How Fenugreek Can Promote Milk Production

How Fenugreek Can Promote Milk Production

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant grown in the regions of India, southern Europe and northern Africa. The seeds of the fenugreek plant have been used for centuries as flavour for cooking, as a natural die and for medicinal purposes. Fenugreek seeds are among the most versatile of medicinal herbs with a long list of benefits. Fenugreek is a rich source of fiber (50% by weight), protein, iron, silicon, selenium, and thiamine. It also contains natural steroidal sapogenins such as diosgenin, and the amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which are thought to be the keys behind the many benefits of fenugreek seeds.

 

Fenugreek seeds – Promoting milk production

The benefits of breastfeeding to newborn babies and their mothers are numerous. Mother’s milk supplies the infant with the best possible nutritional support, reduces the chances of feeding intolerance and enhances the baby’s immunity.(2) The act of breastfeeding also helps to solidify the psychological bond between mother and baby.(3)

Although nothing could be more natural than a mother breastfeeding her child, the actual process is not always easy. The initial period after birth is often a frustrating time for mothers, especially first-time mothers, to initiate sufficient milk supply for their child. Babies born pre-term may not be mature enough to breast-feed, making it difficult for the mother to produce enough milk; more milk is produced when breasts are fully emptied. Interruptions to the breastfeeding process can also occur such as illness to the mother, separation of mother and child and continuation of breastfeeding during the weaning period (relactation).

Another challenging situation can occur when an adoptive mother chooses to breastfeed. In all these cases, insufficient milk production is the primary cause of mothers abandoning breastfeeding.(4) Around the world, each culture has its own natural method of promoting milk production in nursing mothers. This knowledge and these traditions are handed down through the generations. Oral use of fenugreek seeds is one such tradition. Fenugreek seed has been traditionally used as a galactogogue/lactogogue to help promote milk production. As with many traditional uses for herbs, there is limited clinical evidence of fenugreek’s efficacy in this role. But clearly, there is an increase in the use of fenugreek in the promotion of lactation in Western countries.

A survey conducted in Australia showed that 24% of mothers used an herb to increase milk supply and that fenugreek was by far the most popular choice of herb.(5) Other sources cite fenugreek as the most popular herbal galactogogue in the world.(6) Much of the evidence for fenugreek and lactation is from observation by health care professionals. Registered nurse and author Kathleen Huggins shared her anecdotal experience with fenugreek use at her California clinic on the www.breastfeedingonline.com website which offers many resources to mothers: “To date, we have worked with at least 1200 women who have taken the herb [fenugreek]. Nearly all of the mothers who take fenugreek report an increase in milk production, generally within 24 to 72 hours after starting to take the herb.

Adequate production is usually maintained as long as sufficient breast stimulation and emptying continues.”(7) Rima Jensen, an MD from Texas, reported her own experiences with fenugreek capsules: “Alex [fourth child] is much easier to nurse when I take fenugreek. Without fenugreek, the baby has to keep the breasts drained nearly dry to keep up the supply. With fenugreek there is enough milk even with every 3 to 4 hour feedings. Also, the flow is faster, which corrects some of the tight jaw response.”(8) There have, however, been some clinical studies that do validate fenugreek’s milk producing capability.

A double-blind clinical study conducted in 2011 evaluated fenugreek as a galactogogue. It concluded that the breast milk volume of mothers taking a tea of fenugreek was increased “significantly” vs. a placebo. Further, the babies of nursing mothers on the fenugreek supplementation regained their birth weight quicker than the placebo group.(9) One of the few studies that tried to evaluate the effect of fenugreek on lactation specifically on preterm infants did not show a significant increase in milk production. Researchers noted the sample size was too small and the study needed to be reevaluated in a larger trial. The study did highlight once again that the fenugreek intake had no safety issues for either mother or infant.(10)

There are a number of active ingredients in fenugreek seeds. The primary active for fenugreek’s milk production properties is thought to be diosgenin, a naturally occurring phytoestrogen. Some theorize that the female breast is a modified sweat gland and as fenugreek seed is known to increase sweat production, that it can also stimulate milk production.(11) The typical recommended dose of fenugreek seed for breastfeeding mothers is between 2-6 grams per day(12), which can equate to 4-12 capsules per day or much less if the mother is using a concentrated extract (500 mg of a 4:1 extract, would require a daily dosage of only 1-3 capsules per day).

The dose for each individual mother may need adjusting.(13) Fenugreek is considered safe at up to 30 grams per day as a raw herb.(14) Please note that caution should always be used when taking any medicine, even natural, during breastfeeding. With any herb, such as fenugreek, there is risk of allergic reaction. Evaluation of the entire feeding process should be conducted by a lactation professional prior to use of a galactogogue and then throughout its use to monitor progress.(15) To find a lactation professional near you, talk to your health professional or contact La Leche League Canada http://www.lllc.ca/. 

