The bitter melon is a green cucumber-like vegetable that grows from vines. Also called bitter gourd, this Asian vegetable is an elongated pod whose taste deserves its name. Just basing it from its looks and taste, bitter melon does not make sense at all as a food supplement. However, medical studies have proven that bitter melon extract can treat and inhibit a number of illnesses and diseases.
The benefits include treatment from diabetes mellitus, hypertension, jaundice, cholera, and constipation, among others. Recently, a number of scientific studies include treatment from breast cancer and possibly, HIV-AIDS. This bitter vegetable contains two proteins that are believed to inhibit the AIDS virus. This requires further studies, however, while its benefits to those suffering from the other ailments are generally accepted by the research community already.
Regarding treatment of cancer, Dr. Ratna B. Ray said that bitter melon fruit extract “can be utilized as a dietary supplement for the prevention of breast cancer.” He adds, “Our findings suggest that bitter melon extract modulates several signal transduction pathways, which induces breast cancer cell death.” Dr. Ray is a professor for the Department of Pathology in Saint Louis University. Based on studies conducted by Dr. Ray and her team, bitter gourd extract significantly inhibited the growth and division of cancer cells, thereby killing the cells. She explained that by promoting apoptosis and modulating cell cycle regulatory genes, the bitter vegetable’s extracts can prevent breast cancer from happening.
“Breast cancer is a major killer among women around the world, and in that perspective, results from this study are quite significant,” said another expert, Dr. Rajesh Agarwal. “This study may provide us with one more agent as an extract that could be used against breast cancer if additional studies hold true.” Agarwal is a professor for the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado, Denver School of Pharmacy.
While further studies on cancer treatment and HIV prevention are needed, it is now widely accepted that bitter melon extracts can treat diabetes mellitus. Bitter melon contains charantin, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids that lower blood sugar levels, which therefore makes the melons very helpful to diabetic patients.
Bitter melon vine thrives in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean because it cannot tolerate cold weather. Since the popularity of this “wonder” vegetable is now spread far and wide, bitter melon extracts are now widely marketed in Western countries. Asian food experts and scientists, however, still believe that the fruit is best taken raw or cooked. Once a person’s taste buds have gotten used to its bitter flavor, bitter melon is actually delicious and interesting to consume. All over Asia, bitter melon is most popularly prepared sautéed or stir-fried.
However, food experts advise that, to the unused eater, excessive ingestion of the vegetable’s extract and/or juice can cause diarrhea and abdominal pain. Also, eating of bitter melon seeds must be avoided, although they are in fact edible. Pregnant women are also cautioned against eating too much bitter melon.