Discover the 7 shocking health benefits of bitter melon and side effects.
Bitter melon is known as a type of nutritious and medicinal fruit that is native to the continents of Asia, Africa, and much of the Caribbean.
It has a long history of use in China, Ayurvedic medicine – a traditional system of healing that has been practiced in India for over 3,000 years – and also in some of the healthiest places in the world, such as Okinawa, Japan (one of the “blue zones” of the world). In the next post, we will take a close look at the benefits of bitter melon.
Much of history makes it clear that the culinary uses of both bitter melon and its benefits originated in India, and then entered the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine in the mid-fourteenth century.
Knowing that bitter foods tend to be cleansers for the body and capable of increasing liver health, the Chinese were drawn to the extremely bitter taste of bitter melon.
Although researchers state that more studies are required to recommend its use for certain conditions, based on a review, findings show that bitter melon has some of the following benefits:
• Control blood sugar levels and diabetes
• Reduce respiratory infections like pneumonia
• Decrease inflammation and increase immunity
• Treatment of abdominal pain, peptic ulcers, constipation, cramps, and fluid retention
• Increasing protection against cancer
• Reduce fevers and coughs
• Decrease menstrual irregularity
• Treatment of skin conditions including eczema, scabies, and psoriasis
• Antiviral, antibacterial, and anthelmintic properties (including those that can be used to prevent or treat parasites, HIV / AIDS, malaria, and even leprosy)
• Treatment of gout, jaundice, and kidney stones
• Manage symptoms of autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis
Findings from studies in humans and animals have shown a hypoglycemic effect of the concentrated bitter melon extract, which means that it helps lower blood glucose (sugar) levels and regulates the body’s use of insulin.
In many ways, bitter melon extract acts like the insulin that the body produces naturally.
More than 100 studies using modern techniques are believed to have authenticated its use in diabetes and its complications.
Diabetic symptoms and complications that bitter melon extract can help control include:
• Insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels
• Nephropathy (kidney damage)
• Eye disorders such as cataracts or glaucoma
• Hormonal irregularities and menstrual changes in women
• Heart complications and blood vessel damage
While multiple studies have found that Momordica charantia may be beneficial to normalize the sugar in the blood and control diabetes, its effects seem to depend on how it is consumed.
One study showed that bitter melon consumed raw or in the juice helps lower blood glucose levels in healthy and diabetic animals, although other studies have found that responsiveness varies by individual.
This study looked at the hypoglycemic effects of bitter melon extract and seeds in mice with normal or elevated blood sugar levels.
The data showed that bitter melon extract (1 g / kg) significantly lowered the blood glucose level of normal and diabetic mice.
It did this primarily by regulating insulin signaling pathways in muscle and fat cells (adipose tissues), helping cells take in more glucose from the blood as needed.
Bitter melon was shown to target insulin receptor sites and stimulate downstream pathways, leading the researchers to conclude that it may serve as a beneficial “glucose metabolism regulator.”
Other research has identified a blend of active components within bitter melon that are responsible for its antidiabetic abilities.
These include steroidal saponins (known as quarantines), insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids, which are mainly concentrated in the fruit of the Momordica charantia plant.
Research has shown that bitter melon contains various forms of antibacterial and antiviral agents.
These agents are capable of reducing susceptibility to infections such as Helicobacter pylori (a very common bacteria linked to the formation of stomach ulcers when someone’s immune function is low), along with viruses, including HIV.
One report states that bitter melon powder has been used in Ayurveda for centuries to remove dust from leprous ulcers and other untreatable ulcers in wound healing, especially when mixed with cinnamon, pepper, rice, and chaulmugra oil.
“In recent years, the bitter melon extract has been used successfully against pyloric ligation, aspirin, and stress-induced ulcers in rats, showing significant reductions in ulcer symptoms.
Additionally, studies have identified anthelmintic agents within bitter melon, a group of antiparasitic compounds that help expel parasitic worms and other internal parasites from the body.
Anthelmintics work by killing parasites internally, without causing significant harm to the host (the person or animal that carries the parasite).
There is evidence that bitter melon extract can help reduce stomach and intestinal disorders, decrease kidney stones, help prevent liver disease and improve liver function, help treat parasitic worms that enter the gastrointestinal tract, reduce symptoms of the disease inflammatory bowel disease (including colitis) and improve digestive health.
Research conducted showed that bitter melon extract increased levels of glutathione peroxidase (GPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase, helping to improve detoxification and prevent liver damage.
Bitter melon also has natural laxative effects and therefore helps relieve constipation. The traditional use of bitter melon was to reduce stomach aches and ulcers.
Recently even been discovered that can help act against the bacteria Helicobacter pylori that contributes to the formation of ulcers.
