There are a number of natural ingredients which may have merit for improving hair health and speeding up hair growth, but some are more popular than others.
One chemical-free option which is often overlook is fenugreek.
This article will introduce fenugreek and its many uses.
I’ll discuss the various benefits of fenugreek seeds, including how they may help to fight hair loss. I’ll also share a few ways that you can get started using fenugreek in your hair care routine.
By the end this article you should have an informed opinion about whether fenugreek would be a beneficial addition to your hair care routine.
Let’s get started.
An Introduction to Fenugreek
Fenugreek, also known as methi, is a plant in the family Fabaceae. The by-products of this plant, including leaves, seeds, and vegetables, are used throughout the world in food and traditional medicine (1).
There are a few health benefits attributed to this plant. These include use as a digestive aid, as a way to lower blood sugar levels, and as a way to promote milk production in breastfeeding women.
3 Ways Fenugreek May Stop Hair Loss
There haven’t been any direct studies on the use of fenugreek for hair loss.
But we can use the various studies on this plant that do exist to determine how it may help to promote hair growth.
It’s a Proven Anti-Inflammatory
Hair loss is a condition which affects millions of men and women worldwide.
The causes of hair loss vary, from hormones to stress to medication. Though the most common type of hair loss is the genetic condition Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) (2).
The mechanisms which underlie AGA are still unknown, though a few theories exist.
The most common theory hypothesizes that sensitivity to the androgen hormone DHT is the trigger for many sufferers. The presence of this hormone then leads to inflammation which eventually leads to miniaturization of the follicle.
However, other researchers suggest that inflammation may be present due to scalp tension (3). The high levels of DHT are simply a side effect of the inflammation, as DHT has been shown to reduce inflammation.
But whatever the mechanism, there is one common factor among the majority of these theories, and that’s inflammation.
The good news is that many natural anti-inflammatories exist, and this includes fenugreek.
In 2016, researchers from India published a paper on the anti-inflammatory effects of fenugreek (5).
Their study consisted of a Fenugreek Seed Petroleum Ether Extract (FSPEE) which was proven through gas–liquid chromatography to contain oleic (33.61 percent), linoleic (40.37 percent), and linolenic (12.51 percent) acids.
These three acids are known as essential fatty acids which have many inherent health benefits.
Within the study mentioned here, for example, the FSPEE was shown to reduce inflammation in rats by up to 85 percent.
What does this mean for us?
Fenugreek as a proven anti-inflammatory may be able to combat the effects of androgenetic alopecia. This may enable the hair follicle to heal so the hair growth cycle can resume.
The effects of fenugreek on inflammatory hair loss probably aren’t limited to just AGA, though.
Other types of hair loss, including scarring alopecia and Alopecia Areata (AA), can also have an inflammatory component. And while there isn’t any current research on the direct effects of fenugreek on hair growth, there does appear to be hope.
So, in what other ways might fenugreek be able to combat hair loss and even promote growth?
It’s true that bacterial infections aren’t a common cause of hair loss in men and women. They can play a role in poor scalp health, though.
There are both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria on the body, but when bad bacteria takes over it can lead to infection. Bacterial infections, then, occur when the spread of bacteria on the scalp becomes out of control.
The most common bacterial infection on the scalp is folliculitis. This is an infection of the hair follicle which can cause inflammation, redness, swelling, and sensitivity / pain.
When a bacterial infection is present, the skin becomes sensitive to both internal and external stimuli. If left untreated, the infection may also lead to permanent scarring and even systemic (body-wide) inflammation.
So, what can you do?
Antibiotics are often prescribed for bacterial infections. But these can have side effects, and they may be ineffective against the particular strain.
Another solution, then, is a natural one such as fenugreek.
Compounds found within fenugreek have been shown to combat bacteria (6).
If you’ve been battling a scalp bacterial infection for awhile with no relief, then fenugreek may be something to consider.
NOTE: While a natural approach to bacterial infections can be beneficial for many people, it’s not always effective. This is why you should always consult with your doctor before you begin a natural regimen.
Fenugreek’s antibacterial properties aren’t only helpful in treating bacterial infections, though. It can also help to prevent a bacterial infection from forming, and it can help to maintain a bacterial balance on the scalp.
It Contains Antioxidants
The very same study as highlighted above also made mention of Fenugreek’s antioxidant activities.
But to understand the role that antioxidants may play in hair growth, you’ll first need to understand free radicals.
The human body is made up of billions of molecules. These are essentially the building blocks of the body’s structures and organs.
The molecules, which themselves are composed of smaller particles called atoms, can become damaged in the natural course of life. One type of damage results in what’s known as free radicals.
In short, free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron.
As molecules don’t like to be unpaired, they’ll scavenge the body and steal electrons from nearby molecules. This leads to degradation of your body’s structures over time and it’s known as oxidative stress.
