Bitter melon helps prevent diabetes?
Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or Momordica charantia, is a tropical fruit gourd that is said to offer a variety of health benefits. Consumed as a food, juice (known as karela juice), or tea, bitter melon contains compounds thought to help treat diseases such as diabetes. Bitter melon extracts are also widely available as dietary supplements.
Bitter Melon Nutritional Information
Bitter melon nutritional information varies slightly depending on what part of the plant is consumed and whether it is eaten raw or cooked. The USDA provides the following nutritional information for 1 cup (124 grams) of cooked bitter melon with no added fat.
- Calories: 24
- Fat: 0.2g
- Sodium: 392 mg
- Carbohydrates: 5.4g
- Fiber: 2.5g
- Sugar: 2.4g
- Protein: 1g
Why it is used?
Recent studies suggest the hypothesis that the compounds found in bitter melon could have effects very similar to those of insulin, which is the hormone responsible for allowing blood sugar to enter cells.
Since this insulin-like activity can help protect against insulin resistance and keep blood sugar from rising, bitter melon is believed to help fight diabetes.
Additionally, bitter melon is said to help treat and / or prevent the following health problems:
- Menstrual complaints
- Ulcerative colitis
Bitter melon is also said to fight cancer and promote weight loss.
Bitter melon health benefits
Here’s a look at some of the research available on bitter melon and its potential benefits:
Although preliminary research suggests that bitter melon has hypoglycemic effects, there is currently a lack of clinical trials to support these findings.
For a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2012, researchers looked at four previously published clinical trials (with a total of 479 participants) that tested the potential benefits of bitter melon in treatment. of type 2 diabetes.
Noting that the studies reviewed were of low quality, the report’s authors found that bitter melon had no significant effect on blood sugar control compared to diabetes medications (glibenclamide and metformin) or a placebo. .
In an animal-based study published in Nutrition Research in 2013, scientists observed that animals that were put on a diet enriched with bitter melon extract experienced a significant decrease in cholesterol levels.
A preliminary animal study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice in 2008 found that bitter melon helped reduce visceral fat accumulation in mice fed a high-fat diet.
Characterized by excess fat around the stomach and abdomen, visceral obesity has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Reduces abdominal obesity
Although most of the data so far has been done on lab rats rather than humans, there is promising evidence suggesting bitter melon’s ability to reduce visceral fat storage.
Bitter melon supplementation has been shown to reduce fat cell proliferation by downregulating genes responsible for the generation of new fat cells.
A reduction in waist circumference has also been observed with the consumption of bitter melon in preliminary human studies.
Bitter melon contains a protein called Momordica anti-human immunovirus protein (MAP30). MAP30 has been shown to support a variety of immune system functions.
By inhibiting HIV infection of T lymphocytes, increasing the number of natural killer cells and helper T cells, and increasing immunoglobulin production in B cells, bitter melon appears to support robust immunity.
Promotes heart health
Despite limited research in humans, bitter melon also shows promise in the area of cardiovascular health. Studies have shown the ability of bitter melon extract to lower cholesterol levels by promoting the excretion of cholesterol through bile acids.
Additionally, it is widely accepted that eating fruits and vegetables promotes heart health by providing fiber, potassium, and antioxidant vitamins. Increasing the variety and amount of fruits and vegetables in your meal plan, through foods like bitter melon, supports a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Prevents cell damage
Bitter melon contains several antioxidant compounds that have been shown to be effective against free radicals. Multiple studies have found that both bitter melon leaves and fruits are beneficial phenolic compounds with the ability to reduce harmful oxidants.
Although this has not yet been shown to prevent or treat disease, it suggests the need for further research in areas including aging and cancer prevention.
The vitamin A in bitter melon can help prevent eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Specifically, lutein and zeaxanthin are known to accumulate in the retina, providing localized protection against oxidative damage. Additionally, bitter melon contains vitamins E and C, which are also associated with preventing AMD.
Bitter melon is not a commonly known allergy, however hypersensitivity can occur. If you notice symptoms after consuming or handling bitter melon, ask your doctor for an evaluation.
Possible side effects
Bitter melon can trigger side effects such as:
- Stomach ache
- Abdominal pain
A single case report suggests that bitter melon can induce paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.
Because bitter melon can lower blood sugar, using bitter melon in combination with medications that lower blood sugar can cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low. If you take any type of medication that lowers blood sugar, consult your doctor before taking bitter melon supplements.
In a 2014 study with mice, consumption of high doses (up to 4000 mg / kg of body weight) of bitter melon fruit extract had toxic effects on the kidney. (A previous study suggests that bitter melon is safe in humans at a dose of 20 mg / kg of body weight.)
Pregnant women should not consume bitter melon.
While no dietary supplement should be used as a substitute for standard diabetes care, there is some evidence that certain natural remedies can help regulate blood sugar and control diabetes. These remedies include herbs like cinnamon, ginseng, and turmeric.
Additionally, some research indicates that strategies such as drinking tea regularly and maintaining optimal vitamin D levels can be beneficial in protecting against diabetes.
- Alam MA, Uddin R, Subhan N, Rahman MM, Jain P, Reza HM. Beneficial role of bitter melon supplementation in obesity and related complications in metabolic syndrome. J Lipids. 2015;2015:496169. doi:10.1155/2015/496169.
- Erden I, Ordu S, Erden EC, Caglar SO. A case of atrial fibrillation due to Momordica charantia (bitter melon). Ann Saudi Med. 2010;30(1):86-7. doi:10.4103/0256-4947.59372.
- Dandawate PR, Subramaniam D, Padhye SB, Anant S. Bitter melon: a panacea for inflammation and cancer. Chin J Nat Med. 2016;14(2):81-100. doi:10.1016/S1875-5364(16)60002-X.
- Medagama AB, Bandara R. The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) in the treatment of diabetes mellitus: is continued use safe and effective?. Nutr J. 2014;13:102. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-102.