The Spartan Guide to Fenugreek
The Claim A few odd facts about fenugreek: It’s an herb that’s similar to a clover, its seeds taste like maple syrup, and its leaves are eaten as a vegetable in India. Generally, the medicinal qualities are in the seeds, which people have used for centuries to ease digestive issues and induce childbirth. Nowadays, producers offer capsules, powders, and teas made from fenugreek seeds to aid in diabetes and to stimulate milk production for breastfeeding.
The Evidence Very little research has been done on fenugreek. Some believe that the herb slows the absorption of sugar in the stomach while stimulating insulin and lowering blood sugar. But that’s still largely conjecture. A handful of small studies find that it can help type 2 diabetes patients lower their blood sugar levels, but the evidence is far from strong. Only larger doses—5 grams or more, taken once or twice daily—seem to have an effect. One study noted that taking 50 grams of the seed twice a day could decrease the sugar in type 1 diabetes patients’ urine, but 50 grams is ... well, an awful lot.
“I primarily use fenugreek to stimulate breast milk production in women,” says Junella Chin, an osteopathic physician in New York City who specializes in functional medicine. “Fenugreek mimics the estrogen your body produces, so it can help to minimize the effects of hot flashes and menstrual cramps as well.”
Some studies back her claim by finding that the herb does indeed amp up milk production in nursing mothers. Fenugreek tea in particular tends to be a focus of such studies. But the results haven’t been universal: One study found that taking fenugreek capsules three times a day for three weeks shortly after birth doesn’t affect breast-milk production. But according to other studies, the herb does seem to mimic estrogen in the body. So taken during during a menstrual period, it will likely reduce pain and cut the need for painkillers.
How to Use It Pregnant women and those with hormone-sensitive conditions (such as ovarian and breast cancer) should steer clear. “Avoid using fenugreek during pregnancy, as it may stimulate uterine contractions,” Chin adds. For those interested in its benefits, “I recommend fenugreek tea up to three times a day,” she says.
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