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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


  1. I think this because of adopting western lifestyle as regards fast foods consumption and sedentary lifestyle that was more beyond the effect of Fenugreek

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  2. Hi Arya,
    Very interested article! Funny enough I took Fenugreek supplements while breastfeeding as lacation experts tout its ability to increase milk supply in breastfeeding mothers. I actually recall numerous discussions with lactation experts and fellow moms about the increased appetite we all felt while taking this supplement, not to mention how it makes your skin smell like syrup! I was told that if I was diabetic it would not work, perhaps there’s more research to be done on the role of this spice on metabolism and fat cell formation.

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  3. Hi Arya, interesting studies re: spices and thanks for your comments Stephanie. Just a heads up for anyone with nut allergies. My daughter had a severe reaction to a home made curry made from a pre-packaged curry mix. The source of her reaction was Fenugreek which for some reason people with peanut and nut allergies react to. This was news to us and to our physician. Sounds like we are not missing too many benefits at this point.

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  4. As i understand it really works in mice.

    Isn’t Fenugreek the stuff that makes you smell like licorice or something or is it a Greek type of cheese ?

    Is Fenugreek being advocated here as a diet plan ?

    I went to my local Safeway and they never heard of it in the spice department.

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  5. Walter: try an Indian subspeciality store and ask for “Methi”. It is definitely not a diet plan – what works in mice does not necessarily work in man.

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  6. Walter, it makes you smell like Maple Syrup, you can buy it in capsule format in a health food store.

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  7. Fenugreek is a common spice in Indian and Ethiopian cuisines. “Minchet-abish” is a delicious meat dish containing “abish,” i.e., fenugreek. Unfortunately, a lot of Indian curry powder also contains turmeric, which is good for some conditions but may cancel out any beneficial effect of fenugreek on insulin resistance.

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