Fenugreek- Traditional and Modern Medicinal Uses- A book review

Lately people are more inclined towards traditional medicine, motivated by the occurrence of harmful effects of chemical drugs on human health as well as the various deficits of modern medicine in treating some diseases.

The 23-chapter book titled ‘Fenugreek- Traditional and Modern Uses’ is a compilation of scientific studies carried out by various researchers globally on medical applications of fenugreek seed-based products. It covers relevant evidence for the traditional and modern medicinal applications of fenugreek and its constituents to provide good nutrients, maintain health, prevent diseases and manage disorders.

According to the book, fenugreek with its phyto-constituents such as bioactive amino acids, alkaloids, glycosides, soluble fibres and phenolic compounds, could be a good candidate for herbal drugs. Multiple research evidences have been discussed in this book to validate the potential of fenugreek as an herbal drug.

For instance, the aqueous extract of fenugreek seeds may be used as an effective and safe adjuvant for management of type 2 diabetes; or fenugreek husk alleviates postmenopausal symptoms and helps to establish hormonal balance; or fenugreek seed extracts may be effective in treating polycystic ovarian syndrome in women of reproductive age by reducing the cyst volume in both ovaries as well as cyst sizes.

Addressing non-communicable diseases

In particular, the book has highlighted the medicinal applications of fenugreek for tackling the non-communicable disease (NCD) burden in the most natural way. Taking diabetes as an example, fenugreek is considered as a unique herbal medicine for the management of hyperglycemia or high blood glucose. Some bioactive components of fenugreek may also serve as potential leads for pharmaceutical drug development as novel anti-diabetic agents. 

Improvement of insulin secretion, regulation of glucose absorption, elevation of glycogen synthesis and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities in the liver are among the most important mechanisms of actions underlying the pharmacological effects of fenugreek. However, the book mentions that more randomised controlled trials with larger sample sizes and longer durations are warranted to further evaluate the clinical effectiveness of fenugreek as a complementary therapy for pre-diabetic and diabetic patients.

Likewise, the book highlights the role of fenugreek in controlling the risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). Despite significant advances in the field of CVDs, hyperlipidemia (too many lipids or fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood) is still the key contributor in the setting of atherosclerotic CVDs, thus its treatment is crucial for reducing cardiovascular events and even premature death. Scientific evidence accumulated in this book indicates that fenugreek could be used as an adjuvant therapy for hyperlipidemia.

With cancer being the second most leading cause of death worldwide behind CVDs, this book elaborates upon the benefits provided by fenugreek in management of malignant disorders. Mechanisms such as oxidative stress, inflammation, inhibition of proliferation, apoptosis and invasion are suggested as possible cellular and molecular mechanisms of anti-cancer fenugreek and its constituents.

Since breast cancer is documented as one of the most prevalent cancers with rising burden worldwide in women at premenopausal and postmenopausal ages, the book reveals that the soluble fibre constituent of fenugreek seeds has been suggested as a potential drug candidate against breast cancer. In addition, the evidence of efficacy on fenugreek seed extracts from many in vitro studies against breast cancer cell lines has indicated apoptosis as an effective mechanism of anti-cancer action.

Management of Neurological and Psychological Disorders

Owing to the pandemic, a number of psychological disorders have recently come into the limelight such as anxiety, depression, low mood, fear etc. In fact, depression has come across as one of the significant and most frequently occurring disorders characterised by a wide range of physical, behavioural and cognitive actions and symptoms. Adding to it, existing options of antidepressant drugs are associated with numerous side effects and other reactions.

As a result, traditional antidepressant therapies from natural or plant origin are gaining interest as a safer option of treatment. This book enumerates multiple scientific evidences where various fenugreek extracts have demonstrated antidepressant potential during preclinical and clinical studies.

The book also reveals that a bread prepared from fenugreek seeds, maize and wheat can be used as a protective food against various diseases including Alzheimer’s. Fenugreek has also been documented as a traditional Chinese herb to prevent and cure several diseases of the central nervous system. 

Benefits in Sports Nutrition

While the research on fenugreek’s application for health is extensive and there is a body of evidence that supports its claims, the effects of fenugreek supplementation in sports performance is limited. However, the book states that evidence on the varied physiological benefits of fenugreek extract supplementation on sports performance by improving strength, free testosterone, reducing inflammation etc., is growing.

Although more research in this area is recommended, fenugreek has emerged as a promising ingredient for sports nutrition and exercise performance applications. For example, creatine is included in the supplementation regimen of many power athletes including weight lifters and football players. Increasing the level of creatine absorption and uptake into the skeletal muscle is an important issue when supplementing creatine. Addition of fenugreek extract to creatine is considered as a safer option for comparable creatine delivery that may prove beneficial to specific populations that are concerned with the negative implications of consuming large amounts of simple carbohydrates along with creatine.

Future Direction

Despite the impressive scientific and clinical evidence  of fenugreek applications, consumer awareness and understanding are still in its infancy. Scientific promotion of this herb is much needed to counter the commercial hurdles and bottlenecks. 

Furthermore, the production of fenugreek in India needs attention. Low level of awareness among the farming community, less availability of high yielding and resistant seed varieties, traditional farm mechanisation and plant protection are some of the major factors responsible for the low production of this herb in the country. An extensive genomic and agronomic clustering is needed to identify the potential genes which could further help in breeding programmes followed by targeted mutation and genetic improvement for abiotic stress tolerance.

This book is a good resource on fenugreek as an ingredient for medicinal products, especially in order to address the growing burden of NCDs such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases in India. Also, the functional, nutritional and therapeutic characteristics of fenugreek can be exploited further by the industry in the development of healthy food products.

(Fenugreek- Traditional and Modern Medicinal Uses; Edited by Dr Dilip Ghosh- Advisor and Executive Board Member, Health Foods and Dietary Supplements Association (HADSA); Dr Prasad Thakurdesai, Chief Scientific Officer, Indus Biotech Pvt Ltd, Pune; Publisher – CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group; Pages -460)

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