Fenugreek, also known as Trigonella foenum-graecum, Greek hayseed, and bird's foot, is a natural remedy, but that does not mean it should be taken without caution. Along with the likely benefits of vitamin C, potassium, protein, and the ability to mimic estrogen, there are several side effects that you should be aware of before you take it.
What Is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek is an herbal supplement that can be taken internally or used topically for treatment of a variety of conditions. It has a maple syrup odor and celery-like flavor, and the seed is often used in Thai and Indian cooking. Fenugreek is an annual herb that has white flowers and aromatic seeds. The seeds are most commonly used in herbal preparations.
Reported Fenugreek Side Effects
If you're considering using fenugreek for medicinal purposes, it's important to be aware of the side effects. There is little evidence that fenugreek taken in culinary quantities can cause any of the following side effects:
- Because of the presence of diosgenin, women with estrogen receptor positive forms of breast cancer may want to avoid herbs like fenugreek, which may mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.
- Pregnant women should not take fenugreek without the approval of their obstetrics provider, because it may stimulate uterine contractions and induce labor. It may be beneficial when it is time to induce labor, but consult with your obstetrician first.
- It may cause nausea.
- Fenugreek has been known in some cases to cause gastrointestinal distress such as diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
- Frequent topical use of fenugreek may cause skin sensitization and irritation.
- Fenugreek seed has a lot of fiber. The fiber is mucilaginous--moist and sticky--and can interfere with the absorption of oral medications. Because of this, fenugreek should not be taken within two hours of any oral medications.
- According to WebMD, side effects could include nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing, facial swelling, or even severe allergic reactions. MedicineNet.com takes it a step further, explaining the side effects you may experience as part of a severe allergic reaction to the herb: rash, itching, a swollen tongue or throat, dizziness, or trouble breathing.
- WebMD also states that taking Fenugreek could cause an increase in breast milk. However, it has not been proven safe to use while breastfeeding. Despite this, Kathleen Huggins, a registered nurse and lactation consultant, recommends using fenugreek to increase the milk supply in nursing women at BabyCenter.com.
- Fenugreek could lower blood sugar levels, so diabetics should be very careful when taking it. Symptoms that could be tied in with low blood sugar, according to MedicineNet.com include sweating, nervousness, shaking, or rapid heartbeat. As a side note, fenugreek is sometimes used as a treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, but speak with your health care provider first.
- According to Breastfeeding.com, sweat, urine, breast milk, and even a breastfed baby can take on a maple syrup odor.
- Drugs.com mentions that fenugreek may affect blood clotting.
Cautions and Drug Interactions
If you experience any side effects or suspect you're having an allergic reaction while taking fenugreek, immediately discontinue use and check with your doctor. Also, if you're on any other medication, consult your doctor before taking fenugreek. Fenugreek can affect the absorption of some medications because of the large amount of fiber it contains. It may also have an effect on blood thinners, aspirin, medications that control blood sugar levels, and others.
Benefits of Fenugreek
The ADA has not evaluated any of the herbal claims made about fenugreek, and it has not been approved by the ADA for medical use. All evidence for the benefits of fenugreek is anecdotal. No U.S. clinical trials show the efficacy of fenugreek.
With so many side effects associated with this herb, why take fenugreek at all? Proponents report that it has a number of health benefits. Some of these unsubstantiated benefits include the following:
- Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine recommend fenugreek to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and asthma.
- Fenugreek may improve digestion and maintain metabolism.
- It may have a positive effect on phlegm, and has been used to treat bronchitis, boils and acid reflux.
- It may contribute to healthy cholesterol levels.
- Some suggest fenugreek may lower risk of heart attack.
- Proponents believe you can apply it topically as a treatment for skin inflammation.
- Many use fenugreek as a home remedy for lowering fever.
Is Fenugreek Right for You?
Fenugreek may be the right herbal supplement to help with a variety of health conditions you may be experiencing, but you could be at risk for experiencing some of the side effects that fenugreek use could present. Talk to your health care provider to determine the proper dosage and formulation, whether seeds, tea, capsules, tincture, or something else.