The Health Benefits of Ivy Gourd

This tropical plant may help people with type 2 diabetes

Ivy gourds in a bowl

 Veena Nair / Getty Images

Ivy gourd is a plant grown in tropical climates that is used for food and medicinal purposes. There are different species of ivy gourd, including Coccinia indica, Coccinia cordifolia, and Coccinia grandis, which are often compared to bitter melon. In addition to being a staple of Indian, Indonesian, and Thai cuisines, the fruit is believed to offer health benefits.

Available as a dietary supplement, ivy gourd is said to have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that may aid in the prevention or treatment of a diverse range of health conditions, from diabetes and high cholesterol to high blood pressure and obesity.

Also Known As

  • Hong gua (China)
  • Kovai fruit
  • Kunduru (Hindi)
  • Pepasan (Malaysia)
  • Pepino cimarrón (Spanish)
  • Phak khaep (Thailand)
  • Scarlet gourd
  • Telakucha (Bangladesh)

Health Benefits

Ivy gourd is rich in an orange-red pigment called beta-carotene which has potent antioxidant effects. By neutralizing free radicals in the bloodstream, antioxidants may help slow or prevent damage to cells at the molecular level. Ivy gourd also contains phytonutrients, such as saponins, flavonoids, and terpenoids, that are though offer heart and anti-cancer benefits.

Alternative practitioners believe that these plant-based compounds are potent enough to treat a variety of illnesses (including asthma, gonorrhea, and skin infections) and even stimulate weight loss. However, the clinical evidence supporting these claims is almost invariably weak.

At present, there is little research to support the use of ivy gourd in treating any medical condition.

With that said, ivy gourd is rich in fiber, B vitamins, and iron and may help relieve occasional constipation and normalize blood sugar. Here is some of what the current research says:

Diabetes

There is growing evidence that ivy gourd may aid in the treatment of diabetes. A study published in Diabetes Care reported that 1,000 milligrams of ivy gourd extract taken daily for 90 days reduced blood glucose levels in adults with diabetes by 16% and 18% compared to those provided a placebo.

A 2011 study in Experimental Diabetes Research further supported these claims and showed that ivy gourd was able to reduce postprandial blood glucose (blood sugar levels immediately following meals). This suggests that ivy gourd may reduce the need for insulin injections used to control blood sugar.

With that said, the level of the effect is unlikely to control blood sugar on its own. Based on the findings, the researchers concluded that "it is premature to actively recommend the use of any particular herb to treat either glucose or other risk factors."

Despite popular contention, ivy gourd was not able to reduce blood lipid levels, including cholesterol and triglycerides, in either study.

Weight Loss

Because of its effects on blood glucose (and its presumed effect on blood lipids), ivy gourd is believed by some to be an effective weight loss supplement.

A 2014 study in Lipids in Health and Disease reported that an extract made from the dried roots, stems, and leaves of ivy gourd was able to prevent pre-adipose cells from becoming full-fledged adipose (fat) cells in the test tube. This suggests that, by preventing this biological process, ivy gourd may be able to either slow or prevent such diseases as obesity or metabolic syndrome.

Whether the same effect would occur in humans has yet to be proven, but few scientists believe that such an extract, whether injected or taken by mouth, can be distributed to cells in concentrations considered therapeutic. Further research is needed.

Hypertension

Ivy gourd has also fallen short in is its ability to control hypertension (high blood pressure). Most of the evidence supporting its use is hypothetical and based on such generalized models as a Disease-Consensus Index (DCI), which assesses the plant's potential to treat disease rather than its actual effect on disease.

Despite the setbacks, studies into the use of ivy gourd in hypertension have led to the discovery that it may prevent liver toxicity in people using angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors to treat hypertension.

According to a 2019 study in Clinical Nutrition Experimental, mice treated with ivy gourd three days prior and seven days after a single dose of the ACE inhibitor Vasotec (enalapril) had no signs of liver inflammation or damage unlike mice given Vasotec but no ivy gourd.

If these same effects can be replicated in humans, ivy gourd may offer protective benefits to people on long-term ACE inhibitor therapy, particularly those with co-existing liver problems.

Possible Side Effects

When used for food, ivy gourd is considered nutritious and has few ill effects. By contrast, little is known about the long-term safety of ivy gourd supplements. Side effects appear to be minimal, although loose stools may occur as a result of the plant's laxative effects.

Because of its impact on blood sugar, ivy gourd supplements should be used with caution in people on anti-diabetes medications.

Taking them together may cause an abnormal drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), characterized by shakiness, dizziness, anxiety, sweating, hunger, and a precipitous drop in blood pressure. For this same reason, ivy gourd supplements should be discontinued at least two weeks prior to scheduled surgery.

The safety of ivy gourd supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children has not been established. As such, it is best to avoid ivy gourd unless under the direct supervision of a qualified physician.

Always advise your doctor about any medications you are taking, whether they are prescription, over-the-counter, nutritional, herbal, or recreational. Doing so can help you avoid interactions and unforeseen side effects.

Dosage and Preparation

Available for purchase online, ivy gourd supplements can also be found in many natural food stores and shops specializing in dietary supplements.

Most ivy gourd supplements are sold as tablets or capsules with doses ranging from to 250 milligrams to 400 milligrams. There are also ivy gourd tinctures in glass dropper bottles and crude unfiltered extracts sold in larger 32-ounce bottles.

There are no guidelines for the appropriate use of ivy gourd. While some studies have used up to 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) per day for 90 days, there is no evidence that high doses have any better effect than smaller doses. By and large, most manufacturers recommend between 400 mg and 500 mg per day, taken with or without food.

Whatever form you choose, do not exceed the recommended dosage on the product label. This doesn't mean that the product is safe or effective—since all listed dosages are from the manufacturer only—but it may reduce your risk of side effects.

Ivy gourd supplements can be stored safely in a cool, dry room. Never use a supplement past its expiration date.

What to Look For

Dietary supplements are not strictly regulated in the United States. To ensure quality and safety, opt for brands that have undergone quality testing by an independent certifying body like the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

When buying an ivy gourd supplement, make sure that the species name Coccinia is printed on the product label. Avoid brands that do not include per-capsule milligram (mg) content.

Also, be wary of crude unfiltered extracts that typically have a sedimentary layer on the bottom of the bottle. While manufacturers will typically market these as "natural" and alcohol-free, it is unclear what efforts have been taken to prevent contamination or what the shelf life of the products are.

As a general rule, avoid any supplement that claims to treat multiple unrelated diseases.

Other Questions

Can you get fresh ivy gourd?

Ivy gourd is not commonly found in most grocery stores or even specialty produce markets. On occasion, you can find it in Asian markets, where it is used to make such dishes as kaeng jued tum lueng (a clear Thai soup) and sambar (a vegetable and lentil-based soup from India and Sri Lanka).

Ivy gourd can be grown a home using seeds purchased online. They grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. The creeping plant can grow up to 13 feet high and needs a trellis, frame, or similar support on which to climb.

The cucumber-like fruit can be harvested in around three to four months, generally when they turn an orangish color. They are especially beautiful if allowed to ripen to a scarlet red but will usually be too bitter to eat. In addition to the fruit, the young shoots can be harvested for use in stir-fried dishes.

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  1. Malik K, Ahmad M, Bussman RW, et al. Ethnobotany of Anti-hypertensive Plants Used in Northern Pakistan. Pharmacol. 2018;9:789. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00789.

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