Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum), also known as Greek hay and fenigreek, was used to treat many ailments in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome - everything from bronchial problems to low libido. Indian Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine recommend fenugreek to treat arthritis and bronchitis, induce labor, improve digestion and maintain a healthy metabolism. Fenugreek also has a long history of use for treatment of reproductive disorders in women.

Recent studies have shown that fenugreek helps lower blood glucose levels, and may be an effective treatment for both type 1 and 2 diabetes. In one study, glucose levels in those with type 1 diabetes participants - urine fell 54 percent after taking 50 grams of fenugreek seeds twice a day.

Fenugreek is also being studied for its cardiovascular benefits. Researchers in India found people who took 2 ounces of fenugreek seed each day had significantly (around 14 percent) lower cholesterol levels after 24 weeks, and had lowered their risk of heart attack by more than 25 percent. The same study showed that participants with type 2 diabetes had significantly lower blood sugar levels after eating fenugreek.

Fenugreek seeds contain diosgenin, a phytoestrogen compound that seems to mimic the effects of the hormone oestrogen. Fenugreek has been used for many years as a form of natural hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women. The diosgenin in fenugreek is thought to help increase libido and lessen the effects of hot flashes and hormone-induced mood fluctuations; fenugreek is also traditionally used to promote weight gain and stimulate breast growth. In fact, fenugreek is often used as an active ingredient in natural breast enlargement supplements and fenugreek sprouts are said to be particularly effective for breast enlargement.

Today many herbalists recommend fenugreek to help promote the healing of wounds, rashes and boils. Recent studies have shown fenugreek to be an anti-inflammatory, which supports its traditional use as a treatment for sore throat, arthritis and wound healing. Commission E, a group that evaluates the safety and efficacy of herbs for the German government, approves fenugreek for treatment of inflammation, loss of appetite and gastritis. Fenugreek seeds contain a lot of mucilage, which helps sooth gastrointestinal inflammation by coating the lining of the stomach and intestine.

Fenugreek is available in capsules, tinctures and powder form. To treat skin inflammation, the powdered form of fenugreek may be mixed with warm water to make a poultice. Fenugreek is also used in commercial preparations and teas formulated to help balance women's hormones and/or enlarge the breasts. Fenugreek seeds with or without sprouts are also sold at most health food shops.

People with diabetes should take fenugreek only after first consulting their doctor since this herb is known to affect blood sugar levels. Some people have reported that fenugreek makes them feel nauseous or causes diarrhoea.

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