Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a culinary and medicinal herb that is grown in dry sandy soils around the world. It is most commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, where it imparts a sweet, maple syrup-like flavor to complex blends of curry spices. Fenugreek, whether used as a spice or taken as a supplement or extract, has a number of effects that impact breast function and health 1.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
The use of fenugreek for breast enhancement has not been supported by scientific medical study 1. However, some believe that fenugreek is a powerful breast-enhancing agent when applied topically, such as herbalist and physical therapist Caitlin MacKenna 1. Writing at Natural Remedies, MacKenna states that fenugreek stimulates breast growth by mimicking estrogen and by stimulating prolactin 1. The effects of fenugreek on breast growth can be maximized by rubbing the extract into the skin, where it can be absorbed directly into the affected tissue rather than being diminished in potency through digestion 1. Although fenugreek is a culinary herb fit for human consumption as a flavoring in food, consult a physician before consuming significant quantities of fenugreek or any other herbal treatment.
The Fennel Herb and Estrogen
Fenugreek contains phytoestrogens, chemical compounds similar to estrogen, and consuming fenugreek has been used as a method of increasing a breastfeeding mother's milk for thousands of years, according to registered nurse Cindy Curtis, an international board-certified lactation consultant who founded the informational resource website Breastfeeding Online 1. Fenugreek extract is most commonly taken in capsule form for breastmilk stimulation purposes. A boost in milk production will be apparent 24 to 72 hours after consuming fenugreek capsules, Curtis advises. Fenugreek supplements can be discontinued after an adequate supply of milk has been reached, as continued nursing by the infant will maintain an ongoing production. Fenugreek should absolutely not be used by pregnant women, however, as it may trigger uterine contractions that can lead to miscarriage.
- Fenugreek contains phytoestrogens, chemical compounds similar to estrogen, and consuming fenugreek has been used as a method of increasing a breastfeeding mother's milk for thousands of years, according to registered nurse Cindy Curtis, an international board-certified lactation consultant who founded the informational resource website Breastfeeding Online 1.
- Fenugreek supplements can be discontinued after an adequate supply of milk has been reached, as continued nursing by the infant will maintain an ongoing production.
Studies have demonstrated numerous medical properties of fenugreek, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center 2. Among the physiological effects demonstrated are positive impacts on both cholesterol and diabetes, Memorial Sloan-Kettering reports 2. Fenugreek extract has also shown anti-microbial and nematocidal properties, consistent with its use in traditional medicine for remedying gastrointestinal disorders and fighting inflammation. Fenugreek has also shown preventive action against cancer cells in in vitro testing, although tests on humans have not yet been conducted. Among these tests, Sloan-Kettering references a 2007 in vitro study in which fenugreek arrested the development of MCF-7 breast cancer cells 12. More study is necessary before fenugreek can be confirmed as a breast cancer treatment, but the effects in in vitro study are promising 1.
The Fennel Herb and Estrogen
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- Breast Feeding Online: Fenugreek FAQ
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Fenugreek
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Fenugreek. Updated August 2020.
- Neelakantan N, Narayanan M, de Souza RJ, van Dam RM. Effect of fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) intake on glycemia: A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Nutr J. 2014;13:7. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-7
- Gaddam A, Galla C, Thummisetti S, Marikanty RK, Palanisamy UD, Rao PV. Role of fenugreek in the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus in prediabetes. J Diabetes Metab Disord. 2015;14:74. doi:10.1186/s40200-015-0208-4
- Turkyılmaz C, Onal E, Hirfanoglu IM, et al. The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(2):139-142. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0090
- Sim TF, Hattingh HL, Sherriff J, Tee LB. The use, perceived effectiveness and safety of herbal galactagogues during breastfeeding: A qualitative study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015;12(9):11050-11071. doi:10.3390/ijerph120911050
- Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Fenugreek. Updated May 1, 2019.
- Pattanittum P, Kunyanone N, Brown J, et al. Dietary supplements for dysmenorrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;3(3):CD002124. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002124.pub2
- Younesy S, Amiraliakbari S, Esmaeili S, Alavimajd H, Nouraei S. Effects of fenugreek seed on the severity and systemic symptoms of dysmenorrhea. J Reprod Infertil. 2014;15(1):41-48.
- Steels E, Rao A, Vitetta L. Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum extract and mineral formulation. Phytother Res. 2011 Feb 10. doi:10.1002/ptr.3360
- Wankhede S, Mohan V, Thakurdesai P. Beneficial effects of fenugreek glycoside supplementation in male subjects during resistance training: A randomized controlled pilot study [published correction appears in J Sport Health Sci. 2018 Apr;7(2):251]. J Sport Health Sci. 2016;5(2):176-182. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2014.09.005
- Podebrad, F. et al. 4,5‐Dimethyl‐3‐hydroxy‐2[5H]‐furanone (sotolone) — The odour of maple syrup urine disease. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease. Volume22, Issue2, April 1999 Pages 107-114 doi:10.1023/A:1005433516026
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Spices, fenugreek seed. Updated April 1, 2019.
- American Botanical Council. Herbal medicine: Expanded Commission E: Fenugreek seed.
- Askarpour M, Alami F, Campbell MS, Venkatakrishnan K, Hadi A, Ghaedi E. Effect of fenugreek supplementation on blood lipids and body weight: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Ethnopharmacol. 2020;253:112538. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2019.112538
- Schoen C, Bielfeldt S. Fenugreek+micronutrients: Efficacy of a food supplement against hair loss. Kosmetische Medizin. 2006;27(4).
- Kulkarni M, Hastak V, Jadhav V, Date AA. Fenugreek leaf extract and its gel formulation show activity against Malassezia furfur. Assay Drug Dev Technol. 2020;18(1):45-55. doi:10.1089/adt.2019.918
A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.