What is Fenugreek and What Does it Do
The scientific evidence is pretty lacklustre in fenugreek’s case though, even though many bodybuilders swear by it.
It could be a placebo effect causing this mismatch between empirical and scientific proof, but there could be something else to it.
Recently, the herb has been found to be a 5-AR inhibitor (read on for more), giving credence to the keeping-testosterone-around-for-longer theory, rather than boosting the hormone outright.
Then there’s the small matter of sexual libido enhancement and the debate as to whether this can boost training aggression.
It also increases lactation in breastfeeding women, can regulate your blood sugar levels and makes your pee smell like maple syrup.
You might pass on the pancakes today in that case, but we can try and answer most, if not all, of the above open questions.
Key Points and Benefits
Here are the potential benefits of Fenugreek supplementation. Emphasis on the word, ‘potential’ due to the weakness of scientific support in some cases. The notes next to the benefit explain further.
- Milk production Increase – significant increase for lactating women. One study showed a doubling of volume!
- Libido Increase – the most sought after effect of the herb, despite an unreliable effect on testosterone.
- Testosterone Boost – there is evidence for and against this but it is widely accepted by the bodybuilding community
- Fat Reduction – a mediocre result from a single study. Not much to get too hyped about but along side its other benefits, it is better than nothing
- Blood glucose reduction – very dependent on individual needs
- Increased Insulin Sensitivity – a good thing for everybody. The more efficient our insulin is, the less sugar we store in fat cells.
Increased HDL (aka “good cholesterol)
Good for libido, cholesterol and insulin levels. So, useful to people with erectile dysfunction OR other libido issues, good for heart health and advantageous to diabetics and weight watchers.
And excellent for breastfeeding mothers with a flow problem (or triplets, maybe!).
….but what about testosterone?
This is the main point of contention with fenugreek. Does it, or doesn’t it?
A lot of muscle builders swear by its effect, but the scientists are on the fence, leaning heavily towards the null-hypothesis field. Why is this?
A possible reason is its inhibitory effect on 5-Alpha Reductase, which is what causes testosterone to convert to DHT.
DHT reduction might extend testosterone’s effect, leading to a kind-of bottleneck which may increase it in the short term. A reduction also usually translates to lowered libido, but fenugreek reputedly increases it. This leads us to another possible cause for the testosterone-bodybuilder quandary.
Increased libido might lead to increased training aggression when the effect kicks in during a workout. No noticeable effect on testosterone levels would occur but it doesn’t mean feelings of androgenic energy would be absent.
Enhanced training aggression could lead to increased short-term energy and muscular contraction. Deeper workouts equate to larger overcompensation in the muscles and improved mass growth.
Of course, there is a fair bit of speculation here, though it is feasible that fenugreek can impart a testosterone-like effect on male subjects during physical exertion.
Usage and Dosage Guidelines
For breastmilk production the dosage should be anywhere from 500mg to 1000mg (1g) per day.
The fenusides – the active component in fenugreek – are present in the highest quality supplements in the form of something patented like Testofen (which is 50% fenusides).
Men looking for the libido / testosterone boost should also take around the same: 500mg to 1000mg a day of something like Testofen.
The seeds of Fenugreek can also just be eaten. Diabetics in need of a blood sugar reduction can take up to 5g to achieve this.
Is Fenugreek Safe – Are There Side Effects?
Pregnant women should NOT take supplemental doses of fenugreek. Studies on rats found high doses could have potential effects on the unborn child.
New mothers, however, can take it for the lactation enhancement.
Fenugreek can make your pee smell like syrup. Aside from it being a bit odd when you first experience it, there is no harm in this.
Scientific Support for Fenugreek
Interestingly, one of the studies which didn’t find statistical significance connection fenugreek with a testosterone boost noted that the participants felt the positive effects on muscle strength and energy. That study involved Testofen.
The third study here noted the drop in DHT for the participants, with a concomitant increase in libido.
1. Wilborn C et al. Effects of a purported aromatase and 5α-reductase inhibitor on hormone profiles in college-age men. Dec 2010. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21116018]
2. Steels E, Rao A, Vitetta L. Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum extract and mineral formulation. Feb 2011. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21312304]
3. B. Bushey et al. Fenugreek Extract Supplementation Has No effect on the Hormonal Profile of Resistance Trained Males. Feb 2009. [http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/ijesab/vol2/iss1/13/]
The second study above (Physiological aspects of male libido…) demonstrated the libido boost.
Fat Mass Reduction
The first study above (Effects of a purported aromatase and 5α-reductase inhibitor…) showed an decrease in fat mass as well as the testosterone boost.
Milk Production (new mothers)
The following study showed a positive effect on lactation and even early postnatal infant weight gain.
Turkyılmaz C. The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. Jan 2011. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21261516]
Conclusion and Recommendations
For men needing a libido boost and/or testosterone boost, Fenugreek looks like a semi-solid option. Solid in that the libido boost will come. Partially, in that testosterone may be optimized rather than necessarily increased significantly.
Gym rats and muscle guys agree on one thing though, fenugreek increases training aggression. Take that as you will, but Testofen (and other fenugreek extracts) – whether part of an overall blend or on its own – has a positive rep.
Fenugreek is definitely a go-to for new mothers (not pregnant women) who are struggling with milk production or need an increase otherwise.
Other benefits are there, notably the reduction of blood sugar, increase in insulin sensitivity and high density lipoprotein (aka “good cholesterol).
Is fenugreek the panacea of health benefits? No. Is it decent enough to have a crack at?