What Is Bitter Melon?
Bitter melon or bitter gourd is one of the healthiest vegetables in the world. This vegetable is a staple food in a variety of cultural cuisines. However, in the West this vegetable is mostly unknown. However, recently, a number of studies have highlighted the immense health benefits of this unique vegetable and introduced bitter melon into the American specialty produce departments.
Bitter Melon & Alternative Medicine
Bitter melon is widely used as a source of alternative medicine to treat infections. Leaf extracts of this vegetable have indicated antibacterial activities against e.coli, a specie of bacteria that can live in the lower intestines of mammals and human beings. This dangerous bacteria is responsible for urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal ailments and in some cases, death. Bitter melon juice is also used as a potent antihelmintic substance that eliminates parasitic worms from the intestinal tract. For external use, bitter melon paste has been acknowledged to heal skin eruptions, chapped skin, burns, hemorrhoids, and psoriasis.
The Link Between Bitter Melon & Diabetes Management
This vegetable, which grows in tropical areas like East Africa, Asia, South Africa, and the Caribbean is rich in iron, calcium, potassium, beta carotene, and phosphorus. However, recent evidence shows that bitter melon is best used as a means to manage the body’s blood sugar levels. This recent evidence suggests that bitter melon is able to help regulate blood sugar levels by increasing the production of beta cells in the pancreas which leads to drastic improvements in the insulin production of the body.
A team of scientists at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research were able to extract four very promising bioactive components from the pulp of bitter melons which appear to activate the enzyme AMPK, a protein that regulates fuel metabolism within the body and enables glucose uptake. Normally, AMPK is activated within the muscles of the body during exercise. AMPK makes it possible for our muscles to turn blood sugar into energy. People with diabetes, especially type II diabetes, are not able to effectively convert their blood glucose into energy. The compounds found in this vegetable help diabetic bodies better process blood glucose into energy.
Garvan Institute of Medical Research (2008, March 27). A Ton Of Bitter Melon Produces Sweet Results For Diabetes. ScienceDaily
Bitter Melon Supplements
Because of its health benefits this vegetable is now widely used as a dietary supplement. Bitter melon supplement capsules are now available in most health food markets as an alternative treatment for a variety of ailments. However, these supplements must be used with certain precautions because they can cause side effects and may interact with certain over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and some herbal medicines.
Bitter Melon Supplements Warning
- Pregnant women are advised not to use these supplements since they can cause uterine contractions.
- The effect of bitter melon on lactating women has not been studied.
- Bitter melon should not be fed to small children as it can cause severe hypoglycemia.
- Bitter melon should not be used by hypoglycemic individuals (individuals with low blood sugar levels) because this vegetable has been known to drastically reduce blood sugar levels.
- Diabetics, who use prescription hypoglycemic drugs or insulin, should avoid bitter melon or its supplements.
- People with cirrhosis of the liver and/or a medical history of hepatitis must avoid bitter melon supplements.