Ancient Indian and Chinese health tonic, now popularly taken by men to help with T-levels, strength, libido and weight loss.
Fenugreek seed is a widely used men’s health supplement that may offer benefits related to athletic and sexual performance. In terms of testosterone, it has been suggested to:
- Act as an aromatase inhibitor. With this bio-activity, fenugreek may help keep men’s estrogen levels low, thereby freeing up more testosterone.
- Block 5-alpha-reductase. Since 5-alpha-reductase coverts T into Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), blocking it, in theory, may sustain T-levels… but you lose DHT’s manly benefits.
Other Benefits for Men
- Fenugreek is regarded as a physical performance booster with anabolic muscle-building potential. It may have properties that assist with fat-burning and post-workout recovery.
Fenugreek has been around forever: It was cultivated in Egypt in 1,500 B.C., and its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurveda might stretch back even further. It’s also a popular spice in curry dishes. This long history of use suggests fenugreek is safe and beneficial.
For men, fenugreek has been used for centuries as a sex-booster. Today, fenugreek is popular for men’s health, with some evidence backing its early reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Fenugreek has dozens of plant chemicals, with many potential benefits. But for now, we focus on men’s health only: Testosterone, sex drive and physical performance. Let’s see what the science says.
In animal studies, researchers have suggested fenugreek seed extract seems to:
- Improve physical endurance in male rats, possibly via fat-burning for energy1
- Stimulate release of growth hormone, acting on male rats’ pituitary glands2
- Boost the female hormone progesterone in male & female rabbits while reducing androgen sex hormones in male rabbits3
The rat studies look promising, but then, the rabbit study… which seems to indicate that fenugreek may have a testosterone-reducing effect.
There are, in fact, a few gold-standard studies on fenugreek: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials. These studies look promising at first, but they might not be all that they seem:
In this randomized, double-blind trial, researchers gave 600 mg Testofen® fenugreek or placebo to 60 men aged 25-52 for six weeks, and then evaluated them for changes. Testofen® seemed to benefit men’s energy levels, muscle strength, sex drive and feelings of well-being. Blood levels of prolactin and testosterone were unchanged.
- Researchers concluded that the Testofen® fenugreek “demonstrated a significant positive effect on physiological aspects of libido” and seemed to help “maintain normal healthy testosterone levels.”4
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers gave 500 mg Torabolic® fenugreek or placebo to 49 athletic men through eight weeks of strength training. At study’s end, researchers found Torabolic®+strength training improved strength, body composition, and body fat percentage. Researchers said Torabolic® didn’t affect endurance or hormones, except for a small change in free testosterone that they deemed “non-significant.”
- Even though it had no impact on male sex hormones, researchers concluded that the Torabolic fenugreek had a “significant impact on both upper- and lower-body strength and body composition” with no side effects.5
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, researchers gave 500 mg TESTOSURGE® (patented fenugreek ingredient) to 30 male strength-training athletes daily for a span of 8 weeks. Throughout the study, participants performed a training protocol 4 days per week. At study’s end, researchers reported the TESTOSURGE® group experienced:
- 6.57% increase in total testosterone
- 12.26% increase in free testosterone
- 1.77% reduction in body fat
- No change in strength
Researchers reported that daily 500 mg intake of fenugreek as TESTOSURGE®, in conjunction with a strength training program, “significantly affected The authors concluded that 500 mg of daily AI supplementation “significantly affected percent body fat, total testosterone, and bioavailable testosterone.”6
Why fenugreek’s 5-alpha-reductase effects might be a problem for men
One of fenugreek’s mechanisms of action is that it blocks 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into another hormone called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In theory, blocking the “T-converting” activities of 5-alpha-reductase would sustain testosterone levels, while at the same time limiting the amount of DHT circulating in the bloodstream. One research study found that fenugreek extract appeared to reduce DHT levels by 9.42%.7
- The problem? DHT is a manly hormone that is considerably more potent than testosterone.
DHT is like T on steroids! So for men, sacrificing super-potent DHT in order to boost less-potent testosterone does not make sense–even if it worked (which it appears to), it would be a “net loss” for your overall “manly hormone” status.
For men’s health, if you take away these branded fenugreek studies, there’s not much human research left. We did find one interesting independent human clinical trial on one of fenugreek’s active ingredients — 4-Hydroxyisoleucine — which found:
Researchers extracted and isolated an active ingredient called 4-Hydroxyisoleucine (4-OH-Ile) from fenugreek seeds and mixed into a sugar drink. Researchers then administered this drink to trained male cyclists who had just completed a strenuous 90-minute bike ride. A few hours later, cyclists were tested to see how their muscles were recovering after the exertion.Researchers found that the 4-OH-Ile extracted from fenugreek seeds, when combined with a sugar drink, appeared to accelerate the rate of muscle recovery by 63%.
