Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) isa plant product that has been used for avariety of medicinal and other purposes,and may be used in the treatment ofdiabetes.
Fenugreek is a member of theLeguminosae, or Fabaceae, family andgrows well in India, Egypt and other parts ofthe Middle East. The part used medicinallyis the seeds.
Fenugreek seeds contain alkaloids,including trigonelline, gentianine andcarpaine compounds. The seeds alsocontain fiber, 4-hydroxyisoleucine andfenugreekine, a component that may havehypoglycemic activity. The mechanismis thought to delay gastric emptying,slow carbohydrate absorption and inhibitglucose transport.
Fenugreek may also increase the numberof insulin receptors in red blood cells andimprove glucose utilization in peripheraltissues, thus demonstrating potentialanti-diabetes effects both in the pancreasand other sites. The amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine, contained in the seeds,may also directly stimulate insulin secretion.
There are only a few published studies onfenugreek. In one study, published in a1990 issue of the European Journal of ClinicalNutrition, 10 patients on insulin therapy fortype 1 diabetes were assigned to eitherplacebo or 50 grams of defatted fenugreek-seedpowder twice daily in addition to theirinsulin therapy.
Fasting glucose decreased from an averageof 272 mg/dl at baseline to 196 mg/dl. Therewas also a decrease in total cholesterol, LDL(“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.
A larger study, published in a 1996 issueof Nutrition Research, involved a six-monthtrial of fenugreek in 60 patients withinadequately controlled type 2 diabetes.Twenty-five grams of powdered fenugreekseed was given twice daily at lunch anddinner in addition to the current diabetestherapy.
The average fasting glucose decreased from151 mg/dl to 112 mg/dl after 6 months.Glucose values one and two hours aftermeals also declined. Average A1C decreasedfrom 9.6% to 8.4% after eight weeks.
Q: I am a 62-year-old man with type 2diabetes and other cardiovascularconditions. I take several medications,including metformin for diabetes, a bloodpressure medicine (Zestril) and a bloodthinner (Coumadin).
I have noticed that since I started takingfenugreek my blood glucose has improvedafter meals, but I have been experiencingbruising on my arms, and I bleed morewhen I cut myself shaving.
What should I do?
A: It is possible that you are experiencinga drug interaction between theCoumadin and the fenugreek. Fenugreekmay thin the blood; it is important to tellyour heathcare professional that you aretaking it. He or she may check you for bloodthinning with a laboratory test called anINR (international normalized ratio). Yourhealthcare professional may advise you tostop taking the fenugreek or may consideradjusting the dose of the Coumadin sinceyou are obtaining some benefit from thesupplement.
Side effects offenugreek includediarrhea and gas orflatulence, whichusually subside aftera few days of use.
Women ofchildbearing ageshould be cautionedthat fenugreekmay cause uterinecontractions andthus cause problemswith pregnancy.Pregnant womenshould not takefenugreek for thisreason. Also, allergicreactions have beenreported, includingrunny nose,wheezing and facialswelling.