Bitter Cucumber for Better Blood Sugar Control?

Bitter cucumber, also known as bitter apple.
Bitter cucumber, also known as bitter apple.. Horst Mahr/Getty Images

Bitter cucumber (Citrullus colocynthis), also called bitter apple, is a plant long used in herbal medicine. Native to certain regions of Asia and the Mediterranean, it's widely available in dietary supplement form. Found to possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, bitter cucumber is said to aid in the treatment of a wide range of health conditions.

Why Do People Sometimes Use Bitter Cucumber?

Bitter cucumber is touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems: bacterial infections, ulcerative colitis, constipation, diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, liver disease, kidney stones, and psoriasis.

Bitter cucumber is also said to protect against cancer, as well as alleviate pain.

In addition, bitter cucumber has a long history of use in folk medicine as a contraceptive. Proponents suggest that consuming bitter cucumber can promote infertility in women and, in turn, reduce the odds of becoming pregnant.

The Health Benefits of Bitter Cucumber

So far, scientific support for the health effects of bitter cucumber is fairly limited. However, some preliminary research and several small clinical trials suggest that it may be beneficial for health.

For instance, a 2008 report published in the journal Acta Pharmaceutica determined that bitter cucumber extract contains large amounts of phenolics and flavonoids (two classes of compounds with potent antioxidant effects). In addition, an animal-based study published in European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences found that bitter cucumber extract contains compounds with anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain-reducing) effects.

Here's a look at several other key findings from the available studies on bitter cucumber:

1) Diabetes

Bitter cucumber shows promise in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, according to a clinical trial published in Phytotherapy Research in 2009. For two months, 25 people with type 2 diabetes were treated with bitter cucumber extract in addition to their standard therapy.

Compared to an additional study members who received a placebo in addition to their standard care, those given bitter cucumber showed a significantly greater improvement in blood sugar levels.

In a previous study (published in Planta Medica in 2000), tests on rats indicated that bitter cucumber extract may help boost the production and activity of insulin and, as a result, help keep blood sugar in check.

2) Breast Cancer

Preliminary research shows that bitter cucumber may be effective against breast cancer. In tests on human cells, for instance, the authors of a study published in Biochemical Pharmacology in 2007 observed that compounds in bitter cucumber helped destroy breast cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).

It's important to note that there is currently a lack of evidence to support the claim that bitter cucumber can fight any kind of cancer in humans.


Because bitter cucumber and its effects have been tested in so few studies, the safety of long-term use of this remedy is unknown.

However, some research shows that use of bitter cucumber may be harmful in certain cases. For example, using bitter cucumber in combination with diabetes medication may cause blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels.

While there's a lack of evidence to support the claim that bitter cucumber can act as a contraceptive, there's some concern that it may promote menstruation and, in turn, be harmful to pregnant women.

In addition, bitter cucumber should be avoided prior to undergoing surgery, due to its potential to affect blood sugar control.

Where to Find Bitter Cucumber

Many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in natural products sell bitter cucumber (bitter apple) extract in supplement form. In addition, bitter cucumber products are widely available for purchase online.


Agarwal V, Sharma AK, Upadhyay A, Singh G, Gupta R. "Hypoglycemic effects of Citrullus colocynthis roots." Acta Pol Pharm. 2012 Jan-Feb;69(1):75-9.

Huseini HF, Darvishzadeh F, Heshmat R, Jafariazar Z, Raza M, Larijani B. "The clinical investigation of Citrullus colocynthis (L.) schrad fruit in treatment of Type II diabetic patients: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial." Phytother Res. 2009 Aug;23(8):1186-9.

Kumar S, Kumar D, Manjusha, Saroha K, Singh N, Vashishta B. "Antioxidant and free radical scavenging potential of Citrullus colocynthis (L.) Schrad. methanolic fruit extract." Acta Pharm. 2008 Jun;58(2):215-20.

Marzouk B, Marzouk Z, Fenina N, Bouraoui A, Aouni M. "Anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities of Tunisian Citrullus colocynthis Schrad. immature fruit and seed organic extracts." Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2011 Jun;15(6):665-72.

Nmila R, Gross R, Rchid H, Roye M, Manteghetti M, Petit P, Tijane M, Ribes G, Sauvaire Y. "Insulinotropic effect of Citrullus colocynthis fruit extracts." Planta Med. 2000 Jun;66(5):418-23.

Rahimi R, Amin G, Ardekani MR. "A review on Citrullus colocynthis Schrad.: from traditional Iranian medicine to modern phytotherapy." J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jun;18(6):551-4.

Tannin-Spitz T, Grossman S, Dovrat S, Gottlieb HE, Bergman M. "Growth inhibitory activity of cucurbitacin glucosides isolated from Citrullus colocynthis on human breast cancer cells." Biochem Pharmacol. 2007 Jan 1;73(1):56-67.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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