Can Fenugreek Seeds Be Bad For You?

Written by Swathi Handoo • 
 

Fenugreek seeds have been used in multiple ways by our ancestors. They can treat digestive, diabetic, and cosmetic issues. These seeds provide macro and micronutrients, especially to pregnant and nursing women (1). However, recent research sheds light on some grave side effects of fenugreek.

Excessive consumption of fenugreek seeds has been linked to diarrhea, gas, low blood sugar, and internal bleeding (1). They are labeled as unsafe for fetal growth and development. Check out the scientific evidence for these claims in the following sections. Keep reading.

Fenugreek Seeds: At A Glance

Fenugreek Seeds At A Glance
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Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) seeds are a popular condiment. They have a long history of being used in food and medicine in India and China (1).

This spice is used as a galactagogue (increases breast milk yield) in nursing mothers. The seeds are also used to treat diabetes, digestive issues, wounds, and scars (2).

Most of the benefits of fenugreek seeds are attributed to their phytochemicals and nutrients. They contain sotolon, trigonelline, 4-hydroxy isoleucine, diosgenin, luteolin, and phenolic acids (1).

Till date, fenugreek is used in several dietary supplements to manage several health conditions. It is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) as a flavoring by the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) (1).

But, what is the problem with this medicinal spice?

What Is The Controversy Surrounding Fenugreek Seeds?

There is limited and inconclusive scientific data on the safety of fenugreek. Moreover, there is substantial evidence supporting the side effects of these seeds.

Scientific studies have not proven the benefits of fenugreek for nursing women (2).

A few studies in the past found that fenugreek might help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. However, the evidence was not strong enough (2).

Therefore, it is crucial to know the possible side effects of fenugreek seeds. Find out more in the following sections.

What Are The Side Effects Of Fenugreek Seeds?

Fenugreek seeds may cause an allergic reaction (hypersensitivity). They worsen asthma, diarrhea, and excessive bleeding.

1. Trigger Allergic Reaction (Hypersensitivity)

1. Trigger Allergic Reaction (Hypersensitivity)
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If you are allergic to legumes, peanuts, soybeans, or green peas, you may be allergic to fenugreek seeds as well. That is because these seeds belong to the same family – Fabaceae (3).

Fenugreek seeds may cause wheezing, persistent coughing, and sneezing. They give rise to allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose), blisters, erosions, and undesirable facial angioedema (swelling of face and lips) (3), (4).

2. Excessive Bleeding

Drug interactions are the most common and dangerous side effects of fenugreek seeds. Research says that these seeds can interact with blood-thinning medication (1).

Patients with cardiovascular disorders are often given a blood thinner called Warfarin. A few lab trials have shown that the active ingredients in fenugreek interact with Warfarin (1).

As a result, one might experience prolonged bleeding time or excessive bleeding. Hence, these seeds must be taken in minimal doses if you are on blood thinners (1).

3. Body Odor

3. Body Odor
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One of the unusual effects associated with this condiment is the imparting of a characteristic odor. Fenugreek seeds impart a strong maple syrup-like odor to urine, sweat, stool, and breast milk.

Biochemical analyses have revealed the active phytochemicals behind this strange property. They include sotolon, β-pinene, camphor, neryl acetate, β-caryophyllene, and octenone (5).

4. Gas And Diarrhea

This spice has high fiber content. Having it in excess amounts may cause bloating and diarrhea. It may also cause stomach ache (6), (7).

Fenugreek seeds may cause bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This, in turn, leads to vomiting of blood and tarry (discolored) stools (6).

However, there is a need for in-depth research to prove these effects.

5. Hypoglycemia

Fenugreek seeds have an antidiabetic effect. Their active components are capable of normalizing hyperglycemia (sudden spikes of blood glucose levels). Several rat studies have proven this property (8).

However, high amounts of fenugreek can cause hypoglycemia. Low sugar levels could lead to seizures, weakness, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and even loss of consciousness (8), (9).

It is, therefore, better to observe caution while having fenugreek seeds. This becomes imperative if you are diabetic (8).

6. Unsafe For Pregnancy and Fetal Development

It is not advisable to have a lot of fenugreek seeds when you are pregnant. These seeds may cause premature uterine contractions and malformations in the brain and spine of the fetus (6), (10).

Prenatal and postnatal mice studies were conducted to study these effects. Mice that were prenatally exposed to fenugreek had growth retardation (11).

Adult mice also showed altered touch, sense, and locomotor coordination. Though fenugreek consumption can go upto 5 g/day in humans, a dose of just about 1 g/kg/day in mice showed these complications (10).

7. Heavy Metal Poisoning

The nutritional profile of fenugreek seeds shows a good amount of micronutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Along with calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese, fenugreek cultivars also contain toxic metals like lead and cadmium (12).

The concentrations of these heavy metals vary with cultivars. Prolonged accumulation of these metals haschronic effects on your kidneys, liver, heart, brain, and bones (12).

Therefore, you need to monitor your daily consumption of fenugreek seeds.

It is best to consult your dietitian or nutritionist for a suitable serving size. For a rough idea on dosage, read the next section.

How Much Of Fenugreek Seeds Is Safe?

Lactating women are given about 1 to 6 grams of fenugreek seeds daily. Split doses of about 25 g can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar (1).

A safe and recommended dose of fenugreek seeds has not been established yet. Studies suggest a dose of at least 5 g/day in the form of fenugreek capsules (13).

However, there is a need for focused research to confirm all the above side effects and recommended dose.

It is best to discuss fenugreek seeds with your healthcare provider for instructions and warnings.

In Summary

Fenugreek seeds are used traditionally as a galactagogue, antidiabetic, and digestive aid. But, recent research has highlighted their underlying risks.

Excessive intake of these seeds can cause hypoglycemia, heavy metal poisoning, diarrhea, and bleeding disorders. If ignored, these effects can be life-threatening.

So, watch what you eat and keep your doctor posted of dietary changes.

Share your queries and comments about fenugreek seeds with us in the comments section below.

References

    1. Fenugreek” Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet], Bookshelf, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    2. Fenugreek” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, National Institutes of Health.
    3. Fenugreek” Nutritional Monographs, The Regents of the University of Colorado, University of Colorado Denver.
    4. The Phytotherapeutic Fenugreek as Trigger of Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis.” Dermatology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    5. Analysis of human male armpit sweat after fenugreek ingestion: Characterisation of odour active compounds by gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry and olfactometry.” Food Chemistry, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    6. HEALTH BENEFITS OF FENUGREEK” Academia.
    7. FENUGREEK” LiverTox, National Institutes of Health.
    8. Toxicity studies on Trigonella foenum-graecum L. seeds used in spices andas a traditional remedy for diabetes” Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine, CiteSeerX, The Pennsylvania State University.
    9. Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia)” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
    10. Prenatal Exposure to Fenugreek Impairs Sensorimotor Development and the Operation of Spinal Cord Networks in Mice” PLoS One, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    11. The developmental neurobehavioral effects of fenugreek seeds on prenatally exposed mice.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
    12. Levels of essential and toxic metals in fenugreek seeds (Trigonella Foenum-Graecum L.) cultivated in different parts of Ethiopia” Brazilian Journal of Food Technology, Academia.
    13. Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum L.) intake on glycemia:a meta-analysis of clinical trials” Review, Nutrition Journal, Harvard Library.
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