Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fenugreek Works - Recent Study Suggests, It Works in Human Lifters, too - But How Significant are the Results?

If you trust in the promises of the supplement industry, these seeds are as potent as steroids.
If we go by the rodent studies the write-ups on various testosterone boosters and "performance enhancers" cite, there has never  been the slightest doubt that fenugreek is a potent testosterone booster and ergogenic. When it comes to practically relevant human studies, however there are still a lot of questions that have to be answered - even after the recent publication of a study from the  Smt. Kashibai Navale Medical College in India (Wankhede. 2015).

A study, in which the authors, Sachin Wankhede, Vishwaraman Mohan, and Prasad Thakurdesai whose previous studies are often cited in the aforementioned write-ups have all investigated (and proven)  the efficacy of the glycoside fraction of fenugreek seeds (Fenu-FG) on testosterone levels in rodents - and even more bizarre, in immature castrated male rats (Aswar. 2010).

In view of the fact that a more recent follow up with mature rats didn't show any effects of 90-days on Fenu-FG on body weight, it is thus newsworthy that Wankede et al. did find a not exactly uber-credible and methodologically water-tight anabolic activity of fenugreek, but at least it is an -8-wek study inin healthy male subjects who were put on supplements and a resistance training program and are thus more representative of the average supplement consumer than immature rats ;-)
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More specifically, the scientists randomly assigned sixty eligible to receive one of the two treatments, namely, Fenu-FG (one capsule, 300 mg, twice a day) or matching placebo in 1:1 ratio according to a
computer-generated randomization list [the subjects were instructed to consume one capsule with water twice a day (20 min before breakfast and 20 min before dinner]. . In addition to taking the identical)ly looking capsules, all subjects had to follow a standardized resistance training protocol that was designed according to the standards of National Strength and Conditioning Association (Baechle. 2008).
Briefly, each subject performed 1-RM lifts on the isotonic bench press. Initially, the subjects were warmed-up (2 sets of 8e10 repetitions at approximately 50% of anticipated maximum) on the bench press and then performed successive 1-RM lifts starting at about 70% of anticipated 1-RM and increased by 5 kg until they reached 1-RM. The subjects were again allowed to rest and warm-up by performing two sets of the bench press at 60% and 80% of the resistance. Then, the subject complete as many repetitions as possible with a resistance of 80% of their 1-RM bench press. The subject rested for 10 min and then warmed-up on the 45 leg press (2 sets of 8e10 repetitions at approximately 50% of anticipated maximum). The same procedure as that of 1-RM bench press was adopted for 1-RM leg press. The repetitions to failure in bench press and leg press was recorded from the number of maximum repetitions that the subject could complete with a resistance of 80% of their 1-RM bench/leg press. All strength/ exercise tests were supervised by lab assistants experienced in conducting strength/anaerobic exercise tests using standard procedures (Wankhede. 2015).
At baseline, subjects were found uniform with no statistical significance between the treatment groups with respect to demographic (age, weight, height) and physiological characteristics (heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, BMI). No wonder. After all, all of them were healthy, normal weight, 18-35 years old and had no prior serious lifting experience.
Figure 1: The changes in strength parameters (left) and total and free testosterone (right | Wankhede. 2015)
As a brief glimpse at the data obtained from muscle strength and repetitions to failure measurements, serum total and free testosterone levels, anabolic activity related markers, skinfold thickness measurement and body fat calculations in Figures 1+2 reveals, this changed over the course of the 8-week study period.

I have to admit though, the "strength loss" (which is albeit not statistically significant) in the placebo group looks a bit random and reduces the significance (and if you will the credibility) of the exuberant increase in maximal bench press repetition in the fenugreek group.
Figure 2: Changes in body fat over the course of the 8-week study period (Wankhede. 2015). The body fat % value is calculated based on the three caliper measurements on different sites and thus by far not as accurate as data from a correctly calibrated DEXA scan.
Still, in the end the improvements in "anabolic" hormones and the significantly improved body fat data (unfortunately measured with calipers), as well as the lack of changes in the blood panel (safety parameters) the scientists observed speak in favor of the usefulness of fenugreek as a supplements for resistance trainees.

The absence of a rigorous dietary control, the non-significance of increases in total testosterone levels alone in view of increased muscle gains and the untrained study participants and - as hard as this may seem - the lack of reputation of the laboratory that conducted the study are yet things to keep in mind, when you are pondering to buy fenugreek supplements. I personally, would spend my money for whey, creatine, taurine, beta alanine and baking soda and wait for another study to confirm the promising results of the study at hand in a more controlled environment | What about you? Comment on Facebook!
  • Aswar, Urmila, et al. "Effect of furostanol glycosides from Trigonella foenum‐graecum on the reproductive system of male albino rats." Phytotherapy Research 24.10 (2010): 1482-1488.
  • Baechle TR, Earle RW, National Strength & Conditioning Association (U.S.). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2008.
  • Wankhede, et al. "Beneficial effects of fenugreek glycoside supplementation in male subjects 3 during resistance training: A randomized controlled pilot study." Journal of Sport and Health Science (2015) 1e7: Ahead of print.