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“Chen, Qixuan, and Edmund TS Li. “Reduced adiposity in bitter melon (Momordica charantia) fed rats is associated with lower tissue triglyceride and higher plasma catecholamines.” British Journal of Nutrition 93, no. 5 (2005): 747-754./ref] Incorporating bitter gourd into your daily diet can also…”
Bitter melon may not feature in the A-list of veggies and fruits thanks to that distinctive bitter taste. But if the buzz about this knobby green fruit’s role in diabetic care has caught your attention, you are on the right track! Bitter gourd, bitter melon, or Momordica charantia does have medicinal value that you can tap into if you are diabetic and is often touted as a nutraceutical substitute for diabetes drugs.[ref]Leung, Lawrence, Richard Birtwhistle, Jyoti Kotecha, Susan Hannah, and Sharon Cuthbertson. “Anti-diabetic and hypoglycaemic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon): a mini review.” British Journal of Nutrition 102, no. 12 (2009): 1703-1708.[/ref] Here’s a look at how bitter gourd can help you manage diabetes.
1. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Hyperglycemia or a high blood sugar level is a hallmark of diabetes. Many of the complications associated with diabetes also arise from blood sugar levels that stay high over a long period of time – kidney disease, progressive damage to nerves, diabetic retinopathy, and even heart disease are risks you run.[ref]Blood Sugar Level Ranges. Diabetes UK.[/ref] Studies show that having bitter melon extracts can reduce blood glucose concentrations in diabetics and improved glucose tolerance.[ref]Leatherdale, B. A., R. K. Panesar, G. Singh, T. W. Atkins, C. J. Bailey, and A. H. Bignell. “Improvement in glucose tolerance due to Momordica charantia (karela).” Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 282, no. 6279 (1981): 1823-1824.[/ref]
A number of beneficial components such as proteids, triterpene, alkaloid, steroid, lipid, and phenolic compounds in bitter melon have an anti-diabetic action.[ref]Leung, Lawrence, Richard Birtwhistle, Jyoti Kotecha, Susan Hannah, and Sharon Cuthbertson. “Anti-diabetic and hypoglycemic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon): a mini review.” British Journal of Nutrition 102, no. 12 (2009): 1703-1708.[/ref] Among these, three components stand out:
- Bioactive compound charantin in it has hypoglycemic or sugar-reducing properties. It improves sugar levels by stimulating both glucose uptake and its synthesis into glycogen in the muscles, fat cells, and liver.
- Bitter melon also contains a lectin which reduces blood glucose concentration and has an insulin-like effect. It has appetite-suppressing properties as well. This component is thought to have a major role in bitter melon’s anti-diabetic action.
- Polypeptide p is a hypoglycemic protein in bitter melon that also has an insulin-like effect.[ref]Leung, Lawrence, Richard Birtwhistle, Jyoti Kotecha, Susan Hannah, and Sharon Cuthbertson. “Anti-diabetic and hypoglycemic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon): a mini review.” British Journal of Nutrition 102, no. 12 (2009): 1703-1708.[/ref] [ref]Kumar DS, Sharathnath KV, Yogeswaran P, Harani A, Sudhakar K, Sudha P, Banji D. 2010. A medicinal potency of Momordica charantia. Int J Pharma Sci Rev Res. 1:018.[/ref]
In one study, consuming 2 gm of bitter melon extract daily helped reduce blood glucose levels significantly in type 2 diabetics. While the effect was not equivalent to that of taking metformin, a commonly prescribed diabetes drug, what emerged was bitter gourd can be a natural and safe supplement to medicines in managing blood sugar levels.[ref]Fuangchan, Anjana, Paveena Sonthisombat, Tippawadee Seubnukarn, Rapeepan Chanouan, Pontap Chotchaisuwat, Viruch Sirigulsatien, Kornkanok Ingkaninan, Pinyupa Plianbangchang, and Stuart T. Haines. “Hypoglycemic effect of bitter melon compared with metformin in newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes patients.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 134, no. 2 (2011): 422-428.[/ref]
2. Reduces Insulin Resistance
[pullquote]While more extensive studies are required, bitter melon’s potential for boosting insulin sensitivity and preventing type 2 diabetes is worth noting. If you have a family history of diabetes or have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, you could get proactive by including bitter gourd in your regular diet.[/pullquote]
Insulin resistance occurs when the muscles, fat, and liver cells in our body are not able to utilize insulin as they should, to absorb and metabolize glucose from the bloodstream.[ref]Prediabetes and Insulin Resistance National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.[/ref] This, in turn, impairs your glucose tolerance and causes pre-diabetes. It could even set you up for diabetes if you are not careful. Once you are diabetic, insulin resistance can also mean your glucose control may not be optimal.
