Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Trigonella foenum-graecum (Fenugreek) is a clover-like herb native to the Mediterranean region, southern Europe, and western Asia. Its seeds, which smell and taste like maple syrup, have been used in cooking and as medicine for centuries. Fenugreek is used as an ingredient in spice blends and a flavoring agent in foods, beverages, and tobacco. Fenugreek seed extracts are also used in soaps and cosmetics.
Applications of fenugreek were documented in ancient Egypt, where it was used in incense and to embalm mummies. In modern Egypt, fenugreek is still used as a supplement in wheat and maize flour for bread-making. In ancient Rome, fenugreek was purportedly used to aid labor and delivery. In traditional Chinese medicine, fenugreek seeds are used as a tonic, as well as a treatment for weakness and edema of the legs. In India, fenugreek is commonly consumed as a condiment and used medicinally as a lactation stimulant. It is currently used in Ayurvedic medicine as a demulcent, laxative, and to increase breast milk supply. It is also used as a dietary supplement to treat various conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, wounds, inflammation, and gastrointestinal complaints.
Fenugreek contains several chemical constituents including steroidal sapogenins. There are two furastanol glycosides, F-ring opened precursors of diosgenin that have been reported in fenugreek, also as hederagin glycosides. Alkaloids such as trigocoumarin, nicotinic acid, trimethyl coumarin and trigonelline are present in stem. The mucilage is a standing out constituent of the seeds. There is about 28% mucilage; a volatile oil; 2 alkaloids such as trigonelline and choline, 5% of a stronger-smelling, bitter fixed oil, 22% proteins and a yellow coloring substance are present in the stem. Fenugreek contains 23–26% protein, 6–7% fat and 58% carbohydrates of which about 25% is dietary fiber. Fenugreek is also a rich source of iron, containing 33 mg/100 g dry weight.
Preclinical studies suggest fenugreek has hypo-cholesterolemic, hypolipidemic, hypoglycemic, antimicrobial, hepatoprotective, and antinociceptive effects.
Studies suggest benefits of fenugreek for mild asthma, as well as menopausal, postmenopausal, and polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms. Other preliminary data suggest it may improve lipid parameters and glycemic control and decrease insulin resistance in type-2 diabetic patients.
Fenugreek acts as an estrogen receptor modulator and stimulates breast cancer cells in vitro.
The hypoglycemic activity of fenugreek may be associated with the galactomannan fiber and saponin components that reduce gastrointestinal glucose and cholesterol absorption and increase bile acid excretion. 4-Hydroxyisoleucine, an amino acid constituent, potentiates insulin secretion in non-insulin-dependent diabetic rats when administered intraperitoneally. In addition to lower fasting and postprandial glucose levels, fenugreek-treated diabetic rats had higher hemoglobin, GSH, and plasma antioxidant levels and lower glycosylated hemoglobin, plasma lipids, and TBARS levels than diabetic controls. Dietary fenugreek also normalizes the activities of glucose and lipid-metabolizing enzymes in diabetic rats. Other animal studies suggest dietary fenugreek increases serum T4, liver GSH, glyoxalase I, and GST activities, and decreases T3 levels and T3/T4 ratio. In humans, fenugreek intake was associated with an increase in molar insulin binding sites of erythrocytes, which may enhance glucose utilization.
Fenugreek has also been studied for its anticancer potential. In MCF-7 estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cells, a fenugreek extract induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Dioscin, a steroidal saponin isolated from fenugreek, suppressed cell viability of ovarian cancer cells by regulating VEGFR2, PI3K, phosphorylated AKT, and phosphorylated p38 MAPK signaling pathways.
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