The Benefits of Bitter Melon

bitter melon
Bitter melon. Eriko Koga/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a tropical fruit said to offer a variety of health benefits. Sometimes consumed as a whole food (especially in Asian countries), it contains compounds thought to aid in the treatment of conditions like diabetes. Extracts of bitter melon's fruit and seeds are widely available in dietary supplement form.

Related: Natural Remedies for Diabetes

Uses for Bitter Melon

Preliminary research shows that compounds found in bitter melon may have effects similar to those of insulin, which is the hormone responsible for allowing blood sugar to enter your cells.

Since this insulin-like activity may help protect against insulin resistance and keep your blood sugar from rising, it's thought that bitter melon may help fight diabetes.

In addition, bitter melon is said to help treat and/or prevent following health problems:

Bitter melon is also said to combat cancer and promote weight loss.

The Health Benefits of Bitter Melon

Although some preliminary research in animals suggests that bitter melon may help control diabetes, there's currently a lack of clinical trials to support these findings.

For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012, researchers analyzed four previously published clinical trials (with a total of 479 participants) testing the potential benefits of bitter melon in the treatment of diabetes. Noting that the reviewed studies were considerably flawed, the report's authors found that bitter melon failed to have a significant effect on blood sugar control in diabetes patients.

Here's a look at some of the other available research on bitter melon and its possible benefits:

1) High Cholesterol

In a rat-based study published in Nutrition Research in 2013, scientists observed that animals placed on a diet enriched with bitter melon extract experienced a significant decrease in cholesterol levels.

Related: Natural Remedies for High Cholesterol

2)  Cancer

Bitter melon shows promise in the prevention of breast cancer, according to a preliminary study published in Cancer Research in 2010. In the study, tests on human breast cancer cells demonstrated that treatment with bitter melon extract may help inhibit cancer cell growth.

Related: Natural Breast Cancer Defense

3)  Obesity

A mouse-based study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice in 2008 found that bitter melon may help fight visceral obesity. Characterized by the buildup of fat around the stomach and abdomen, visceral obesity has been associated with increased risk of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease.

Related: Natural Remedies to Reduce Belly Fat

Possible Side Effects

Bitter melon may trigger such side effects as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and headache.

Since bitter melon may your lower blood sugar, using bitter melon in combination with diabetes medications could cause blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels.

Therefore, individuals using any type of diabetes medication should consult their physician prior to taking bitter melon supplements.

You can learn more about using dietary supplements safely here.

Alternatives to Bitter Melon

While no dietary supplement should be used as a substitute for standard care of diabetes, there's some evidence that certain natural remedies may help regulate your blood sugar and aid in diabetes management. These remedies include herbs like cinnamon, ginseng, and turmeric.

Additionally, some research indicates that strategies such as drinking tea on a regular basis and maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D may be beneficial for protection against diabetes.

Where to Find It

Many Asian grocery stores sell bitter melon as a whole food. In addition, dietary supplements containing bitter melon extract can be found online and in natural-foods stores, drugstores, and stores specializing in herbal products.

Sources

Basch E1, Gabardi S, Ulbricht C. "Bitter melon (Momordica charantia): a review of efficacy and safety." Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003 Feb 15;60(4):356-9.

Matsui S1, Yamane T, Takita T, Oishi Y, Kobayashi-Hattori K. "The hypocholesterolemic activity of Momordica charantia fruit is mediated by the altered cholesterol- and bile acid-regulating gene expression in rat liver." Nutr Res. 2013 Jul;33(7):580-5.

Ooi CP1, Yassin Z, Hamid TA. "Momordica charantia for type 2 diabetes mellitus." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Aug 15;8:CD007845.

Ray RB1, Raychoudhuri A, Steele R, Nerurkar P. "Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) extract inhibits breast cancer cell proliferation by modulating cell cycle regulatory genes and promotes apoptosis." Cancer Res. 2010 Mar 1;70(5):1925-31.

Shih CC1, Lin CH, Lin WL. "Effects of Momordica charantia on insulin resistance and visceral obesity in mice on high-fat diet." Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2008 Aug;81(2):134-43.

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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