and before making any major dietary changes in general. This is especially important if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are already on medication or supplements, or are suffering from any medical condition. The information provided in this article is not to be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor, especially if you have any concerns regarding your health.

Sandhya Govind is a qualified and trained Naturopath and runs ‘Sandhya’s Naturopathy Clinic,’ an integrated Natural Medicine facility, which helps people rediscover optimal health, radiance and vitality naturally. Email: sandhyanaturopathy@gmail.com; The above article should be read for general information purposes only and not taken as individual advice. Please always consult your GP or other authorised persons or agencies for personal advice. Indian Newslink and Sandhya Govind absolve themselves of all responsibility or liability in this connection.

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