If you've ever shopped for testosterone supplements, you've heard of fenugreek.
If you haven't, don't worry. This article will tell you everything you need to know about fenugreek and its interaction with testosterone.
What is Fenugreek?
Tigonella foenum-graecum, aka Fenugreek or Greek Hay, is a herb that's part of the pea family (Fabaceae). It is most popular in Arabic regions and in India, where it has traditionally been used to enhance aspects of male health.
The most commonly used part of the plant are its seeds, which can be used in cooking as well as in making medicine.
Although known to possess antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-diabetic properties, today fenugreek is a primary ingredient in many of the best-selling testosterone supplements on the market.
How Fenugreek Interacts With Testosterone
As of today, there have been five human trials that have studied the interaction between fenugreek and testosterone levels. My aim with the rest of this article is to break down each of these studies so that you can know for sure whether fenugreek supplementation actually boosts testosterone or not.
Human Trial #1
Number of Subjects
30 resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to ingest either 500mg of fenugreek or placebo once per day for 8 weeks. Participants were also put on a 4-day/week weight lifting program.
At the end of 8 weeks, the subjects supplementing with fenugreek experienced an average increase of 6.57% in total testosterone and 12.26% increase in bioavailable testosterone levels. The subjects given placebo experienced a 15.3% decrease in total testosterone and 16.7% decrease in bioavailable testosterone.
As for the strength increases, they were statistically insignificant across both groups.
My take: Even though the subjects receiving fenugreek experienced an increase in T, the extent of the increase was insignificant. A 12% increase in bioavailable testosterone is not enough for you to notice any differences in energy, muscle-building, or quality of life.
Human Trial #2
Number of Subjects
60 healthy men without ED between the ages of 25 and 52 were given either 600mg of fenugreek or placebo for 6 weeks.
Researchers reported that fenugreek supplementation had an overall positive impact on physiological aspects of libido. Testosterone levels, however, remained the same between both groups.
My take: The aspects of libido that were measured in this study were assessed through the Derogatis Interview for Sexual Functioning. This is a self-administered multiple choice answer test. So even though the fenugreek group got better scores, it is still just a subjective measure rather than conclusive evidence.
Human Trial #3
Number of Subjects
45 resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to ingest either 500mg of fenugreek or placebo once per day for 8 weeks. Participants were also put on a 4-day/week periodized resistance-training program.
At the end of 8 weeks, testosterone levels remained relatively the same amongst subjects in both groups.
The subjects receiving fenugreek, however, experienced a 9.42% decrease in DHT levels.
My take: DHT (dihydrotestosterone) is an androgen derived from testosterone. Most of the benefits that we associate with higher testosterone levels can actually be tied back to DHT. This is because in the brain, skin, and testes - basically everywhere but muscle tissue - the active androgen is DHT. Lower DHT levels is definitely something that we don't want. DHT is associated with male pattern baldness, but the benefits of it far outweigh the drawbacks.
Increased lean mass, decreased body fat
Number of Subjects
30 resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to ingest a daily dose of either 500 mg of fenugreek or placebo. For 8 weeks, the subjects were also put on 4-day/week training program.
After 8 weeks, the subjects that received fenugreek experienced greater decreases in body fat percentage (-1.8% vs -0.05%) and greater increases in lean muscle mass (2.4kg vs 1kg) compared to placebo.
My take: Based on this study, subjects supplementing with fenugreek lost more than 3x the amount of body fat and gained more than 2x the amount of muscle compared to placebo. These results are pretty astounding. But the catch here is that the study was funded by Indus Biotech; a company that manufactures fenugreek.
Human Trial #5
Number of Subjects
49 resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to ingest either 500mg of fenugreek or placebo over the course of 8 weeks. Subjects were also put on a 4-day/week periodized training program during this time.
Compared to placebo, the fenugreek group lost more body fat (-2.3% vs -0.39%) and gained more strength on their leg press 1-RM (85kg vs 48kg) and bench press 1-RM (9kg vs 4kg).
