Fenugreek Improves Glucose Metabolism Via Fat Cell Effect?

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), referred to in Hindi as Methi, is a common ingredient in South Asian cuisine. Its seeds are an essential component of curry powder – its leaves are eaten as a vegetable.

Traditional Indian medicine has long attributed medicinal properties to fenugreek, especially for the treatment of diabetes.

Now, Taku Uemura and colleagues from Kyoto University in Japan publish findings showing that the beneficial effects of fenugreek may derive from its capacity to stimulate formation of new fat cells and reduce inflammation in fat tissue.

In this paper, published online in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, Uemura and colleagues studied the effects of fenugreek extract on adipocyte size and inflammation in adipose tissues in diabetic obese mice and identified diosgenin as the active substance in fenugreek.

Treatment of diabetic mice with a high fat diet supplemented with 2% fenugreek not only reduced diabetes, it also reduced the size of adipocytes while promoting formation of new (smaller and healthier) fat cells.

Fenugreek also reduced infiltration of macrophages (white blood cells) into adipose tissues and decreased the expression of pro-inflammatory genes.

I have previously blogged on the putative beneficial metabolic effects of tumeric, the yellow spice that gives curry powder its colour. Interestingly in that study, tumeric was found to prevent the formation of fat cells and promote adipocyte cell death – in some ways the exact opposite of what fenugreek appears to do.

Perhaps it is this complex action of these spices, that may in part cancel out rather can complement their beneficial effects.

In any case, it probably remains to be explained why, despite the avid and regular ingestion of these anti-diabetic spices on the Indian subcontinent, it is now home to the greatest number of people with type 2 diabetes anywhere in the world.

Edmonton, Alberta

Uemura T, Hirai S, Mizoguchi N, Goto T, Lee JY, Taketani K, Nakano Y, Shono J, Hoshino S, Tsuge N, Narukami T, Takahashi N, & Kawada T (2010). Diosgenin present in fenugreek improves glucose metabolism by promoting adipocyte differentiation and inhibiting inflammation in adipose tissues. Molecular nutrition & food research PMID: 20540147