Studies conducted on diabetic mice show that bitter gourd has several bioactive compounds that can reduce insulin resistance and boost tolerance to glucose. They also revealed that bitter gourd has insulin-sensitizing properties.[ref]Sridhar, M. G., et al. “Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) improves insulin sensitivity by increasing skeletal muscle insulin-stimulated IRS-1 tyrosine phosphorylation in high-fat-fed rats.” British Journal of Nutrition 99.4 (2008): 806-812.[/ref] By improving your insulin sensitivity, bitter melon can help you control your diabetes better.
3. Has A Positive Impact On Hemoglobin A1c Levels And Improves Glycemic Control
Your hemoglobin A1c test measures the amount of glucose that is bound to hemoglobin and indicate what your blood sugar level range has been in the last 2–3 months. When glucose accumulates in the blood, it binds to hemoglobin that is present in the red blood cells (RBCs) and stays bound to these until the RBCs eventually die (after 3 months). Testing for glycated hemoglobin thus gives a good sense of your glucose control over 3 months.
Studies now show that bitter melon may also have a positive impact on your HbA1c levels and, in turn, on your overall glycemic control. In one clinical study of people with poorly controlled or newly diagnosed diabetics, bitter melon capsules were given thrice a day after meals for 3 months. It was found that Hb1Ac levels reduced slightly in the interim.[ref]Dans, Antonio Miguel Limcaco, Maria Vanessa C. Villarruz, Cecilia A. Jimeno, Mark Anthony U. Javelosa, Joel Chua, Rhida Bautista, and Gwyneth Giselle B. Velez. “The effect of Momordica charantia capsule preparation on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus needs further studies.” Journal of clinical epidemiology 60, no. 6 (2007): 554-559.[/ref] The researchers concluded that large-scale studies can help confirm the positive impact bitter melon has on your glycemic control. In another study, when people with suboptimal glycemic control were given tea prepared with bitter melon leaves, it reduced HbA1c levels by 63%.[ref]Rosales, R. Fernando, and R. E. Fernando. “An inquiry to the hypoglycemic action of Momodica charantia among type 2 diabetic patients.” Phil J Intern Med 39 (2001): 213-216.[/ref]
4. Boosts Cardiovascular Health
Apart from directly impacting blood sugar, bitter gourd can give help diabetics fend off heart problems. The folate content in bitter gourd (with 1 cup meeting 17% DV) helps to metabolize homocysteine, an amino acid whose elevated levels have been linked with heart disease. A reduction in homocysteine levels, in turn, is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and may protect against strokes.[ref]Folate. National Institute of Health.[/ref] [ref]Bitter gourd. USDA.[/ref]
There’s more! An animal study conducted on diabetic rats revealed that bitter gourd has fat-reducing or hypolipidemic properties and that consuming the juice of this bitter fruit can boost HDL cholesterol levels.[ref] Ahmed, I., M. S. Lakhani, M. Gillett, A. John, and H. Raza. “Hypotriglyceridemic and hypocholesterolemic effects of anti-diabetic Momordica charantia (karela) fruit extract in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.” Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 51, no. 3 (2001): 155-161.[/ref] Another animal study indicates that bitter melon can help reduce liver triglycerides.[ref] Senanayake, Gamarallage VK, Mitsuru Maruyama, Kei Shibuya, Masanobu Sakono, Nobuhiro Fukuda, Toshiro Morishita, Chizuko Yukizaki, Mikio Kawano, and Hideaki Ohta. “The effects of bitter melon (Momordica charantia) on serum and liver triglyceride levels in rats.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 91, no. 2-3 (2004): 257-262.[/ref] All of these bode well for diabetics who usually run a higher risk of developing heart disease or even a stroke.
