Bitter Melon (e.g. Chinese Bitter Melon)

Bitter Melon (e.g. Chinese Bitter Melon)

"Bitter Melon stimulates the release of insulin and blocks the formation of glucose in the bloodstream, which may be helpful in the treatment of diabetes, psoriasis, cancer, infections, and pain from neurological complications, and may delay the onset of cataracts or retinopathy and inhibit the AIDS virus." There has not been a lot of scientific work on Bitter Melon, so its exact benefit for cancer patients is still unknown.

herbal insulin

This promising treatment for diabetes might also slow fat gain and help stave off breast cancer
tHE TASTE may be bitter, but the benefits are sweet. Bitter melon — also known as bitter cucumber, bitter gourd, balsam pear, balsam apple, or Momordica charantia — is an annual vine that grows to 6 feet in Asia, Africa, and South America. It produces an orange-yellow fruit — eaten as a vegetable — that's used in folk medicine to treat a host of conditions, including cough, colds, headache, fever, wounds, hemorrhoids, gastrointestinal disorders, tumors, and diabetes. The effects on diabetes and some cancers have been verified, albeit in preliminary research.

Chemical Cousins

All parts of bitter melon, but especially the fruit, contain compounds chemically similar to insulin. This is the hormone that allows blood sugar (glucose) to pass from the bloodstream into the cells. In diabetics, the body does not make enough insulin, or the cells become resistant to its action. Either way, sugar remains in the blood, and glucose levels rise. Treatment involves dietary changes, insulin supplementation, and/or medications that reduce blood sugar.
Several animal studies have found that the insulin-like compounds in bitter melon reduce blood sugar and help treat diabetes. Writing in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers at India's University of Mumbai gave an extract of bitter melon to diabetic rats. It reduced their blood sugar by 48 percent, an effect comparable to that of the widely prescribed drug glibenclamide (Glyburide, Micronase).

Another potential attraction of bitter melon is its impact on cholesterol, a factor in heart disease. (Type 2 diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease as non-diabetics.) In a study at Japan's University of Miyazaki, researchers fed rats bitter melon extract and documented a "marked reduction" in cholesterol.
Obesity raises risk for diabetes, yet bitter melon may have a preemptive use here as well. In a report published in The Journal of Nutrition, University of Hong Kong researchers placed rats on a high-fat diet with or without supplemental bitter melon extract. The animals in the plant group gained less weight and accumulated less body fat. The researchers concluded that bitter melon "strongly counteracts the [harmful] effects of a high-fat diet."

It also seems to increase levels of immune-boosting interferon and antioxidants like glutathione and Superoxide dismutase, which may explain Japanese and Indian animal studies that have linked bitter melon to declines in cancers of the breast and stomach.


While animal studies don't prove that bitter melon treats human diabetes, the herb does appear to reduce human blood sugar, and many herbalists recommend it to diabetic patients. As a supplement, the typical dose is 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams a day. Diabetics who try bitter melon should inform their physicians, monitor their blood sugar closely, and be prepared to reduce their dose of insulin and other medications. There are no published reports of serious side effects in adults taking recommended doses of bitter melon; however, upset stomach is possible, and patients with liver disease should avoid it.


While popular in India, China, and Southeast Asia, bitter melon remains an acquired taste for most Westerners; nevertheless, its health benefits and rich stores of iron, beta carotene, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber make the effort worthwhile. To reduce the bitterness, purchase fruits that have ripened from green to orange-yellow and blanch them in boiling water for two to three minutes (after cutting them in half and discarding the seeds and fibrous core).
The National Bitter Melon Council suggests serving the fruit as a vegetable, paired with other strong flavors like garlic, chill peppers, black beans, or curry; it's memorable in omelets and stir-fries, or stuffed with spiced meat. Bitter melon is generally available in Asian markets and some supermarkets from April to September; for more preparation tips and recipes, visit

PHOTO (COLOR): TO MAKE the bitter better, blanch the melon and discard the seeds.
By Michael Castleman

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