, a registered trademark of Sabinsa Corporation, is the fiber-rich fraction
obtained from Fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum, Family: Leguminosae)
is an annual herbaceous plant, 30 to 60 cm in height. The herb is native to North Africa
and countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean and is widely cultivated in India. The
seeds of Fenugreek have been used as a spice since ancient times and are commonly used as
a condiment in Indian homes.
The medicinal uses of
Fenugreek seeds have been known since ancient times. In the Greek and Latin
pharmacopoeias, Fenugreek seeds are described as posessing antidiabetic properties. In
recent times, several preclinical and clinical studies have confirmed the anti-diabetic
action of Fenugreek seeds, particularly, the fiber-rich, defatted portion of the seeds.
The hypocholesterolemic activity, a complication of diabetes, of the defatted portions of
the seeds has also been demonstrated. In addition, fenugreek seeds are assumed to have
nutritive and restorative properties and they also stimulate the digestive process.
Gel fiber present in
Fenugreek seeds, reduces the rate of glucose absorption and may also delay gastric
emptying, thereby preventing the rise in blood sugar levels following a meal. Several
studies provide direct and indirect evidence that subjects become sensitive to insulin
after adaptation to high fiber diets.
composition of Fenugreek seeds and defatted Fenugreek seeds is given in Table 1. These
seeds are a rich source of fiber and protein. The fiber may be further classed as gum (gel
fiber) and neutral detergent fiber. The protein fraction contains the amino acid
4-hydroxyisoleucine, which has been proven to stimulate insulin production. Whole
Fenugreek seeds also contain 4.8% saponins. Fenugreek seed saponins are of steroidal
nature (type furostanol saponins) with diosgenin as the principal steroidal saponin.
Table 1: Proximate Composition (%) of Fenugreek Seeds
Neutral Detergent Fiber
Dietary Fiber and Its
Role in Health
consists of all palatable foods that are consumed by single-stomach animals (including
humans) and that remain largely undigested upon reaching the large intestine. Many fibers,
such as cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin, are carbohydrates. Humans do not posess the
enzyme necessary for splitting the bonds linking the individual fiber units.
Dietary fiber is the
fiber that remains in the colon following digestion whereas crude fiber is the fiber that
withstands laboratory analysis with dilute acids and alkalis. For every gram of crude
fiber, there are roughly two to three grams of dietary fiber. Crude fiber is composed of
cellulose, which is a complex molecule composed of glucose molecules. Related to cellulose
is hemicellulose - one type of hemicellulose is pectin. Lignin , another form of crude
fiber, is not a carbohydrate per se, but it is of plant origin and is also indigestible.
Another fiber of importance is guar gum, which prevents the rapid uptake of glucose in the
small intestine, slows gastric emptying, aids in blood sugar retention in diabetic
patients and may also be effective in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.
In Fenugreek seeds,
the gum (gel fiber) fraction consists of galactomannan which is made up of galactose and
mannose units. The gum also resembles guar gum in structure and is very viscous (15
centipoise) when dissoved in water. The neutral detergent fiber is made up of indigestible
carbohydrates such as cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. According to Ribes et al
(1984), the defatted fraction of fenugreek seeds contains 50.2% fiber and consists of
17.7% gum, 22% hemicellulose, 8.3% cellulose and 2.2% lignin.
The digestibility of
was compared to fiber-containing products, Wheat Chex,
Metamucil, Oat Bran, and Wheat Bran. Fenufibers
is similar to the commonly used fiber-containing products in
terms of digestibility. Fenufibers
was only 39% digested in 48 hours, with little change thereafter. (Sabinsa
sponsored study performed at the University of Georgia, reported in : Al-Khaldi et al.