5. Helps Protect Against Diabetic Complications And Improves Immunity
The oxidative stress and chronic inflammation associated with diabetes also mean diabetics have to be wary about damage to the kidney, eyes, nerves, and the feet. But bitter melon may be able to step in and protect against these complications. Animal studies show that it may be able to scavenge free radicals that cause oxidative stress and protect from neurological, ocular, renal damage.[ref]Sathishsekar, Dhanasekar, and Sorimuthu Subramanian. “Antioxidant properties of Momordica Charantia (bitter gourd) seeds on Streptozotocin induced diabetic rats.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition 14, no. 2 (2005): 153.[/ref]
Phenolic components such as gallic acid and catechin in it are powerful antioxidants that boost the functioning of the immune system.[ref](Kubola, Jittawan, and Sirithon Siriamornpun. “Phenolic contents and antioxidant activities of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia L.) leaf, stem and fruit fraction extracts in vitro.” Food chemistry 110, no. 4 (2008): 881-890.[/ref] Lab studies have also shown that bitter gourd reduces intestinal inflammation and improves systemic immunity.[ref] Manabe, Mariko, Ryo Takenaka, Teruko Nakasa, and Osamu Okinaka. “Induction of anti-inflammatory responses by dietary Momordica charantia L.(bitter gourd).” Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry 67, no. 12 (2003): 2512-2517.[/ref] The high vitamin C content of the fruit also adds to its potential as an immunity-boosting food. One cup of the cooked bitter melon meets 45% of your daily value.[ref]Bitter gourd. USDA.[/ref]
6. Aids Weight Loss
Diabetics often grapple with excessive weight and even obesity, with the disease itself feeding off the extra pounds. If systematic and healthy weight management is on your mind, bitter gourd can help. It has been found to slow down weight gain and prevent the accumulation of fatty tissue in the body in animal studies.[ref]Chen, Qixuan, and Edmund TS Li. “Reduced adiposity in bitter melon (Momordica charantia) fed rats is associated with lower tissue triglyceride and higher plasma catecholamines.” British Journal of Nutrition 93, no. 5 (2005): 747-754./ref] Incorporating bitter gourd into your daily diet can also mean a healthy dose of nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, potassium, and folate.[ref]USDA National Nutrient Database. USDA [/ref]
Start Slow And Try Different Bitter Melon Recipes!
Depending on how brave and adventurous you are, you can slice and chomp down these bitter beauties raw, juice them with a dash of lemon or a handful of apple slices, make a clear soup as they do in China, or stir-fry them with caramelized onions and plenty of spices the Indian way. The heart-shaped leaves of the bitter melon creeper also have hypoglycemic properties and are especially popular in the Philippines as a diabetes remedy. They are usually had steamed. Bitter melon tea can be made by boiling and straining either fruit slices or leaves in water. Bitter melon is also available as capsules and tea bags (gohyah tea) in herbal medicine stores. The seeds can also be found in powdered form.
[pullquote]While you can’t afford to throw away the pillbox just yet, there is enough evidence to substantiate the sugar-fighting properties of bitter melon and its potential as a supplementary treatment. Natural remedies such as these, prescribed medication, and a healthy lifestyle can all be part of a realistic and holistic regimen to manage diabetes.[/pullquote]
Excessive intake of bitter melon may cause diarrhea or stomach pain, so it may be best not to have more than about two ounces of it in a day. More importantly, if you are already taking medication for diabetes, talk to your doctor about ideal ways to get in bitter gourd and the right quantity to be had, so it doesn’t interfere with your medicines. Combining the two without paying attention to the dosage may pose the risk of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar – a risk you can’t afford to ignore.[ref]Bitter Melon And Diabetes. Diabetes.co.uk.[/ref]