Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum). Fenugreek seed has been used to increase milk production since biblical times. The herb contains phytoestrogens, which are plant chemicals similar to the female sex hormone estrogen. A key compound, diosgenin, has been shown experimentally to increase milk flow.(0)
What is Fenugreek?
Fenugreek, Trigonella foenum-graecum L., is an erect annual herb native to southern Europe and Asia. Undoubtedly one of the oldest cultivated medicinal plants, fenugreek is widely grown today in the Mediterranean countries, Argentina, France, India, North Africa, and the United States as a food, condiment, medicinal, dye, and forage plant (11.1-128). The plant reaches a height of 0.3 to 0.8 meters and has trifoliate leaves. White flowers appear in early summer and develop into long, slender, yellow-brown pods containing the brown seeds of fenugreek commerce. (1)
Fenugreek and BreastfeedingFenugreek seeds contain hormone precursors that increase milk supply. Scientists do not know for sure how this happens. Some believe it is possible because breasts are modified sweat glands, and fenugreek stimulates sweat production. It has been found that fenugreek can increase a nursing mother's milk supply within 24 to 72 hours after first taking the herb. Once an adequate level of milk production is reached, most women can discontinue the fenugreek and maintain the milk supply with adequate breast stimulation. Many women today take fenugreek in a pill form (ground seeds placed in capsules). The pills can be found at most vitamin and nutrition stores and at many supermarkets and natural foods stores. Fenugreek can also be taken in tea form, although tea is believed to be less potent than the pills and the tea comes with a bitter taste that can be hard to stomach. Fenugreek is not right for everyone. The herb has caused aggravated asthma symptoms in some women and has lowered blood glucose levels in some women with diabetes.
How Much do I Need to Take?
Fenugreek Capsule Form (580-610 mg)
2-4 capsules, 3 times per day --- 6-12 capsules (total) per day
1200-2400 mg, 3 times per day (3.5-7.3 grams/day) (3)
German Commission E recommends a daily intake of 6 grams (4)
I recommend that you only purchase Fenugreek from a reputable Herbal store, the quality is generally superior to that found in chain discount stores.
Fenugreek is considered safe for nursing moms when used in moderation and is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's GRAS list (Generally Recognized As Safe). As with most medications and herbs, various side effects have been noted; see the potential side effects and safety information below. (8)
Per Thomas Hale PhD, Medications and Mothers Milk 2012 ,"The transfer of fenugreek into milk is unknown, but untoward effects have not been reported." Hale classifies it in Lactation Risk Category L3 (moderately safe). (9)
Potential Side Effects
- Sweat and urine smells like maple syrup (this is common and often a sign that you have reached the right dose)
- Loose stools in some women, which go away when fenugreek is discontinued
- Hypoglycemia in some mothers
- Can cause uterine contractions - do NOT use if you're pregnant
- Diabetic mothers should use caution with fenugreek since it can cause lowering of blood glucose levels. (5)
Little Known Uses
Fenugreek has an age old reputation as a breast enlarger and contains diosgenin which is used to make synthetic estrogen and has been shown to promote the growth of breast cells. You can drink fenugreek as a tea, use it in yogurt, applesauce or soups, or make a light mixture with any lotion and massage it directly into the breasts. It may also aid in increasing sexual desire in women as well as increasing breast beauty and health. Fenugreek contains choline which may aid the thinking process, and antioxidants that slow aging and help prevent disease. It is also helpful in calming PMS and symptoms of menopause. Fenugreek is also considered to be an aphrodiasiac and rejuvenator. (6)
Active Constituents and Proposed Mechanism of Action
The steroidal saponins account for many of the beneficial effects of fenugreek, particularly the inhibition of cholesterol absorption and synthesis.2 The seeds are rich in dietary fiber, which may be the main reason they can lower blood sugar levels in diabetes.3 One human study found that fenugreek can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in persons with moderate atherosclerosis and non-insulin-dependent diabetes.4 Randomized and uncontrolled studies have confirmed fenugreek helps stabilize blood sugar control in patients with insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent diabetes.5 6 7 It helps lower elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood,8 including in those with diabetes,9 according to several controlled studies. Generally fenugreek does not lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels. This type of cholesterol is believed to be beneficial. (7)
Fenugreek seeds contain alkaloids (mainly trigonelline) and protein high in lysine and L-tryptophan. Its steroidal saponins (diosgenin, yamogenin, tigogenin, and neotigogenin) and mucilaginous fiber are thought to account for many of the beneficial effects of fenugreek. The steroidal saponins are thought to inhibit cholesterol absorption and synthesis,2 while the fiber may help lower blood sugar levels.3 One human study found that fenugreek can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in people with moderate atherosclerosis and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes.4 Preliminary and double-blind trials have found that fenugreek helps improve blood sugar control in patients with insulin-dependent (type 1) and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes.5 6 7 Double-blind trials have shown that fenugreek lowers elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood,8 9 This has also been found in a controlled clinical trial with diabetic patients with elevated cholesterol.10 Generally, fenugreek does not lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. (10)
BOTANICAL NAME: Trigonella foenum-graecum L.
Name in International Languages
|Spanish : Alholva Or Fenogreco||Dutch : Fenegriek|
|French : Fenugrec||Italian : Fieno Greco|
|German : Bockshorklee||Portuguese : Alforva|
|Swedish : Bockshornklee||Russian : Pazhitnik|
|Arabic : Hulba||Chinese : k'u - Tou|
|Japanese : Koroha||Finnish : Sarviapila|
Written by : Cindy Curtis, RNC,IBCLC,CCE,CD