What is bitter melon?
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), also called as bitter gourd or wild cucumber is a type of plant that belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae. It grows as a vine with a characteristic oblong-shaped, ridged, and warty appearance of its fruit. Bitter melon usually thrives in both tropical and subtropical parts of the world, such as the Caribbean, Asia, South America, and some parts of Africa.
Some of the first people who adopted the use of bitter melon are herbal medicine practitioners that follow African and Asian folklore. Bitter melon has also been used as a part of medicinal treatments in places such as Turkey, Indonesia, India, and Japan for more than 700 years.
In Ayurvedic medicine, bitter melon has also been used to help relieve the following health issues:
It has also become a natural remedy for cough and other respiratory conditions. These days, bitter melon is often cooked as a vegetable in several Asian countries.
Due to bitter melon's low-cost and availability, it is still used as a medicinal plant in developing countries for the treatment of a number of ailments.
Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts
Concentrated extracts of bitter melon contain high antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also known to contain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B9, vitamin C, and vitamin E, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium (1).
Other biologically active components of bitter melon are antioxidants and phytonutrients, which include:
- Insulin-like peptides
- Phenolic acids
- Fixed oils
- Anti-inflammatory steroids and proteins
Bitter melon's anti-tumor and anti-diabetic effects are attributed to its flavonoid and phenolic compounds, such as:
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
- Tannic acid
- Gentisic acid
- Gallic acid
- p-Coumaric acid
9 Amazing Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Let's take a look at some of the health benefits of bitter melon:
1. Prevents and fights infections
According to research, bitter melon has antibacterial and antiviral properties, which can help prevent the development of certain bacterial and viral infections, such as stomach ulcers due to the presence of Helicobacter pylori and HIV infection.
In Ayurveda, the leaves of wild bitter melon are crushed to get its juice, which is then used for the treatment of different skin conditions, such as bee stings, wounds, contact rashes, insect bites, and burns (2). Extracts from bitter melon are also used against stress-induced ulcer in rats, pylorus ligation, and aspirin (3).
Moreover, bitter melon also has antihelminthic agents, which help get rid of intestinal parasites in the body. These agents kill parasitic worms without causing any significant damage to people or animals carrying the parasite (4).
2. Has anticancer properties
There are several research studies that show the effectiveness of bitter melon in managing or preventing different types of cancers, such as bladder cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, lymphoid leukemia, skin tumor, choriocarcinoma, and Hodgkin’s disease.
Although more research is still required, complementary treatments using bitter melon in cancer patients have shown encouraging results.
The following conditions have also been demonstrated when bitter melon extracts are used:
- Enhanced detoxification
- Prevention of lipid peroxidation
- Inhibit damage caused by free radicals
According to another research study, bitter melon contains more than 20 active components that possess anticarcinogenic properties (5).
3. Provides relief from respiratory conditions
Bitter melon is also known to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of certain conditions that affect the respiratory tract. These conditions include hay fever, asthma, and bronchitis.
Bitter melon contains anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and antiviral properties making it an ideal supplementary food that can help maintain a healthy respiratory system.
4. Improves eyesight and vision
Bitter melon contains alpha-Carotene, beta-Carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein, which are flavonoids that improve eye health. These flavonoids not just help improve night vision and eyesight but also slow down macular degeneration.
These compounds present in bitter melon play a significant role when it comes to eliminating reactive oxygen species that can cause a number of complications, getting rid of oxygen-derived free radicals, as well as fighting the effects of old age.
5. Boosts immunity
When bitter melon is added to the diet as a vegetable, juice, or fruit, the immune system tends to become stronger in fighting diseases as well as promote a faster recovery from common illnesses. This is perhaps due to bitter melon's antioxidant properties, which provide a strong line of defense against germs.
Bitter melon has a high vitamin C level, making it a powerful antioxidant.
6. Helps regulate blood sugar levels
In alternative medicine, Momordica charantia is used for diabetes management and lowering blood glucose levels. As a matter of fact, it is common for some Asian countries to have decoctions of bitter melon to help regulate blood sugar levels.
Bitter melon contains structural components that are similar to animal insulin. Its phytochemical composition includes alkaloids, steroidal saponins, and charantin.
Charantin particularly enhances glycogen synthesis in the muscles and liver. Altogether, these compounds significantly contribute to bitter melon's ability to reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. When bitter melon becomes part of a regular diet, it can provide hypoglycemic effects along with taking medications for diabetes.
7. Helps manage skin-related conditions
For centuries, bitter melon has been widely used in both traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for the treatment of a number of skin problems.
Because of bitter melon's antimicrobial properties, it can help fight against various skin conditions, such as scabies, ringworm, and psoriasis. This fruit tends to stop the activity of guanylate cyclase, which induces the worsening symptoms of psoriasis.
8. Aids in digestion and promotes weight loss
Every 100 grams of bitter melon only contains 17 calories. Even though it is low in calories, it is high in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Consuming bitter melon also helps prevent constipation as well as relieve indigestion due to its high dietary fiber.
Bitter melon may also help in weight loss since it contains high levels of charantin that can help enhance glycogen synthesis and glucose uptake, resulting in a decreased fat cell storage.
9. Promotes healthy bones
Vitamin K is an essential nutrient found in bitter melon. This vitamin plays a significant role when it comes to the regulation of blood clot formation. Moreover, Vitamin K helps distribute calcium all over the body, which then helps increase bone density and lowers your risk of having a bone fracture.
For this reason, people with bone problems such as osteoporosis should think about consuming vitamin K-rich foods like bitter melon. A lack of vitamin K may cause prolonged and heavy menstrual bleeding, blood clotting abnormalities, easy bruising, and bone fractures.
In spite of bitter melon's unpleasant appearance and off-putting taste, it sure provides a number of health benefits. Among these health benefits, the most well-known is its ability to regulate blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes.
- Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), also called as bitter gourd or wild cucumber is a type of plant that belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae.
- Bitter melon has been used as a part of medicinal treatments in places such as Turkey, Indonesia, India, and Japan for more than 700 years.
- Concentrated extracts of bitter melon contain high antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve various health problems.