Bitter melon for Diabetes: know the many benefits of this medicinal food
itter Melon for diabetes (Momordica charantia) is a flowering vine belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family and is related to honeydew, cantaloupe, muskmelon, and casaba. There are two varieties one that grows to about 20 cm and is pale green; the other a smaller version is less than 10 cm long and has a darker green color. It is a tropical plant that is widely cultivated in Asia, India, East Africa and South America, in Brazil is called Melão de São Caetano. Its intensely bitter fruits are used for cooking as well as a medicine and the bitterness in the fruit increases as it ripens. It is a climbing perennial and usually extends as far as 5 m, producing elongated fruits with a bumpy surface.
Bitter melon is one of the most promising plants for the treatment of diabetes and its related conditions, Bitter melon has been used as a folk remedy for treating cancer, aiding digestion, and fighting viral infections. There has been over 60 years of research dedicated to finding its diabetic and anti cancer properties among many other health benefits which indirectly also helps with diabetes. To date, close to 100 studies have demonstrated the glucose-lowering properties of bitter melon. Even though a majority of studies are inconclusive they all seem to agree on the potency of bitter melon as a glucose lowering agent. Even thought some studies proclaim to be inconclusive most advice and warn about hypoglycemic dangerous side effects. Lower blood glucose is what we want so it indicates that if anything it works too well.
Its fruits have been commonly used by indigenous populations of Asia, South America, India and East Africa. Bitter melon is a powerful nutrient-dense plant rich in a complex array of beneficial compounds which include bioactive chemicals, Vicine, charantin, and polypeptide-P, vitamins, mineral and antioxidants adding up to 255 different medicinal constituents. Its compounds may either act together or separately to deliver their medicinal benefits.
Most clinicians who use botanical medicine are familiar with bitter melon and it has been historically known for its glucose lowering properties. The hypoglycemic effects seem to be more concentrated in the fruit. Studies have also found small benefits for DM type I due to its insulin producing properties and pancreatic enhancement as we’ll discuss below. A significant lowering in blood sugar for DM type II was found as well as lowering of HbA1c profile. One study reported HbA1c levels dropping from 8.37 to 6.95.
How bitter melon works to lower blood glucose
The exact mechanisms of action is not well understood but the compounds found in bitter melon are well known and its actions well documented. Multiple mechanisms have been proposed as the agents for lowering blood glucose. Components of bitter melon extract appear to have structural similarities to animal insulin, as measured by electrophoresis and infrared-spectrum analysis. The compounds found in bitter melon have produce verifiable hypoglycemic effects via different physiological and biochemical mechanisms. Bitter melon lowers blood sugar quickly and it can take as little as 30 minutes, with the greatest reduction at 4 hours and lasting for 12. Here are some of the main suggested biochemical models.
- Stimulation of peripheral and skeletal muscle glucose leading to increased glucose uptake
- The most probable anti diabetic agent are the cucurbitane-type triterpenoids which are highly potent and efficacious in stimulating GLUT4 translocation in insulin responsive cells. Four of these triperpenoids found in bitter melon have AMP-activated protein kinase activity. This enzyme that plays a role in cellular energy homeostasis. Glucose uptake is increased by Vicine, Charatin, and plypeptide-P which are three known compounds present in bitter melon. Together they increase glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in the liver, muscles and adipose tissues and also improve glucose tolerance.
- Internal Fat reduction
- Two important oxidative enzymes, CPT-I and AD, in liver and skeletal muscle were measured for changes after the administration of bitter melon. After consumption an elevation in activity of both these enzymes were observed and the reduction of liver and gastrocnemius muscle were noted to decrease lipids as much as 40%. Data suggest that bitter melon supplementation enhanced mitochondrial transport of long-chain fatty acids, and the decrease in organ lipid content are associated with the enhancement in activity of AD, a key oxidative enzyme.