Fenugreek seeds – Healthy glucose and cholesterol levels

Fenugreek seeds have been used in herbal medicine as supportive therapy for the promotion of healthy glucose levels. This is an area of fenugreek use that does have more clinical support. In 2001, a double-blind controlled study evaluated patients with type 2 diabetes. The patients using fenugreek seed had better glycemic control, lower blood glucose levels and reduced insulin resistance versus the placebo group. In addition, the patients using fenugreek had lower blood lipid levels (bad cholesterol and triglycerides) and better HDL (good cholesterol) versus the placebo group.(16) Similar positive results on blood glucose and lipids were observed in a clinical study of type 1 diabetes patients using fenugreek.(17)

The steroidal sapogenins in fenugreek seeds reduce cholesterol absorption in the intestine, while the soluble fibre delays the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels lower. Insulin secretion is stimulated by the amino acid 4-hydroxyisoleucine contained in fenugreek.(18)

Fenugreek seeds – Expectorant

Fenugreek seed is also used as an expectorant to help relieve excess mucous of the upper respiratory passages (anti-catarrhal).(19) It helps to clear the sinuses and lungs by thinning mucous making it easier to expel, while lubricating and reducing inflammation of the mucous membranes.

Fenugreek seeds – Digestive aid

Fenugreek seed has been used for centuries as a digestive aid.(20) Its fibre content helps to sooth an upset stomach, prevents constipation and reduces stomach inflammation (gastritis).

Fenugreek – Precautions

Fenugreek seeds have a long history of safe use as a food and medicinal. Studies done on breastfeeding women and their babies have shown no side effects beyond diarrhea, which can be remedied by lowering the dosage.(21) While fenugreek seeds are for use during lactation, they are not advised for use during pregnancy, as there is concern that fenugreek may stimulate the uterus.(22)

One noticeable effect that some users may experience when using high doses of fenugreek, is that their urine may start to smell like maple syrup. This is not a harmful effect; fenugreek itself has a maple syrup-like aroma and is sometimes used in creating artificial maple syrup flavouring.

 

Health First® Fenugreek Seed

Health First ® Fenugreek Seed capsules use a concentrated extract with a 4:1 ratio. This means that you can use fewer capsules versus taking raw fenugreek seed capsules.

 

References:

REFERENCES 

  1. Health Canada. “Monograph: Fenugreek”. Natural Health Products Directorate. http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=84&lang=eng
  2. Low Dog, Tieraona, MD. The Use of Botanicals during Pregnancy and Lactation. Alterna- tive Therapies. Jan/Feb 2009, Vol. 15, No. 1. p. 56
  3. Ibid.
  4. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Intitiating or Augmentin the Rate of Maternal Milk Secretion. Breastfeeding Medicine. Volume 6, No. 1. 2011. p. 41 
  5. Sim, TF et al. The use of herbal medicines during breastfeeding: a population-based survey in Western Australia. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013 Nov 13, 13:317. Doi: 10.1186/1472-0.
  6. Turkyilmaz C. et al. The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Feb;17(2):139-42. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0090. Epub 2011 Jan 24. p. 139.
  7. Huggins, Kathleen. Fenugreek: One remedy for low milk production. www.breastfeedingonline.com
  8. Jensen, Rima, MD. Fenugreek: Overlooked but not forgotten. Breastfeeding Online. http://www.breastfeedingonline.com/fenugreekoverlooked.shtml#sthash.TEhquknV.dpbs
  9. Ibid
  10. Reeder, Carol et al. The effect of fenugreek on milk production and prolactin levels in mothers of preterm infants. Clinical Lactation, 2013, 4(4). p. 163.
  11. Turkyilmaz C. et al. The effect of galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and short-term catch-up of birth weight in the first week of life. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Feb;17(2):139-42. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0090. Epub 2011 Jan 24. p. 139.
  12. Low Dog, Tieraona, MD. The Use of Botanicals during Pregnancy and Lactation. Alterna- tive Therapies. Jan/Feb 2009, Vol. 15, No. 1. p. 57.
  13. Jensen, Rima, MD. Fenugreek: Overlooked but not forgotten. Breastfeeding Online. http://www.breastfeedingonline.com/fenugreekoverlooked.shtml#sthash.TEhquknV.dpbs 
  14. Health Canada. “Monograph: Fenugreek”. Natural Health Products Directorate. http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=84&lang=eng
  15. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee. ABM Clinical Protocol #9: Use of Galactogogues in Intitiating or Augmentin the Rate of Maternal Milk Secretion. Breastfeeding Medicine. Volume 6, No. 1. 2011. p. 42.
  16. Gupta, A. et al. Effect of Trigonella foenum-graecum (fenugreek) seed on glycaemic control and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a double blind placebo con- trolled study. J Assoc Physicians India, 2001 Nov: 49 1057-61.
  17. Sharma, RD et al. Effect of fenugreek seeds on blood glucose and serum lipids in type 1 diabetes. Eur. J Clin. Nutr. 1990 Apr; 44(4): 301-6.
  18. Jette, L. et al. 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a plant-derived treatment for metabolic syndrome. Curr Opin Investig Drugs. 2009 Apr;10(4):353-8
  19. Health Canada. “Monograph: Fenugreek”. Natural Health Products Directorate. http://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/monoReq.do?id=84&lang=eng
  20. Ibid.
  21. Jensen, Rima, MD. Fenugreek: Overlooked but not forgotten. Breastfeeding Online. http://www.breastfeedingonline.com/fenugreekoverlooked.shtml#sthash.TEhquknV.dpbs 
  22. Huggins, Kathleen. Fenugreek: One remedy for low milk production. www.breastfeedingonline.com 23. International Breastfeeding Centre. Herbal Remedies for Milk Supply. http://www.nbci.ca/index.php?option=com_content&id=21:herbal-remedies-for-milksupply&Itemid=17
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