The Health Benefits Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon's Effect on Diabetes May Be Overstated

Close-Up Of Bitter Gourds In Wicker Basket
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Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or Momordica charantia, is a tropical fruit-like gourd said to offer a variety of benefits. Bitter melon may be consumed as a food, as a juice known as karela juice, or as a tea.

Bitter melon contains compounds thought to aid in the treatment of conditions like diabetes. Extracts of bitter melon are also widely available in dietary supplement form.

Health Benefits

Bitter melon is said to act as an antioxidant and to contain anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antibacterial, anti-obesity, and immunomodulating properties.

Some believe that bitter melon may also combat cancer and promote weight loss. There is not enough scientific evidence to support all of these uses. Here's a look at some of the available research on bitter melon and its possible benefits:

Diabetes

Preliminary research suggests 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.

Although preliminary research suggests that bitter melon has hypoglycemic effects, there's currently a lack of clinical trials supporting these findings.

Possible Side Effects

Bitter melon is possibly safe for most people when consumed by mouth for up to three months. But it may trigger such side effects as headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, abdominal pain, and bloating.

There is not enough evidence to determine if bitter melon is safe when applied to the skin. There is also not enough evidence to know if bitter melon is safe for long-term use.

A single case report suggests that bitter melon may induce paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.

Since bitter melon may lower your blood sugar, using bitter melon in combination with a medication that lowers blood sugar could cause your blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels. If you take any type of medication that lowers blood sugar, consult your physician prior to taking bitter melon supplements.

Pregnant women shouldn't use bitter melon.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough evidence to determine an appropriate dose or range of doses for bitter melon. The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history.

Health experts advise consumers that supplements labeled as natural are not always safe or effective. It's important to check with your healthcare provider to determine an appropriate dose for you.

What to Look For

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.

While no dietary supplement should be used as a substitute for the 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 protecting against diabetes.

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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Additional Reading
  • Bitter Melon. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs, Botanicals, and Other Products.