Fenugreek

Nutritional Compound

OVERVIEW

Summary

To date, there have been several studies on fenugreek’s effects on decreasing blood glucose (sugar) in diabetic patients, because of its ability to improve glycemic control (that is, to regulate blood sugar) and lipid (fat) profiles. This is definitely a nutrient that has incredible potential for use in the medical field, but presently, the more exciting results are in animals and at considerably higher doses than what is available in most commercially available supplements.

Other names for Fenugreek

4-hydroxyisoleucine, trigonella foenum-graecum, 4-HI

Where to find Fenugreek

4-Hydroxyisoleucine is an amino acid extracted from the herb fenugreek, which is often found in South East Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and is sold as a ripe seed. Historically, fenugreek has been used as a cooking spice and, surprisingly, as a fertilizer.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Fenugreek

4-HI’s effect on insulin, the hormone that transports nutrients to muscle cells, is what has driven some supplement companies to combine 4-HI with creatine. The theory is that 4-HI increases insulin sufficiently to boost the absorption of creatine to a level that was once thought possible only with high amounts of carbohydrates. The benefit being that your muscles can super-absorb the creatine without all the excess carbs and calories from the currently popular high-carbohydrate formulas. However, we’re still waiting for the research to discover if this claim is just hype or really causes dramatic effects in active people.

Ways that Fenugreek can enhance Energy & Endurance:
  • Potentially promote insulin secretion, the main transporter of nutrients

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Fenugreek deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Fenugreek

Research indicates that Fenugreek may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Diabetes
  • Herpes
  • High blood sugar

DISCUSSION

More about Fenugreek

Fenugreek has been used historically for both medicinal and culinary purposes. There have been numerous studies on its effects on decreasing blood glucose (sugar) in diabetic patients. For this purpose, fenugreek has, in fact, received its FDA GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. These studies showed positive effects when non-insulin-dependant diabetics supplemented with fenugreek because of its ability to improve glycemic control (that is, to regulate blood sugar) and lipid (fat) profiles.

How it works

Fenugreek contains many alkaloids, steroidal saponins, and fibers, which are all thought to contribute to the benefits found with fenugreek. Research further suggests that fenugreek may help lower plasma cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

More recently, researchers have isolated an amino acid from fenugreek called 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which is approximately 80% of the free amino acids in fenugreek. This nutrient is thought to potentiate (promote) insulin secretion, causing a drop in blood glucose levels, which is why it is an exciting nutrient for diabetics.

4-HI + creatine = ?

4-HI’s effect on insulin, the hormone that transports nutrients to muscle cells, is what has driven some supplement companies to combine 4-HI with creatine. The theory is that 4-HI increases insulin sufficiently to boost the absorption of creatine to a level that was once thought possible only with high amounts of carbohydrates. The benefit being that your muscles can super-absorb the creatine without all the excess carbs and calories from the currently popular high-carbohydrate formulas.

What the research reveals

Unfortunately, most of the studies on 4-HI have been done on rats and dogs. In particular, the study most commonly referenced was actually performed with anesthized rats that received 18 mg/kg of 4-HI intravenously. Now although induced diabetic rats mimic some features of humans with Type 2 diabetes, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can apply the results of these studies to humans, particularly in regards to the amounts used.

There have, however, been studies on 4-HI and humans that show it increases glucose-induced insulin release through a direct effect on isles of langerhans, which are clusters of cells in the pancreas that, if impaired, may result in diabetes. Thus, the interest for the possible treatment of non-insulin-dependant diabetes.

In conclusion

This is definitely a nutrient that has incredible potential for use in the medical field, but presently, the more exciting results are in animals and at considerably high doses. We look forward to more research and will report if/when any research positively weighs in for the claims made by some supplement companies on the benefits of fenugreek, especially those relating to increased creatine absorption.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Amounts of fenugreek used in studies range from 12 to 40 grams. The studies on 4-hydroxyisoleucine used between 18 and 50 mg/kg of weight daily in rats. For a 200-lb man, this would equal approximately 1.6 to 4.5 grams per day.

Important note

Supplement companies are presently selling products that provide only 600 mg per day (much less than the gram amounts used in studies).

Timing

Use approximately one hour before the largest meal of the day or with a preferred nutrient, such as creatine, to increase absorption.

Synergists of Fenugreek

4-Hydroxyisoleucine may increase the effectiveness and absorption of creatine.

Drugs that interact with Fenugreek

Persons using medication for Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes should consult with their health practitioners before using 4-HI. Persons using anticoagulants should avoid using fenugreek-based products, due to its coumarin content, which may cause bleeding.

Toxicity of Fenugreek

Fenugreek is considered one of the safest herbs. However, when 100 grams or more are used, some people experience stomach upset.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Broca, C., et al., “4-Hydroxyisoleucine: Effects of Synthetic and Natural Analogues on Insulin Secretion,” Eur J Pharmacol 390.3 (2000) : 339-45.
  • Broca, C., et al., “4-Hydroxyisoleucine: Experimental Evidence of its Insulinotropic and Antidiabetic Properties,” Am J Physiol 277 (1999) : E617-23. (Animal)
  • Sauvaire, Y., et al., “4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a Novel Amino Acid Potentiator of Insulin Secretion, Diabetes,” 47.2 (1998) : 206-10.
  • Sharma, R.D., et al., “Hypolipidaemic Effect of Fenugreek Seeds: a Chronic Study in Non-insulin Dependent Diabetic Patients,” Phytotherapy Research 10 (1996) : 332-4.
  • “Fenugreek in Diabetic Management,” University of Montana. School of Pharmacy and Allied Health Sciences. Drug information service. 3.7 (1999).