The protective effect of a polyphenolic extract of fenugreek seeds (FPEt) against ethanol (EtOH)-induced toxicity was investigated in human Chang liver cells. Cells were incubated with either 30 mM EtOH alone or together in the presence of seed extract for 24 h. Assays were performed in treated cells to evaluate the ability of seeds to prevent the toxic effects of EtOH. EtOH treatment suppressed the growth of Chang liver cells and induced cytotoxicity, oxygen radical formation and mitochondrial dysfunction. Reduced glutathione (GSH) concentration was decreased significantly (P < 0.05) while oxidized glutathione (GSSG) concentration was significantly elevated in EtOH-treated cells as compared with normal cells. Incubation of FPEt along with EtOH significantly increased cell viability in a dose-dependent manner, caused a reduction in lactate dehydrogenase leakage and normalized GSH/GSSG ratio. The extract dose-dependently reduced thiobarbituric acid reactive substances formation. Apoptosis was observed in EtOH-treated cells while FPEt reduced apoptosis by decreasing the accumulation of sub-G1 phase cells. The cytoprotective effects of FPEt were comparable with those of a positive control silymarin, a known hepatoprotective agent. The findings suggest that the polyphenolic compounds of fenugreek seeds can be considered cytoprotective during EtOH-induced liver damage.