Bitter Melon

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By: Laura Shane McWhorter

Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is alsoknown as bitter gourd, bitter cucumber,bitter apple, karolla and karela.

Bitter melon is a member of theCucurbitaceae family and is related tohoneydew and Persian melon, cantaloupe,muskmelon and casaba. Bitter melon is avegetable cultivated and eaten in manyparts of the world, including India, Asia,Africa and South America.

Bitter melon grows on a vine with greenleaves and yellow flowers. The fruit has abumpy exterior, resembling a cucumber,and the interior is yellow-orange. There aremany varieties of bitter melon, ranging incolor from creamy white, golden, pale greento very dark green. Green melons are theones most often seen in the United States.Some varieties are only a few inches longwith very pronounced bumps; others aremuch larger with smoother, less-definedbumps.

The fruit and seeds of bitter melon arethought to be useful for diabetes.

Some Ingredients May LowerBlood Glucose

Bitter melon contains several chemicalingredients, including the glycosidesmomordin and charantin. PolypeptideP, charantin and vicine are the specificcomponents thought to have bloodglucose-lowering effects.

Other possible mechanisms in diabetesinclude increased tissue glucose uptake,liver and muscle glycogen synthesis,inhibition of enzymes involved in glucoseproduction and enhanced glucoseoxidation.

Cautions About Bitter Melon

Bitter melon should be used with caution byyoung women of childbearing age since itmay induce menstruation and inadvertentlycause abortion if the woman is pregnant.

There is no information about its use inlactating women, so it should be avoided.

Children should not use bitter melonbecause serious adverse effects haveoccurred, including hypoglycemic coma.

There is no traditional dose of bitter melonsince different forms are in use, includingjuice, powder, vegetable pulp suspensionsand injectable forms.


Few studies have evaluated using bittermelon in the treatment of diabetes.

The largest study, published in a 1999 issue of theBangladesh Medical Research Council Bulletin, used anaqueous suspension of bitter melon vegetable pulp in 100patients with type 2. The authors evaluated the effect atone hour after bitter melon was administered and thentwo hours after a 75-gram oral glucose tolerance test.

The average blood glucose was 222 mg/dl, whichwas lower than the previous day’s two-hour value of257 mg/dl.

In another study, published in a 1981 issue of the Journalof Natural Products, bitter melon was prepared as an injectable “plant insulin” and injected into five patients with type 1 and six patients with type 2. There was a control group of six patients 6 with type 1 and two patients with type 2 who did not receive any bitter melon.

In type 1s, average glucose decreased from 304 to 169 mg/dl four hours after injection; this effect was maintained at six and eight hours after injection.

In the type 2 patients, there was no significant decline in blood glucose from baseline.


Side Effects of Bitter Melon

The majorside effect ofbitter melon isgastrointestinaldiscomfort.

A syndromecalled favism, orhemolytic anemia,has occurred inpeople takingbitter melon. It ischaracterized byheadache, fever,abdominal painand coma. The redcoating around theseeds have beenreported to causevomiting, diarrheaand death in onechild.

When bitter melonis combined withsulfonylureas,hypoglycemiacan occur.

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