Although the results of the studies have been inconsistent, several studies have shown the effectiveness of bitter melon to prevent or treat various types of cancer: lymphoid leukemia, lymphoma, choriocarcinoma, melanoma, breast cancer, skin tumor, prostate cancer, carcinoma of the tongue and larynx, bladder cancer and Hodgkin’s disease.
How does bitter melon act as a cancer-fighting food?
The Department of Biophysics, Molecular Biology, and Bioinformatics at the University of Calcutta state that Momordica charantia has “anticancer, antimutagenic and antitussive” properties.
Although more research is still needed, to date a small group of studies has found that cancer patients who use bitter melon in addition to other treatments have shown promising results.
Bitter melon extracts have been shown to increase metal chelation, promote detoxification, prevent lipid peroxidation, and inhibit free radical damage, contributing to cell mutations and tumor growth.
The College of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Hong Kong has identified more than 20 active components within bitter melon that have antitumor properties.
Concluding their research on bitter melon as an “antidiabetic, anti-HIV and antitumor compound,” they declared that bitter melon is “a cornucopia of health and deserves in-depth research for future clinical application.”
Through increased detoxification, improved blood flow reduced inflammation, and decreased free radical damage, bitter melon can prevent common illnesses such as coughs, colds, or the flu.
A strong immune system and a well-functioning digestive system are essential to avoid possible infections and illnesses, as well as to reduce seasonal allergies and asthma.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the juice of the bitter melon fruit has been used to treat dry coughs, bronchitis, and sore throats for hundreds of years.
Today’s studies show that bitter melon juice, fruit, and seeds can be beneficial in preventing respiratory illness, cough, runny nose, and food allergies.
Several studies have identified anti-inflammatory compounds within bitter melon that help treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
Due to its antibacterial properties, traditionally (and sometimes even today) bitter melon has also been used topically on the skin to treat deep skin infections (abscesses) and wounds without the use of antibiotics.
The bitter melon fruit extract has shown strong antioxidant activity in human and animal studies.
In addition to balancing the hormones related to diabetes, there is a possibility that bitter melon acts as a therapeutic agent to prevent obesity and other symptoms related to metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases (such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure).
Although more research is still needed, experimental animal and clinical studies show that bitter melon is beneficial in preventing weight gain through the mediation and induction of fat and lipid metabolism processes, gene expressions that control appetite, and body weight and reduce inflammation.
• Bitter melon fruit can be eaten alone, cooked, or consumed in extract/tablet form.
• Look for unripe bitter melon fruits that are green, firm, and free of bruises or cracks. Store it at cool temperatures, ideally in the refrigerator, for 1 to 2 weeks or until its green color begins to leak.
• If you can find all the fruit, you can try cooking it traditionally in Asia: frying it with potatoes, garlic, chili, and onion until its strong smell is reduced.
• You can take up to 100 milliliters of fresh bitter melon juice once a day. If you want to reduce the bitterness of fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice, use a small amount diluted with fresh fruit or vegetable juice or add a small amount of raw honey.
• The dose of the bitter melon extract depends on the condition in question. Most research shows that taking around 1000-2000 milligrams daily has the strongest effects.
Many brands recommend dividing the doses into 2-3 servings and taking capsules after meals to help with absorption.
• Bitter melon is usually taken in doses of 1-2 capsules, three times a day after meals, for up to 3 months.
This amount has been shown to help improve blood sugar management / diabetic conditions, but not enough is known about its effects when used for more than 3 months in a row.
• Look for pure bitter melon extract in tablet or capsule form that is ideally certified organic, non-GMO-free, gluten-free, magnesium stearate-free, and contains no synthetic additives.
Based on the research available at this time, bitter melon is intended to be used in conjunction with other preventive measures (such as eating a healthy diet and exercising to control inflammation), along with conventional treatments when needed.
Here are some possible side effects and precautions to consider before using bitter melon products:
• While bitter melon has proven hypoglycemic effects, the available scientific data is insufficient to recommend its use to treat diabetes without careful supervision and monitoring.
Bitter melon “cannot be recommended as insulin replacement or hypoglycemic therapy” at this time, so if you are diabetic or prediabetic, it is best to talk to your doctor about using bitter melon excerpt in addition to your current treatment plan.
Because bitter melon lowers blood sugar, it can interact with diabetes medications. If you take diabetes medications, be aware that they could lower your blood sugar level too much, and therefore it is recommended to monitor them.
• Bitter melon should not be consumed by pregnant women, those who are trying to get pregnant, and women who are breastfeeding, as research shows that it has some abortifacient properties (the ones that can cause miscarriages), can cause menstrual bleeding, and has some antifertility capabilities.
• If you’ve recently had surgery, been fasting, or have lost substantial blood for some other reason, bitter melon should be avoided as it can interfere with blood sugar control and cause side effects like dizziness or fainting.