Biological Name: Momordica charantia
Other Names: Balsam pear, Bitter Melon
Parts Used: Fruit
At least three different groups of constituents in bitter melon have been reported to have hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) or other actions of potential benefit in diabetes mellitus. These include a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantin, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids. It is still unclear which of these is most effective or if all three work together. Two proteins, known as alpha- and beta-momorcharin, inhibit the AIDS virus, but this research has only been demonstrated in test tubes and not in humans. An as yet unidentified constituent in bitter melon inhibits the enzyme guanylate cyclase, that may benefit people with psoriasis.
A relatively common food item, bitter melon was traditionally used for a dazzling array of conditions by people in tropical regions. Numerous infections, cancer, leukemia, and diabetes are among the most common conditions it was believed to improve. The leaves and fruit have both been used occasionally to make teas and beer or to season soups in the Western world.
Bitter melon is reported to help in the treatment of:
The blood lowering action of the fresh juice of the unripe bitter melon has been confirmed in scientific studies in animals and humans. Charantin is more powerful than the drug tolbutamide, which is sometimes used in the treatment of diabetes to lower the blood sugar levels.
The ripe fruit of bitter melon has been shown to exhibit some remarkable anticancer effects, especially leukemia.
Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. It is a green cucumber shaped fruit with gourd-like bumps all over it. It looks like an ugly, light green cucumber. The fruit should be firm, like a cucumber. It tastes very bitter. Although the seeds, leaves, and vines of bitter melon have all been used, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used medicinally.
For those with a taste or tolerance for bitter flavor, a small melon can be eaten as food or up to 50 ml of fresh juice can be drunk per day. An option for those who do not care for the bitter taste are bitter melon tinctures, of which 5 ml is generally taken two to three times per day.
Excessively high doses of bitter melon juice can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Small children or anyone with hypoglycemia should not take bitter melon because this herb could theoretically trigger or worsen low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Furthermore, diabetics taking hypoglycemic drugs (such as chlorpropamide, glyburide, or phenformin) or insulin should use bitter melon only under medical supervision, as it may potentiate the effectiveness of the drugs and lead to severe hypoglycemia.