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Parts Used & Where Grown
Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. The fruit of this plant lives up to its name—it tastes bitter. Although the seeds, leaves, and vines of bitter melon have all been used, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used medicinally.
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
Type 2 Diabetes
50 to 100 ml of juice daily or 5 grams three times daily of powdered fruit
Whole, fried slices, water extracts, and juice of bitter melon may improve blood-sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Whole, fried slices,2 water extracts,3 and juice of bitter melon may improve blood-sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes,4 according to preliminary trials. However, double-blind trials are needed to confirm this potential benefit.
Indigestion, Heartburn, and Low Stomach Acidity
Refer to label instructions
Bitter melon acts as a digestive stimulant and may be helpful for indigestion.
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.5 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.6. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)
Being a relatively common food item, bitter melon was traditionally used for an array of conditions by people in tropical regions. Numerous infections, cancer, and diabetes were among the most common conditions it has been purported to improve.1 The leaves and fruit have both been used in the Western world to make teas and beer or to season soups.
How It Works
How It Works
At least three different groups of constituents in bitter melon have been reported to have blood-sugar lowering actions of potential benefit in diabetes mellitus. These include a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantin, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids. It is still unclear which of these is most effective, or if all three work together. Some clinical trials have confirmed the benefit of bitter melon for people with diabetes.7
In traditional herbal medicine, bitter melon—like other bitter-tasting herbs—is thought to stimulate digestive function and improve appetite. This has yet to be tested in human studies.
How to Use It
For those with a taste or tolerance for bitter flavor, a small melon can be eaten as food, or up to 3 1/3 ounces (100 ml) of a decoction or 2 ounces (60 ml) of fresh juice can be drunk per day.8 Though still bitter, tinctures of bitter melon (1 teaspoon [5 ml] two to three times per day) are also sometimes used. The amounts recommended would be appropriate for people with diabetes.
Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
Interactions with Medicines
Ingestion of excessive amounts of bitter melon juice (several times more than the recommended amounts) can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.9 Excessive ingestion of the seeds had been associated with headache, fever, and coma. Bitter melon is not recommended for pregnant women. People with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should not take bitter melon, because it may trigger or worsen the problem. This effect has been reported in two young children and one adult patient with diabetes.
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 315-6.
2. Leatherdale BA, Panesar RK, Singh G, et al. Improvement of glucose tolerance due to Momordica charantia (karela). BMJ 1981;282:1823-4.
3. Srivastava Y, Venkatakrishna-bhatt H, Verma Y, et al. Antidiabetic and adaptogenic properties of Momordica charantia extract: An experimental and clinical evaluation. Phytother Res 1993;7:285-9.
4. Welihinda J, Karunanaya E, Sheriff MHB, Jayasinghe K. Effect of Momordica charantia on the glucose tolerance in maturity onset diabetes. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;17:277-82.
5. Schulz V, Hänsel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine. 3rd ed, Berlin: Springer, 1998, 168-73.
6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425-6.
7. Raman A, Lau C. Anti-diabetic properties and phytochemistry of Momordica charantia L (Curcurbitaceae). Phytomed 1996;2:349-62.
8. Werbach MR, Murray MT. Botanical Influences on Illness. Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 1994, 139-41.
9. Brown DJ, Gaby A, Reichert R, Yarnell E. Phytotherapeutic and nutritional approaches to diabetes mellitus. Quart Rev Nat Med 1998;Winter:329-54.
Last Review: 01-20-2015
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2016.