(1999)). Low digestibility indicates better fiber functionality, with lower incidence of
gastrointestinal disturbances such as bloating due to fermentation by gastrointestinal
Both pre-clinical and clinical studies performed in recent years
have demonstrated that the antidiabetic action of Trigonella can be associated with
the defatted fiber-rich seed material. Fenugreek seeds exert both hypoglycemic and
A subfraction of the
defatted seed material, rich in fibers (79.6%) and constituted by the testa and endosperm
was shown to have potent hypoglycemic action. Chronic administration of this fraction for
21 days (with two daily meals and in conjunction with insulin therapy) in alloxan-induced
diabetic dogs resulted in a decrease of hyperglycemia and glycosuria. Simultaneously, the
high plasma glucagon and somatostatin levels were reduced with a decrease in the
hyperglycemic response to oral glucose tolerance. In contrast, the subfraction
b constituted by the cotyledons and the axes and rich in saponins and proteins
had no effect on hyperglycemia or pancreatic hormone levels when chronically administered
to diabetic dog. It was thereby concluded that the anti-diabetic action of Fenugreek seeds
is contained within the fiber-rich testa and endosperm (Ribes et al, 1986).
diabetic rats were subjected to diets containing 20% fenugreek seeds for a period of ten
weeks, there was no improvement in the diabetic state. However, diabetic animals
pretreated for five weeks with fenugreek and followed by six weeks of feeding with the
same diet, showed a general improvement in their clinical status. Hyperglycemia, and serum
levels of free fatty acid levels, cholesterol and triglycerides were reduced (Amin Riyad).
In another study, the
researchers examined the comparative hypocholesterolemic effect of various fractions of
Fenugreek seed in rats fed a high cholesterol diet. Among the Fenugreek fractions, the
alkaloid fraction and the lipid extract were found to have no hypocholesterolemic
activity, while the defatted fractions, gum isolate and crude saponins showed
hypocholesterolemic activity (Sharma et al, 1986). Additionally, substitution of the
hypercholesterolemic diet with Fenugreek seeds significantly reduced elevated cholesterol
levels without affecting triglyceride levels. The authors of this study concluded that
Fenugreek seeds are effective in lowering elevated serum choleserol levels, as well as
preventing a rise in serum cholesterol when fed along with a hypercholesterolemic diet.
The mucilaginous component of Fenugreek seed fibers was most effective in lowering serum
cholesterol. Since high cholesterol levels are known to be associated with diabetes, it
was proposed that Fenugreek seeds or its defatted portion may be useful in the treatment
of diabetes and the associated hypercholesterolemia.
A. Type I
Recent studies have proven the efficacy of fenugreek as a
hypoglycemic agent in humans. In a double blind study, ten Type I diabetics were given 100
g/day, fenugreek seeds (powdered, defatted and debittered) with meals, for ten days.
Fasting glucose levels decreased by 30%, glucose tolerance improved and sugar excretion
dropped by 54%. (Figure 1). There was no corresponding increase in insulin levels.
In this study, the
hypocholesterolemic effect of the defatted portion of the seeds were also demonstrated. As
compared to the control group, serum cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol and
triglyceride levels were significantly reduced in the treated group.
Administration of 25g of defatted Fenugreek seed for a period of
three weeks significantly improved the performance of Type II diabetic patients in the
glucose tolerance test (Figure 3). In addition, the 24 hr urine sugar content and serum
cholesterol levels were significantly reduced (P<0.05) following therapy. Some of the
patients under treatment also reduced their insulin requirements from 56 units/day to 20
investigated the cholesterol lowering effect of fenugreek in patients with high
Methods: Patients were divided into 3 groups of 6.
Group I.- 50 g Placebo*
Group II.- 25 g Placebo* + 25 g Fenugreek powder
Group III.- 50 g Fenugreek powder
Blood samples were collected after overnight fasting on days 0, 10, and 20 during the test
period and estimated for lipid profile.