Surprisingly, the fenugreek group experienced a 10% decrease in free testosterone levels. The placebo group, on the other hand, actually experienced a 17% increase in free testosterone.
My take: Although this study found fenugreek supplementation to help speed up fat-loss and strength gains, it also found fenugreek to decrease testosterone levels. This study was also funded by Indus Biotech (a company that manufactures fenugreek).
The Bottom Line: Fenugreek Does Not Increase Testosterone Levels
Out of the four human trials observing fenugreek's interaction with testosterone (one of them observed only its effect on body composition), one of them found a minor increase, two of them found no impact, and one of them actually found a decrease.
Clearly, fenugreek is not a proven testosterone booster.
The question then becomes:
If fenugreek is proven not to positively impact testosterone levels, why do companies continue to add it to their supplements?
The supplement industry as a whole functions on the basis of half-truths. They use petri-dish, test-tube, and animal studies to make technically correct statements about "scientifically proven" ingredients that do not carry over to affect humans in the same way.
This is why it's extremely important to research supplements before purchase and to double-check the claims made on the label.
Also it seems like a bandwagon effect:
One company adds fenugreek to their supplement, it sells well, the word spreads, people think that fenugreek is the best thing since sliced bread, and even more companies begin adding fenugreek to their supplement.
The truth is in front of you, but with the diversity of the internet and the mass amount of information we are bombarded with daily, it can become difficult to cut through the crap.
Fenugreek for Bodybuilding
Two of the five studies cited above report tremendous muscle and strength gains in subjects supplementing with fenugreek. But the important point to note is that both of those studies were funded by Indus Biotech, the company that manufactures Torabolic (a fenugreek supplement).
Sure the studies may be published in reputable scientific journals, but the results should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Also, Human Trial #1 cited above showed no differences in muscle and strength amongst placebo and subjects supplementing with fenugreek. So even regarding bodybuilding, the results are inconclusive.
Does Fenugreek Have Any Benefits?
Although it does not increase testosterone levels, fenugreek can help with other areas of your health. Below are 5 proven benefits of fenugreek.
1. Better Digestion
Fenugreek can help with a number of digestive problems.
2. Improved Markers of Cholesterol
Fenugreek has also been shown to benefit those with heart conditions.
In one study, patients suffering from coronary artery disease, fenugreek significantly lowered total cholesterol and triglycerides, without affecting HDL cholesterol (3).
3. Boosts Libido
Human Trial #2 cited above showed improved markers of physiological aspects of libido in men supplementing with 600mg of fenugreek over a course of 6 weeks (4).
Although this finding is not reliable (since its based on self-reports) it's still interesting to note.
When applied directly to the skin fenugreek can reduce external inflammation (5). This makes it an effective treatment for conditions such as:
Fenugreek applied to the skin can cause irritation, so it's important that you test with a little bit before going all in.
5. Adds flavour to food
In India, fenugreek is a common ingredient in many spice blends. It is also used to add flavour to curries (6).
Fenugreek Side Effects
We've already established that fenugreek does not increase testosterone levels. But if you decide to use it anyway, then there are a few possible side effects.
When taken by mouth, fenugreek can cause stomach irritation in the form of gas, bloating, and diarrhea. When applied to the skin, it can cause irritation.
In people with bleeding disorders, fenugreek can aggravate the problem and cause excessive bleeding.
If you're on blood-thinning medications, or suffer from any other condition for that matter, consult with a doctor before using fenugreek.
The Down and Low On Fenugreek
The science is unequivocal:
Fenugreek supplementation does not have a significant impact on testosterone.
There is some evidence to suggest that it may actually lower testosterone levels.
The fact that so many testosterone supplements include fenugreek as an ingredient should provide insight towards how the supplement industry functions as a whole.
The take home message:
Always conduct your own research before putting anything inside of your body. Don't go by the claims made on the label. Figure out for yourself whether something works or not.