The health benefits of bitter melon or karela have long been known and used by some indigenous populations. This medicinal plant has been used to fight diabetes as well as malignant diseases, such as cancer.
A number of studies have found that bitter melon is extremely beneficial for treatment of certain types of cancer owing to its active ingredients, which inhibit the glucose metabolism in malignant cells thus reducing their carbohydrate supply and starving them to death.
According to scientists from Saint Louis University Cancer Center, bitter melon not only destroys cancer cells with its strong anticancer properties, but it also prevents cancer cells from spreading. A separate team of experts from the Univercity of Colorado Cancer Center found that bitter melon juice can eliminate the side effects that occur during chemotherapy, and can slow down pancreatic tumor growth.
What makes bitter melon so effective is its ingredient glycoprotein lectin, which provides much the same effects as insulin due – it reduces glucose concentration in the blood and acts as an immunomodulator. That’s why this plant is highly beneficial for treatment of liver, prostate, colon and lung cancer, leukemia and neuroblastoma. However, bitter melon is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children.
Native to South Asia and South America, bitter melon, also known as Goya, Bitter Gourd, Karela, or Balsam Pear, thrives in hot and damp climates including Africa, Aisa, South America and the Caribbean. Bitter melon grows as a vine with yellow flowers and fragmented leaves and is extremely bitter in taste. It’s quite simmilar in form to zuccini with an elongated shape. Its colors change from green to orange-yellow as it grows. The ripe fruit opens in three parts and releases many red seeds. While many Eastern nations use it as food, the rest of the world uses it as a medicine.
Nutritional value of 100 grams of fresh, raw bitter melon:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin) – 0,040 mg
- Vitamin K – 4.8 mg
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) – 0,400 g
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – 0,040 mg
- Calories – 17 kcal
- Vitamin C – 84 mg
- Dietary fiber – 2.8 g
- Carbohydrates – 3.70 g
- Folate – 27 µg
- Fat – 0317 g
- Potassium – 296 mg
- Protein – 1.00 g
- Phosphorus – 31 mg
- Calcium – 19 mg
- Sodium – 5 mg
- Magnesium – 17 mg
With only 17 calories per 100g, bitter melon has quite low calorific value. However, its pods are rich sources of phytonutrients like dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants. To be more specific, bitter melon is abundant in vitamins B1, B2, and B3, C, magnesium, folate, zinc, phosphorus, and manganese. Plus, it contains high amounts of iron, twice the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, and twice the potassium of a banana. However, there’s one downside to this fruit and it’s the extremely bitter taste it has, which puts many people off from consuming it, even though it has plenty to offer in terms of health benefits.
The health benefits of bitter melon are not limited to cancer only. This fruit has also been proved beneficial for treatment of asthma, skin infections, stomach problems, hypertension, and diabetes. In fact, bitter melon has long been used as part of natural medicine in China, India, Africa, and South America. There are several ways of consuming it – cooked, juiced, raw or in a tincture. However, it can give side effects such as diarrhea and abdominal pain when over consumed.
A 2010 study found that bitter melon extract is also beneficial for treatment of breast cancer. It acts in the same way as with pancreatic cancer inhibiting cancer cell growth by inducing apoptotic cell death. This apoptosis was followed by increased polymerase cleavage and caspace activation.
The study also confirmed that bitter melon extract modulates signal transduction pathways for inhibiton of breast cancer cell growth and can be used as a dietary supplement for prevention of breast cancer.
The anticancer properties of bitter melon in relation to pancreatic cancer specifically were confirmed by a clinical study conducted by the University of Colorado. As the results of the study revealed, bitter melon reduced the size of the pancreatic tumors by 64%.
The researchers found that bitter melon extract lowers the glucose metabolism in pancreatic cells thus destroying them. Scientists also examined whether the extract could be applied directly to pancreatic cancer cells since it showed positive results on patients with diabetes type 2, which often precedes pancreatic cancer. The study results showed that lab mice fed on bitter juice had 60% lower risk of developing cancer than the control group.
Bitter melon packs high amounts of the phyto-nutrient polypeptide-P, which is a plant insulin beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels. Plus, bitter melon has charantin, a unique phyto-constituent that also produces a hypoglycemic effect in the body. What this phytonutrient does is raise glucose metabolism and glycogen synthesis inside the cells of liver, muscle and adipose tissue, thus reducing blood sugar levels and supporting the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Three major compounds found in bitter melon were identified as hypoglycemic agents:
Vicine – Vicine induced hypoglycemia in non-diabetic fasting rats by intraperitoneal administration.
A clinical study, conducted in January 2011 and published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, confirmed that using 2000mg bitter melon per day can considerably reduce blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes type 2.
Charantin – it is a typical cucurbitane: type triterpenoid and a substance with antidiabetic properties. Researchers have found that this compound is more powerful than the oral agent tolbutamide.
Polypeptide – when injected subcutaneously, this p- a hypoglycemic protein reduces blood glucose levels in gerbils, langurs and humans. As it acts in a similar way to insulin in the human body, it can be used as a plant-based insulin replacement in patients with diabetes type 1.