(The Placebo powder was a mixture of rice powder & Bengal gram powder in equal
Groups II and Group
III serum cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL and
VLDL significantly decreased compared to Group I. Serum HDL levels had a tendency to
decrease on day 10 in Groups II and III, but they rose again to near normal levels on day
The results of
similar double blind studies on sixty Type II diabetics, treated with 25 g fenugreek seed
powder per day, were equally promising in reducing serum cholesterol and triglyceride
levels (Figure 5) (Sharma, 1996). This effect was sustained and lasting, and the inclusion
of Fenugreek seed powder produced no undesirable side effects. Within the duration of this
study, there were no new incidences of heart problems such as angina and myocardial
infarction, and no increases in blood pressure were observed. It was therefore concluded
that Fenugreek can be considered to be a potentially useful dietary supplement to prevent
hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis in Type II diabetic patients.
Mechanism of blood
sugar lowering action of Fenufibers
A high-fiber diet is
associated with the improved ability to handle blood sugar. In the presence of a high
fiber diet, the cells are more sensitive to insulin and an increase in the number of
insulin receptor sites occurs or alternatively, there is a stimulation of the cells
ability to burn glucose. Certain dietary fibers reduce the rate of food passage
through the intestine and into the bloodstream, thereby helping to control the increase in
postprandial blood sugar levels. High-fiber diets are associated with less glycosuria
(sugar in urine), lower fasting blood sugar levels, and lower insulin requirements.
Water-retaining fibers, especially the mucilaginous compounds, such as the gel fiber
present in Fenugreek seeds, reduce the rate of glucose absorption and may also delay
gastric emptying thereby preventing the rise in blood sugar levels following a meal. In
addition to its hypoglycemic effects, the hypolipidemic effect of Fenugreek fibers have
also been documented. Therefore, Fenugreek fibers have a dual role to play in the
management of diabetes.
1. Hypoglycemic Effect
The gel fiber
fraction of Fenugreek seeds are thought to be responsible for the hyoglycemic effect. In
animal studies, Fenugreek fiber has been shown to delay the rate of gastric emptying and
slow carbohydrate absorption. Based on the results of clinical studies, Sharma (1986)
proposed that Fenugreek fiber enriched diets cause a delay in the absorption of
carbohydrate from the diet, thereby reducing insulin requirements. Fenugreek affects blood
glucose by reducing glucose uptake from the intestine. The delay in gastric emptying and
carbohydrate absorption may be attributed to the gel fraction which increases the
viscosity of the digesta.
It was speculated
that the reduction in insulin requirement seen in some of the Type II diabetic patients
may be due to the Fenugreek fibers improving peripheral insulin sensitivity. Frequently,
in Type II patients, insulin secrection is normal or even higher than normal but the
reduced number of insulin receptor sites on body cell membranes in these patients leads to
insensitivity to insulin, i.e., the cells do not respond to insulin. It has been shown in
the past that in the presence of a high fiber diet, an increase in the number of insulin
receptor sites occurs and the cells become more sensitive to the action of insulin.
In the clinical
studies, a reduction in urinary excretion of glucose was also observed, indicating greater
retention of dietary carbohydrate in the body. As carbohydrate-rich diets are known to
improve glucose tolerance, increased carbohydrate retention may be beneficial to diabetics
(Sharma et al., 1990). Clinical studies also indicate that diabetics become sensitive to
insulin after adaptation to high fiber diets (Reiser, 1979).
effect of fenugreek fiber:
It has been shown
that the gel fraction of fenugreek fiber, contains galactomannans which increase the
viscosity of the digesta thereby reducing serum cholesterol levels. This is achieved
through the inhibition of cholesterol absorption from the small intestine and also the
inhibition of bile acid reabsorption from the terminal ileum. If bile acids are excreted,
the balance tilts towards their synthesis in the liver from cholesterol, thereby lowering
serum cholesterol levels (Gee, et al. (1983). Other studies have shown that galactomannans
influence gastrointestinal hormone secretions, thereby increasing the activity of a number
of key enzymes in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.
In addition to its
high fiber content, Fenufiber
contains a biologically significant level of saponins. Saponins are known to have
hypocholesterolemic effects. When saponins are ingested in isolated or food borne forms,
they form large mixed micelles with bile salts and significantly reduce serum cholesterol,
by increasing fecal excretion of bile salts, therby inhibiting cholesterol absorption.
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