Oh My Gourd

For centuries, people throughout the world have used bitter melon — also called bitter gourd, karela, and balsam pear — in food and as medicine. Rich in vitamins and minerals, bitter melon grows on the vine of the Momordica charantia plant. It is the most bitter of all fruits and vegetables.

Studies into the safety and effectiveness of bitter melon as a medical treatment are limited. People have used it as an antibacterial agent, an antioxidant, and an immune system modulator. They have also used bitter melon to help treat or prevent:

  • diabetes
  • inflammation
  • constipation
  • ulcers
  • respiratory diseases
  • malaria
  • cancer

Studies have supported some of these uses for bitter melon. A review published in 2015 concluded that the melon contains compounds that may help control blood glucose (sugar) and lower levels of blood lipids (fats).

As a result, it may benefit people with:

  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • cardiovascular conditions

These often occur together, and they all characterize a condition called metabolic syndrome.

A study published in 2010 concluded that bitter melon extract can hinder the growth of breast cancer cells.

Effect on diabetes

A number of clinical studies have investigated the effect of bitter melon on diabetes to see whether it could help keep blood glucose levels within a safe range.

Blood sugar levels

Some researchers believe that bitter gourd contains substances that suppress the appetite and decrease blood sugar levels. In this way, it behaves similarly to insulin. One study, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2011, looked at people with type 2 diabetes who consumed up to 2,000 milligrams of bitter melon per day.

The researchers concluded that bitter melon had a “modest hypoglycemic effect.” The impact was smaller than that experienced by people who took 1,000 milligrams per day of metformin, a drug commonly used to reduce blood sugar levels.

In 2018,  researchers found that compounds in bitter melon might help reduce blood glucose levels. When they fed rats a diet that included bitter melon leaf, they noted changes in receptors that could improve blood sugar levels. The bitter melon leaf made up 5–20% of the rats’ diets.

As a Therapy

People can eat any part of the fruit, or take it as:

  • a powder
  • a supplement
  • a juice

Most Asian grocery stores sell bitter gourds. Powders, supplements, and juices are available for purchase at health food stores and online.

Bitter gourd In A diet

Bitter melon grows in parts of Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and Africa, where it is a popular ingredient in a variety of dishes.

For people with type 2 diabetes, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is part of treatment, and it may help reverse the progression of prediabetes.

People with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and other complications. A healthful diet that includes foods rich in antioxidants can help prevent many health problems.

Nutrients

Apart from its possible antioxidant and antidiabetic properties, bitter melon contains other important nutrients.

These include:

  • protein
  • carbohydrates
  • calcium
  • phosphorus
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • zinc
  • vitamins C, A, and B
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