Botanical: Momordica charantia
Family: Cucurbitaceae (gourd/squash)
Other common names: Balsam Pear, Bitter Cucumber, LaGua, Cerasee, Bitter Gourd, Bitter Squash, Karela, Leprosy Gourd, Momordica, Wild Cucumber
Bitter Melon is an important food and medicinal staple in tropical parts of the world. Perhaps more importantly, Bitter Melon has demonstrated great promise in recent studies for the treatment of diabetes and may have great potential in the treatment of other serious malignant diseases, including leukemia (although there is no definitive evidence to prove this last claim). Traditional herbalists have long used it as a male aphrodisiac, a treatment for certain malignancies and infections and even a remedy for bad breath. Extracts of Bitter Melon (often called Balsam Pear) may also be more effective than popular prescription drugs for destroying certain strains of herpes viruses.
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.
Bitter Melon 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 Bitter Melon 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. Bitter Melon has been used in China for centuries as a vegetable and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM); and practitioners of Chinese medicine have used it for hundreds of years as a powerful treatment 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. Bitter Melon has also been an ingredient in teas and beer or added to season soups and stews. Active chemical constituents in Bitter Melon 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 when used to reduce blood glucose. An unidentified constituent in Balsam Pear also appears to inhibit the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which may be of benefit to people with psoriasis.
Bitter Melon is a considered a "cooling" tonic that is used to generally cool the body and reduce fever. It is also said to soothe irritated tissues.
Considered an herbal laxative and a diuretic, Bitter Melon is reputed to cleanse toxins from the system. In traditional herbal medicine, the herb was a remedy for dysentery and a treatment for colitis.
There is growing evidence that Bitter Melon 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 sugar 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 Bitter Melon 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 Bitter Melon that appear to activate the enzyme AMPK, a protein well known for regulating fuel metabolism and enabling glucose uptake, with the advantage that Bitter Melon has no known side effects.
Bitter Melon 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 (it is believed to kill acyclovir-resistant herpes viruses), including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Bitter Melon is said to be an effective anthelmintic that destroys parasites and expels worms from the intestinal tract, and it is also considered a laxative herb that soothes irritated tissues of the intestinal tract.
Bitter Melon 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 Bitter Melon 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.
For external use, Bitter Melon has been known to relieve hemorrhoids, skin eruptions, chapped skin, psoriasis and burns; and when added to a salve, it helps to soothe skin irritations and reduce the itching of poison ivy. In years past, a salve made from the fruit was a popular remedy with quilters for healing sore and pricked fingertips.
Pregnant women should avoid this product, as it may stimulate uterine contractions. Bitter Melon Herbal Supplement should never be used by those who suffer with hypoglycemia, since it may possibly worsen or trigger low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Also, diabetics who take prescription hypoglycemic drugs or insulin should not take Bitter Melon unless under a physician's direction. Do not use Bitter Melon if you have cirrhosis of the liver or a medical history of hepatitis or HIV infection compounded by liver infection.
It is recommended that Bitter Melon should be used for four weeks only, and then discontinued for four weeks before beginning regimen again.