Bitter melon — also known as bitter gourd or Momordica charantia — is a tropical vine that belongs to the gourd family and is closely related to zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber.
It’s cultivated around the world for its edible fruit, which is considered a staple in many types of Asian cuisine.
The Chinese variety is typically long, pale green, and covered with wart-like bumps.
On the other hand, the Indian variety is more narrow and has pointed ends with rough, jagged spikes on the rind.
In addition to its sharp flavor and distinct appearance, bitter melon has been associated with several impressive health benefits.
Here are 3 benefits of bitter melon and its extract.
1. Could Decrease Cholesterol levels
High levels of cholesterol can cause fatty plaque to build up in your arteries, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood and increasing your risk of heart disease.
Several animal studies found that bitter melon may decrease cholesterol levels to support overall heart health. One study in rats on a high-cholesterol diet observed that administering bitter melon extract led to significant decreases in levels of total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Another study noted that giving rats a bitter melon extract significantly reduced cholesterol levels compared to a placebo. Higher doses of bitter melon showed the greatest decrease.
2. May Aid Weight Loss
Bitter melon makes an excellent addition to a weight loss diet, as it’s low in calories yet high in fiber. It contains approximately 2 grams of fiber in each one-cup (94-gram) serving. Fiber passes through your digestive tract very slowly, helping keep you fuller for longer and reducing hunger and appetite.
Therefore, swapping higher-calorie ingredients with bitter melon could help increase your fiber intake and cut calories to promote weight loss.
Participants lost an average of 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) from their waist circumference after seven weeks.
3. May Have Cancer-Fighting Properties
Research suggests that bitter melon contains certain compounds with cancer-fighting properties
Some research also shows that bitter melon can have beneficial effects on fat burning and weight loss. One study found that consuming a capsule containing 4.8 grams of bitter melon extract each day led to significant decreases in belly fat.
For example, one test-tube study showed that bitter melon extract was effective at killing cancer cells of the stomach, colon, lung, and nasopharynx — the area located behind the nose at the back of your throat.
Another test-tube study had similar findings, reporting that bitter melon extract was able to block the growth and spread of breast cancer cells while also promoting cancer cell death.
Keep in mind that these studies were performed using concentrated amounts of bitter melon extract on individual cells in a laboratory.
Further research is needed to determine how bitter melon may affect cancer growth and development in humans when consumed in the normal amounts found in food.