You’ll find fenugreek used to stimulate milk production among nursing mothers and as an herbal aid for diabetes. It’s also approved by Germany’s Commission E, that country’s regulatory body for herbs, to treat appetite loss and skin inflammation. This herb, native to the Mediterranean area of Europe, might also have liver-protecting properties according to the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York. However, studies as of 2010 do not back fenugreek use for any health condition except for diabetes according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Always consult a doctor before attempting to use fenugreek for a medicinal purpose.
Fenugreek helps protect the liver against alcohol-induced damage, says S. Kaviarasan, lead author for a 2007 study published in "Cell Biology and Toxicology." The study examined the effects of fenugreek seed polyphenol extract on collagen and liver lipids in liver-damaged rats. People who are chronic alcoholics have fatty livers as well as fibrosis that is characterized by collagen accumulation.
Kaviarasan gave the rats alcohol and fenugreek at the same time. Fenugreek had a positive influence on both collagen and lipid profiles, he notes. The study was done on rats, however, so human trials are needed to see if the benefits translate to people.
Fenugreek helps increase levels of antioxidant enzymes in the liver, which helps to counter effects of chronic exposure alcohol according to a 2008 study on rats by Kaviarasan also published in "Cell Biology and Toxicology." The effect fenugreek has is comparable to silymarin, the liver-protective flavonoid found in milk thistle.
Fenugreek’s hepatoprotective, meaning liver-protecting, properties are likely due to its phytochemicals, Kaviarasan says. This herb is especially rich in the steroidal saponins. The main saponin found in fenugreek is diosgenin according to “Chemistry of Spices,” by V.A. Parthasarathy et al. Diosgenin also is found in wild yam, says Los Angeles physician Ray Sahelian, and is sometimes used in formulations to ease menopausal symptoms, though he notes that studies existing as of 2010 do not appear to back this use.
Fenugreek’s phytochemicals have the potential to play an important role in preventing pesticide-induced toxicity in the liver and kidneys according to a study by N. Sushma and T. Devasena that was published in the journal "Human and Experimental Toxicology." The study, which examined toxicity caused by cypermethrin, found that the herb does protect against liver damage caused by this pest control agent in part by helping keep lipid levels in check.
Animal research on fenugreek toxicity reveals that very large doses of the herb can lead to mild hepatitis according to Aziza M. Hassan, lead author of a study published in the "African Journal of Biotechnology." Studies on large doses of fenugreek on four target organs—the liver, stomach, kidney and small and large intestine—reveal that the liver is the only one affected by the high doses, Hassan notes.
- “The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide;” George T. Grossberg and Barry Fox; 2007
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Fenugreek
- Oxford Journals: “Alcohol and Alcoholism;” Fenugreek Seed Extract Prevents Ethanol-Induced Toxicity and Adoptosis in Chang Liver Cells; Subramanian Kaviarasan et al.; 2006
- “Cell Biology and Toxicology;” Fenugreek polyphenols…; S. Kaviarasan et al.; 2007
- Pubmed.gov: “Cell Biology and Toxicology;” Protective action of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum) seed polyphenols against alcohol-induced protein and lipid damage in rat liver; S. Kaviarasan et al.; 2008