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Balsam Pear BALSAM PEAR
(commonly known as Bitter Melon)
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Bacopa Monnieri  |  Banaba

Botanical:   Momordica charantia
Family:   Cucurbitaceae (gourd/squash)
Other common names:  Bitter Melon, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Cucumber, Wild Cucumber, LaGua,

Bitter Squash, Karela, Leprosy Gourd, Cerasee, Momordica

An important food and medicinal staple in tropical parts of the world, Balsam Pear has demonstrated great promise in recent studies for its use as a diabetes treatment and may have great potential in the treatment of malignant diseases, including leukemia (although there is no definitive evidence to prove this last claim).  In traditional herbal medicine, Balsam Pear was used as a remedy for bad breath and was also considered a male aphrodisiac.  Extracts of Balsam Pear may also be more effective than popular prescription drugs for destroying certain strains of herpes viruses.

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

History:
Balsam Pear is a fast-growing annual vine that is native to southern Asia and also cultivated in the tropical and subtropical climates of Africa, Asia and other warm-weather regions of the world, where it grows in savannas and bush.  This fast-growing climber that was naturalized in the Americas, reaches a height of six feet and bears deeply lobed leaves, yellow flowers and orange-yellow fruit. The plant is grown as a crop in rich, well-drained soil in full sun in a minimum of about sixty degrees Fahrenheit.  Although the seeds, leaves and vines of Balsam Pear have all been used in traditional herbal medicine throughout the world, the fruit, which resembles a cucumber with bumps, is the primary part of the plant used medicinally.  Balsam Pear has been used in China as a vegetable and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries, and practitioners of Chinese medicine have used it for hundreds of years as a powerful way to treat high blood sugar.  Its actions were described as "bitter in taste, non-toxic, expelling evil heat, relieving fatigue and illuminating" in the famous "Compendium"  of Materia Medica by Li Shizhen (1518-1593), one of the greatest physicians, pharmacologists and naturalists in China's history.   Balsam Pear/Bitter Melon was introduced to Europe in 1710, and was recorded as a garden plant in France in 1870.  It has long been used as an important medicinal herb and as a food plant in tropical Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and South America.  In India, it is eaten as a vegetable or in curries (after it has been soaked to remove its bitterness), and it is an important ingredient in Chinese cuisine for its bitter flavor.  Balsam Pear has also been an ingredient in teas and beer or to season soups and stews. Active chemical constituents in Balsam Pear include a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantin, insulin-like peptides (polypeptide-b) and alkaloids.  It is still unclear which of these is most effective or if all three work together.  An unidentified constituent in Balsam Pear also appears to inhibit the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which may be of benefit to people with psoriasis.

Beneficial Uses:
There is growing evidence that Balsam Pear may be helpful in the treatment of Type-2, adult-onset diabetes.  In clinical and lab tests, the herb showed some ability to reduce rises in blood sugar after eating.  Constituents, charantin and polypeptide-b, appeared to help reduce blood glucose and urine glucose levels in subjects with diabetes mellitus, and by improving utilization of carbohydrates, there was also a decrease in the frequency of urination, but it is important to remember that diabetics should always consult with a physician before embarking on a regime of Balsam Pear supplements.  Charantin   is also thought to stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin.  The March, 2008, issue of the international journal, Chemistry & Biology, reported that scientists at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica found four compounds in Balsam Pear that appear to activate the enzyme AMPK, a protein well known for regulating fuel metabolism and enabling glucose uptake, with the advantage that Balsam Pear has no known side effects.  

Balsam Pear is said to be a useful agent for treating infections associated with retroviruses, including HIV.  Extracts of Balsam Pear are also thought to be more effective than popular prescription drugs for destroying strains of herpes viruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Balsam Pear is considered a laxative herb that soothes irritated tissues; and as an anthelmintic, it is also used to kill parasites and expel parasites and intestinal worms.

Balsam Pear has been used in traditional herbal and folk remedies to help treat infections and some malignant diseases, including leukemia, but no clinical trials have as yet proven these claims.  Preliminary research from the University of Colorado (2010) suggests that extracts from Balsam Pear may interfere with chemical pathways involved in cancer growth.  The extracts turned off signals telling the malignant breast cells to divide and switched on signals encouraging them to commit suicide. The findings, which were published in the journal, Cancer Research, indicated that although promising, trials were still needed to establish its value without side effects.

Used as a laxative and a diuretic, Balsam Pear is reputed to cleanse and remove toxins from the body.  In traditional herbal medicine, Balsam Pear was a remedy for dysentery and a colitis treatment.

Balsam Pear (Bitter Melon) is a considered a “cooling” tonic that is used to reduce fever.  It is also said to soothe irritated tissues.

For external use, Balsam Pear has been known to soothe skin irritations, burns, chapped skin, as well as relieve hemorrhoids, psoriasis and skin eruptions.  When added to a salve, Balsam Pear may help to reduce the itching of poison ivy.  In years past, a healing salve made from the fruit was a popular remedy with quilters for healing sore and pricked fingertips.

Contraindications:
Pregnant women should avoid Balsam Pear Herbal Supplement, as it may stimulate uterine contractions.  Anyone with hypoglycemia should not take Balsam Pear, because it may possibly worsen or trigger low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).  Furthermore, diabetics taking prescription hypoglycemic drugs or insulin should not take Balsam Pear unless under a physician's direction.  As a safety measure, Balsam Pear should be avoided altogether by those who have cirrhosis, hepatitis or those with HIV/AIDS who have a history of liver infection.   Balsam Pear should be used for four weeks only, and then discontinued for four weeks.

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