While all spices and condiments have unique properties, fenugreek seeds (methi) seem to contain some very special therapeutic benefits as well. Their medicinal properties have been known since ancient times — they figure in Greek, Latin and Ayurvedic literature. As such, fenugreek leaves and seeds have been used extensively to prepare extracts and powders for medicinal uses.
They are good for diabetics, weight watchers, have cholesterol lowering and cancer prevention properties. In addition, they have been reported to have anti-ulcer, anti-fertility, anti-microbial, anti-parasitic properties and protective effects in liver damage.
Among these beneficial physiological effects, the anti-diabetic and hypo-cholesterolemic property of fenugreek has been extensively studied. A decoction of fenugreek seeds is known to reduce glucose levels in blood and urine, and help relieve symptoms of diabetes. For better effects, the powdered seeds can be taken as a drink in water or in buttermilk 15 minutes before a meal.
Fenugreek seeds are also a rich source of fibre (50%). Their dietary fibre fraction also exerts anti-diabetic effects through inhibition of carbohydrate digestion and absorption, and enhancement of peripheral insulin action. In addition they contain trigonelline, a component known to reduce blood sugar levels. It is reported that drug requirement for type 2 diabetes mellitus may decrease significantly with the use of methi. However, that does not mean that diabetics can straightaway stop medication, if they take methi. The optimal doses of the medication can easily be worked out in consultation with the physician.
Phytochemical (saponins) and a branched-chain amino acid in fenugreek have also been claimed to aid in glucose, lipid metabolism and cancer protection. Interestingly, among spices, fenugreek seeds have been known to have high flavonoid content, a type of phytochemical (plant chemical).
Fenugreek seed powder lowers the levels of serum lipids by inhibiting cholesterol absorption and synthesis. A study reported that saponins (particularly, diosgenin and protodioscin) have been known to have cancer preventive properties.
The branched chain amino acid is also known to reduce insulin resistance, triglycerides and total cholesterol. All these properties may help in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, central obesity and dyslipidemia- the key components of metabolic syndrome.
Other health promoting properties of fenugreek seeds (soaked in water) include hepato-protective (liver protective), demulcent (soothen throat), carminative (protect from abdominal discomfort), laxative (aid in digestion), a diuretic and astringent properties. They are also known to help in menstrual cramps and regulate menopausal symptoms, bronchitis, arthritis and promote breast milk production in nursing mothers. A recent study reports that lactating women receiving fenugreek supplementation showed a 20 per cent increase in milk volume after 2 weeks of supplementation.
Germinated fenugreek seeds are considered to be more beneficial than dried seeds due to the increased presence of flavonoids and polyphenols. Fenugreek seeds should not be consumed raw, they are better taken soaked or powdered.
This bitter but beneficial seed, usually has no side-effects, however, some people may develop diarrhea or flatulence initially. If the symptoms persist, then either reduce the quantity or build up slowly. Chutneys and longees are also easy ways to consume these seeds.