- Suppression of key gluconeogenic enzymes and insulin like properties
- Preliminary investigations have suggested some insulin-like properties in bitter melon. Other studies indicates that bitter melon may decrease hepatic gluconeogenesis, increase hepatic glycogen synthesis, and increase peripheral glucose oxidation in erythrocytes and adipocytes. Studies also indicate that bitter melon increases pancreatic insulin secretion. Although several constituents of bitter melon have been fund to have hypoglycemic properties, studies looked at polypeptide isolated from the seeds called polypeptide-p and a mixture of two steroid glycosides referred to as charantin.
- Preservation of islet β cells and their functions
- In one study using laboratory rats the animals were subjected to a induced destruction of β cells of islets of Langerhans and β cells reducing numbers, producing clumping and necrosis. After administration of bitter melon it was noted the appearance of numerous new small islets. Several alkaloids present in the acetone fraction of the fruits may be responsible for the multiplication or pre existing islets. Other alkaloids may also play a role in the restoration of damaged islets.
For a complete presentation of bitter melon action see The Bitter Gourd Project
How to get results
Bitter melon is one of the best natural anti diabetic medicines there is. Its quick acting low blood sugar effects can be a great help to lower blood sugar fast when is needed so it can be used as a emergency tool. Bitter melon can also be thought as a long term remedy as well to help fight obesity and metabolic syndrome due to its anti lipids properties. Another long term use of bitter melon is its ability to restore and re invigorate islets of Langerhans in the pancreas producing more insulin and at the same time increasing insulin sensitivity a sure benefit for type I diabetics. Best results need time and patience and a lot of experimentation. Remember that bitter melon like any other natural supplement is not regulated and same identical doses of equal potency are hard to find
Bitter melon dosages will depend on several factors such as age body weight diabetic status. There is no scientific evidence to determine precisely what is a good dosage because it is hard to determine the potency of the plant being used. There are however some guidelines which could be used as a starting point. The University of Michigan Health Care System professionals recommend that diabetics can consume one small melon or drink 2 oz. of fresh bitter melon juice every day. Bitter melon should also be used as food, decoction, fresh juice of tincture. Be aware that bitter melon juice is of course: bitter, and drinking it will require some gut (no pun intended), better to drink it as a quick shot to minimize the bitter taste but it might take some use to. Take 3.3 oz. of bitter melon decoction daily or if you can’t take it take 1tsp of bitter melon tincture up to three times a day.
Other forms of use found to produce results in trial studies are:
- 100 grams of chopped boiled melon in 200 ml of water. Boil until is reduced to 100 ml and drink once daily
- 5 grams of dried fruit powder 3 times a day. Take for at least 30 days
- 3 grams of dried bitter melon fruit and seeds. 3 grams/day after meals for 2 months
Bitter melon is usually well tolerated when used appropriately. You should be careful when using bitter melon juice or any other product made from it but only because it works to well. It can lower your blood sugar fast and to very low and dangerous level specially if you are already using oral diabetic drugs such as Metformin, Glipizide, Glimepiride and Pioglitazon. Unlike these medications bitter melon does not come with precise dosages and supplements cannot guarantee consistence and purity so you must determine that yourself, not always easy.
Be especially careful not to take it if you have used insulin, in particular Novolog. Children should be particularly careful since they are more likely to have hypoglycemic events. Pregnant and breastfeeding woman should not consume bitter melon or its products. Be aware of consuming too much bitter melon juice as it can irritate your digestive tract, leading to stomach pain and diarrhea.
Other resources: Bitter Melon Project
- Antidiabetic Activities of Triterpenoids Isolated from Bitter Melon Associated with Activation of the AMPK Pathway
- Anti-diabetic and hypoglycaemic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon): a mini review
- Reduced Adiposity in Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)
- Technical Data Report for BITTER MELON (Momordica charantia)
- Regeneration of β cells in islets of Langerhans of pancreas of alloxan diabetic rats by acetone extract of bitter melon