- Researchers concluded that when “fenugreek extract supplement (4-OH-Ile) is added to a high oral dose of dextrose, rates of post-exercise glycogen resynthesis are enhanced above dextrose alone.”8
It’s hard to get a handle on exact fenugreek dosage because human studies use different forms of the herb, which are sometimes standardized to different active ingredients. But we have some notes:
- The Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines says daily dosage can go up to 6 g
- Retailers tend to suggest daily dosage of plain fenugreek seed powder in the range of 1.8 g – 3.6 g
- Standardized is lower, 900 mg – 1500 mg, because it has more active ingredients per capsule.
Generally, fenugreek is safe and well-tolerated, with no serious adverse events reported. This is no surprise, since it’s been regularly consumed in foods without ill-effects for centuries. It may, however, make you smell like maple syrup. Seriously.
Plain fenugreek seed: It is what it is: Ground-up fenugreek seed in a capsule. Plain fenugreek is the cheapest form you can get. In fact, it’s ridiculously cheap. For some reason, a lot of supplement manufacturers supply plain fenugreek in 610 mg capsules. Where they got 610 mg is anybody’s guess.
Standardized fenugreek seed: Standardized costs more than plain, but guarantees a pre-set level of specific active ingredients in each capsule. We’ve seen fenugreek supplements standardized to: Furostanol Saponins (also called “saponins” or “steroidal saponins”), 4-Hydroxyisoleucine and trigonelline. Those last two are associated with blood sugar and cholesterol benefits. For men’s health, you want saponins.
Branded fenugreek ingredients: The most expensive. One company–Indus Biotech in India–makes three big ones:
- Testofen®, standardized 50% Fenuside™
- Torabolic®, standardized to 70% trigimannose
- TESTOSURGE®, standardized to 80% grecunin
The standardized ingredients are proprietary: Indus selected compounds, extracted them, and gave them made-up names.
Fenusterols®, rich in saponins, is another branded fenugreek made by a company called Sabinsa that has a good reputation.
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Fenugreek standardized to 50%+ saponins, 1,000-2,000 mg daily
Fenugreek is just not that great of a T-booster. There, we said it. Fenugreek seems good for T because it blocks aromatase, but as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor, it may also diminish DHT. If robust manliness is your goal, then you must keep your DHT levels high. To us, fenugreek seems better for training, fat burning, and sex than it is for testosterone enhancement.
We think fenugreek standardized to 50% saponins is best: Mid-range price, fewer capsules to take, and the right men’s health-specific compounds. If you decide to try a (more expensive) branded ingredient, we suggest Fenusterols® from Sabinsa. Indus Biotech makes branded fenugreek too, but their connection to Ageless Male (The Worst T-Booster In The World) is so dodgy it’s an instant disqualification.
- Ikeuchi M, et al. Effects of fenugreek seeds (Trigonella foenum greaecum) extract on endurance capacity in mice. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2006 Aug;52(4):287-92. ↩
- Shim SH, et al. Rat growth-hormone release stimulators from fenugreek seeds. Chem Biodivers. 2008 Sep;5(9):1753-61. ↩
- Kassem A., et al. Evaluation of the potential antifertility effect of fenugreek seeds in male and female rabbits. Contraception. 2006 Mar;73(3):301-6. Epub 2005 Nov 2. ↩
- Steels E, et al. Physiological aspects of male libido enhanced by standardized Trigonella foenum-graecum extract and mineral formulation. Phytother Res. 2011 Sep;25(9):1294-300. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3360. Epub 2011 Feb 10. ↩
- Poole C, Bushey B. The effects of a commercially available botanical supplement on strength, body composition, power output, and hormonal profiles in resistance-trained males. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7: 34. ↩
- Wilborn C, et al. Effects of a purported aromatase and 5α-reductase inhibitor on hormone profiles in college-age men. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism (Impact Factor: 1.98). 12/2010; 20(6):457-65. ↩
- Bushey B, et al. Fenugreek Extract Supplementation Has No effect on the Hormonal Profile of Resitance-Trained Males. International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 13, 2009. ↩
- Ruby BC, et al. The addition of fenugreek extract (Trigonella foenum-graecum) to glucose feeding increases muscle glycogen resynthesis after exercise. Amino Acids. 2005 Feb;28(1):71-6. Epub 2004 Dec 2. ↩