Since its popularization in the 1950s, hormonal birth control has become an important tool for an innumerable number of women. It helps regulate menstrual cycles, lessen cramps, reduce acne, and most importantly, prevent pregnancy.
But… birth control can be finicky. Some types of medications, antibiotics, herbal supplements, and even fruits can render birth control less effective. For example, fenugreek, beloved by herbal enthusiasts for its benefits for the female body, is often cited as being incompatible with hormonal birth control.
Does fenugreek affect birth control? The answer is complicated.
Why Women Use Fenugreek | Does Fenugreek Affect Birth Control?
Fenugreek, or Trigonella foenum-graecum, is a leafy green annual that isn’t much to look at when not in bloom—its oval-shaped leaves tend to blend with its surroundings—its delicate yellow, purple, or white flowers are rather charming.
However, practitioners of traditional medicine across China, India, and Iran have used fenugreek for centuries. The herb offers numerous benefits for both men and women, such as helping to reduce blood sugar levels, increasing testosterone levels, reducing inflammation, and even increasing the production of breastmilk.
In recent years, fenugreek has become especially popular with women. They use fenugreek supplements in hopes of relieving menstrual cramps, helping to manage appetite and weight, as well as promote healthy skin and hair.
As with any herbal supplement, it is crucial to know whether or not fenugreek counteracts your other medications, namely: birth control. Concern is warranted, and many women wonder about the potential impact fenugreek may have on various birth control methods. Here’s what current research suggests.
Fenugreek May Affect Estrogen Levels | Does Fenugreek Affect Birth Control?
One of the reasons fenugreek has become so popular with women is because the herb is thought to increase estrogen and estradiol, which is a hormone responsible for maintaining the reproductive system, as well as increase sexual arousal. Since birth control pills typically contain synthetic hormones meant to mimic the body’s natural estrogen production, fenugreek could potentially interfere with birth control.
That being said, studies are conflicted about how fenugreek actually affects estrogen levels in the body, if it does at all.
One 2011 study used fenugreek extract to assess its estrogenic effect and found that it induced expression in estrogen responsive genes, suggesting that fenugreek may operate similarly to estrogen in the body.
On the other hand, a 2019 study conducted on rats using fenugreek seed extract found that it significantly reduced estradiol levels in the subjects.
As mentioned, research is conflicted and findings are often in direct opposition. Still, it is safe to say that fenugreek probably affects estrogen levels in the body.
Fenugreek May Affect Hormonal Regulation | Does Fenugreek Affect Birth Control?
Whether due to diet culture or an increase in health consciousness, fenugreek has been widely used for its potential to help regulate hormones that deal with blood sugar and metabolism.
This idea is supported by a 2019 study, which gave participants 5 grams of fenugreek powder twice a day over the course of two months. At the end of the study, subjects reported a reduction in blood sugar levels, as well as some weight loss.
Additionally, fenugreek has been found to be an appetite suppressor. A study conducted in 2015 comprised of overweight women found that after drinking fenugreek tea, subjects felt decreased hunger, ate less food, and felt fuller after eating.
This makes fenugreek a fantastic option if you are hoping to lose weight, boost your metabolism, or regulate your blood sugar. However, fenugreek effects on metabolic hormones could potentially counteract with hormonal birth control.
Fenugreek Can Induce Enzymes | Does Fenugreek Affect Birth Control?
Though few studies have been conducted about the effect of fenugreek on birth control, the most logical reason why the two would counteract has nothing to do with hormones. Instead, it has everything to do with your liver.
As reinforced by a 2020 study conducted on mice, fenugreek is known to induce and stimulate certain enzymes in your liver. These enzymes are the driving force behind your liver’s ability to filter and metabolize substances and chemicals such as alcohol, drugs, and medications. This includes hormonal birth control.
Additionally, the liver is responsible for transporting cholesterol—a necessity required for hormone production—meaning that fenugreek could interfere with your body’s natural ability to produce hormones.
Though the research is limited, fenugreek’s ability to stimulate liver enzymes may potentially mean that using the herb could negatively affect the way birth control metabolizes in your body and reduce the effectiveness of contraceptives.
More Research is Needed for an Answer | Does Fenugreek Affect Birth Control?
As with the case for many of the burning questions we have about popular, natural herbal supplements and how they interact with pharmaceutical medications, there is no definitive, set-in-stone answer about whether or not fenugreek affects birth control.
However, using collected research and studies to understand how both fenugreek and birth control influences the body on their own, it is reasonable to conclude that fenugreek likely does affect birth control.
This is especially likely due to the way fenugreek interacts with liver enzymes. For example, grapefruit works similarly, as it binds to an enzyme in the intestines that causes a reduction in absorption of medications.
As a result, it’s advised to avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice while on birth control. Since fenugreek influences enzymes in the liver that control the way your body metabolizes medications, we can infer that it probably shouldn’t be taken alongside birth control.