So, how can you combat free radicals and oxidative stress? With antioxidants.
Antioxidants are compounds that are produced within the body, but are also obtained through food. They work to prevent cell damage by lending their excess molecules to free radicals throughout the body.
Antioxidants, then, are a great way to prevent against cellular breakdown, signs of aging, and even hair loss.
When molecules become free radicals, they steal electrons from surrounding molecules without any regard for health or wellness. They also don’t stop to think about the health of your hair, which is why free radicals can also lead to hair thinning and loss.
As mentioned above, the fenugreek leaves in the study were added to one of five solutions: chloroform, hexane, methanol, ethanol, and water.
The antioxidant properties of fenugreek leaves were then tested by measuring scavenging activity and total reducing power.
As the results showed, the ethanol extract was the most powerful. But how powerful was it?
The ethanol extract was shown to scavenge up to 59.7 percent (+/- 0.46 percent) of the free radical 1-Diphenyl-2-Picryl Hydrazyl (DPPH).
As the researchers concluded, “these results suggested that ethanol extract of fenugreek leaf is not only an important source for antibacterial components but also a potential source of phenolic antioxidants.”
How to Use Fenugreek
The fenugreek plant is quite versatile, in that it has leaves, seeds, and vegetables which can be used.
So, which part of the plant should you use for the greatest benefit?
The studies mentioned throughout this article have used various parts of the fenugreek plant, though the most common extract appears to be made from the leaves.
In research studies, the leaves are often added to a solution (such as ethanol or propane) which then produces an extract. But unless you have laboratory-grade equipment and you know how to extract the beneficial aspects of the leaf, then it’s best that you don’t try this at home.
How can you supplement with fenugreek, then?
Add Fenugreek to Your Diet
Perhaps the most straightforward way to begin using fenugreek is to add it to your diet.
Fenugreek is a plant with various parts, including the seeds, leaves, and stems.
The seeds can be used as a spice, and they’re used frequently in Asian cuisine. The leaves and stems can be used as herbs, either fresh or dried.
You can easily add fenugreek to your soups, stews, and broths. You may also find it tasty on meat like chicken or fish.
Take a Fenugreek Supplement
Do keep in mind that the vast majority of fenugreek supplements are made from fenugreek seeds. Does this mean you won’t get the same benefits as outlined above?
The good news is that the seeds seem to share many of the same benefits as the leaves. So while you may prefer to use the leaves in your cooking or as an extract, fenugreek seed supplements can still have a beneficial effect.
Use Fenugreek Extract
If you’d prefer to use a topical, then fenugreek extract will be your best bet.
The topical extract has been shown in various studies to have a beneficial effect. This includes combating inflammation and free radicals, as well as inhibiting bacterial growth.
How can you use it yourself?
The best way is to apply it directly to the scalp with your fingertips.
You can also practice scalp massage to increase blood flow to the area, which will further benefit the scalp environment.
Make a Fenugreek Hair Mask
While a fenugreek hair mask can be a bit of work to make, it may be the solution you’re looking for.
- Dried fenugreek or methi
- Carrier oil
Take two to three tablespoons of dried fenugreek or methi, and add it to a sieve. Rinse it to remove any dirt, and then place in a bowl of water to soak overnight.
Using a mortar and pestle, blend the now-soaked fenugreek into a thick paste. You can either apply it as is, or add a few teaspoons of carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba.
You can then rinse the hair mask off with lukewarm water, or shampoo as usual to remove the left-over mask.
Are There Side Effects of Fenugreek Supplementation?
Whether you choose to increase your dietary intake, or add a fenugreek supplement to your hair care routine, there are a few side effects to be aware of.
Fenugreek may have an estrogenic effect on the body. This means that it acts as an estrogen within the body, and it may even interact with estrogen receptors.
Because of this, fenugreek is NOT recommended for women (or men) with hormone-sensitive medical conditions.
As a blood sugar reducer, fenugreek supplementation isn’t recommended for individuals with hypoglycemia.
While fenugreek is often used as a supplement for breastfeeding mothers, the plant should NOT be used by women who are pregnant. There is evidence to suggest that fenugreek may induce uterine contractions and this can lead to premature birth (8).
And while rare, it’s possible for an allergic reaction to fenugreek to occur.
The most common symptoms of an allergy include hives and itching. A more severe reaction includes swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat, nausea/vomiting, and dizziness and/or fainting.
If you suffer from a mild reaction, you should stop supplementing with fenugreek immediately. If you suffer from a more severe reaction, you should seek out emergency medication attention.
Is Fenugreek Right for You?
It’s important to understand that fenugreek has not been definitively linked to hair growth. Its many beneficial properties, however, do show that it may help you to create a stable scalp environment.
Whether taken orally or applied topically, you can benefit from fenugreek’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-bacterial properties.