We all want luxurious, healthy hair, and many of us face a constant struggle to achieve it. We fight dandruff, thin hair, dry scalp, slow hair growth or even hair loss. We do this with special shampoos, serums, conditioners, hair masks and supplements.
And yet, the fight rages on...
Fenugreek is one such supplement that’s occasionally touted as a healthy hair solution. You’ll generally find it on blogs and social media as a sort of home remedy. But like other products that promise the world, you should be skeptical.
Knowing what to spend your money on and what products to put in your body should always be an exercise in informed caution. With so many options on the market for your hair, doing a bit of research can save you some cash and time.
If you’ve had curry, you’ve likely had fenugreek. In Indian and Ayurvedic practices, it’s also known as methi or methi seeds. Fenugreek comes from a plant that grows around three feet tall. The herb is native to parts of Europe, Africa and Asia where the seeds are collected mainly for use in cooking.
Fenugreek has a sweetish, maple flavor (sometimes described as “burnt sugar”), so you’ll find it in everything from curry to candies and imitation maple syrup.
Within fenugreek seeds you’ll find vitamins A, B, and C; as well as phosphates; flavonoids; iron; saponins and other components.
One of the more recent uses of fenugreek is as a food preserver, though it’s also used in food as a stabilizer and emulsifying agent.
Traditionally, the seed has been touted as having many health benefits, though as is often the case for food and folk medicine, the scientific evidence backing these benefits is limited.
Some of the reported benefits of fenugreek are that it's antibacterial and anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and can also help as a lactation aid, a tool to lower cholesterol, a blood sugar regulator, a hormone regulator and a digestive stimulant.
It’s also believed that it may have anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties, as well.
That said, the evidence proving these benefits is scant. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health plainly states: “There isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the use of fenugreek for any health condition.”
Here is a brief summary of some of the evidence behind a few of the health claims, however weak:
Blood sugar: In numerous animal studies, fenugreek seeds have been shown to lower blood sugar levels.
A few studies in humans with diabetes have shown similar effects. One 2017 study looked at 60 patients with Type 2 diabetes. Patients were randomized to either receive 10mg of fenugreek seeds steeped in hot water or nothing. In the fifth month, the fenugreek group experienced a “significant reduction” in blood glucose levels.
Cholesterol: A few animal studies have found fenugreek to combat cholesterol irregularities. After eight weeks of supplementation with fenugreek, rats experienced lowered LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides and increased HDL (good cholesterol). However, these findings have not been replicated in humans.
Hormone regulation: Fenugreek may impact testosterone regulation. One study that looked specifically at how fenugreek impacts male libido found supplementing with a fenugreek product to help maintain healthy testosterone levels and positively impact sexual libido.
Google “Fenugreek and hair” and you’ll find numerous articles assuring you the seed can lead to luxurious locks and a healthy scalp. But we have potentially-upsetting news: there is no evidence fenugreek can help you achieve the hair of your dreams.
The stark truth is: we found one study connecting fenugreek to hair loss prevention and a few to skin health benefits. This suggests the seed could affect some aspects of hair health, but there is no hard proof.
If your hair woes are related to an unhealthy scalp, there is a bit of slightly related evidence that fenugreek products may help: One study found a gel made of fenugreek aided in wound healing in rats. Another, that a cream with fenugreek in it had positive effects on skin health in humans. Keep in mind, this was a topical application of fenugreek-containing products, not a supplement.
We were able to locate one scientific study examining fenugreek and hair loss.
The study included 30 men and 30 women experiencing mild to moderate hair loss and found “favorable effects.” Those effects, however, were self-reported and retrospective.
That means, participants were asked about the condition of their hair before and after treatment, rather than being subjected to objective measurements.
For hair loss, you’d likely be better off opting for solutions that do have science backing their hair growth claims.
Like many foods that have been used medicinally over the ages, the evidence supporting fenugreek hasn’t quite caught up with the legends.
It is believed that fenugreek is safe when consumed in amounts commonly found in food.
However, it’s important to understand that doses of fenugreek you may find in a plate of Methi Chicken may differ drastically from the dosage you might find in a fenugreek supplement.
That said, some of the reported side effects of fenugreek include:
More serious interactions from larger doses may include allergic reactions, a dangerous drop in blood sugar and even liver toxicity, in some cases. These issues are typically experienced in people who consume fenugreek alone or with other herbs or supplements.
Fenugreek should not be consumed as a supplement by children or women who or pregnant and breastfeeding, as the science still isn’t clear on how fenugreek might affect their bodies or breast milk.
In fact, in both animals and humans, fenugreek consumption has been linked to a higher instance of birth abnormalities.