Fenugreek and Testosterone: More Harmful than Helpful?
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Mon 24 September 2018
Medical Review by Gerardo Sison, PharmD
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a common herb that originates from the Indian herbal medicine; Ayurveda. Its claimed use is to enhance masculinity and libido.
The seed powder and seed extracts of the fenugreek plant are commonly used in various testosterone boosters, and some manufacturers claim that it would be the single most effective natural compound to raise male testosterone levels, muscular gains, bedroom performance, and so on.
But is fenugreek truly as effective of a test boosters the marketers claim it to be? Let’s have a closer look.
Fenugreek, Testosterone, DHT, and Prolactin
Most people think that fenugreek is only used as an ingredient to normalize and increase male testosterone levels.
This isn’t the case. Since fenugreek also contains galactagogues which have the distinctive ability to increase prolactin levels, which is why fenugreek is also marketed to women to increase their lactation during pregnancy1,2.
Although men taking fenugreek won’t likely start producing milk, it’s still very much likely that supplementing with the herb can lead to elevated prolactin, which is somewhat detrimental for testosterone production via inhibition of dopamine3. For obvious reasons, the T-booster manufacturers using fenugreek are pretty silent about the issue.
Prolactin aside, does fenugreek actually increase testosterone levels as claimed?
The answer is maybe, but likely not. You see, initial studies (sponsored by fenugreek manufacturer) showed very promising results, as fenugreek supplementation increased testosterone levels and improved body composition in resistance trained males4. Since the herb has compounds such as apigenin, luteolin, protodioscin, magnesium, and calcium – all of which can contribute to increased testosterone production – it was all but plausible that fenugreek would become the next big thing in the supplement industry (and it certainly did).
The thing is that fenugreek extracts haven’t always performed this well on scientific studies. Although in rodents, the extract increased muscle growth, it failed to have any impact on circulating testosterone levels5. In an effort to replicate the first human study sponsored by Indus Biotech, Bushey et al. found that in their trial, fenugreek did not increase either free or total testosterone levels, but it ended up lowering DHT due to 5-a reductase inhibitory effect6. Lastly, a study using 600mg/day of fenugreek extract called “Testofen” on healthy male subjects, failed to show any increases in testosterone levels7.
Fenugreek can have some anti-thyroid effects, as it was found to disrupt the normal rise in thyroid hormones in rodents administered T3 and T48, this effect was likely due to a compound called trypsin, which can inhibit protein digestion and thyroid hormone transportation in the body.
So what we have here is a herb that likely doesn’t do anything to testosterone levels, may slightly improve body composition, has anti-thyroid effects, may increase prolactin levels, and disrupts DHT synthesis. This isn’t something most men looking for anabolic androgenic benefits would want. Yet fenugreek continues to be one of the most used ingredients in test-boosters and nobody seems to mind it.
Would I recommend fenugreek? No.
This herb has too many industry-sponsored studies that have sketchy use of placebo and control groups, and their findings are not replicable. The likely increases in prolactin and 5-a reductase inhibition are also something that you do not want to see from a herb that is sold primarily for male hormonal health.
Fenugreek belongs to the same cast as tribulus, with the difference that fenugreek at least has some chance of positively impacting body composition (although even these findings were found with co-administration of creatine), whereas tribulus does absolutely nothing. regardless, they’re both something no company should be putting in their supplements.