(NaturalNews) A vegetable commonly eaten in India and China called bitter melon (also known by the botanical name Momordica charantia), has been shown in previous studies to have a beneficial impact on blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It turns out that's not all the health benefits bitter melon offers. A new study by Saint Louis University scientists provides evidence the vegetable triggers a chain of events on a cellular level that stops breast cancer cells from multiplying and also kills them.
Lead researcher Ratna Ray, Ph.D., a professor in the department of pathology at Saint Louis University, noted in a statement to the media that she personally uses bitter melon when she cooks stir fry dishes. She decided to investigate the health effects of bitter melon extract after other researchers discovered how it can lower blood sugar and regulate cholesterol levels. In fact, bitter melon extract has been used by traditional healers in China and India for centuries as a natural treatment for diabetes. But Dr. Ray was surprised to find this vegetable was a powerful inhibitor of breast cancer growth, too.
"To our knowledge, this is the first report describing the effect of bitter melon extract on cancer cells," Dr. Ray stated. "Our result was encouraging. We have shown that bitter melon extract significantly induced death in breast cancer cells and decreased their growth and spread."
The research, published in the March 1 edition of Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, involved human breast cancer cells exposed to bitter melon extract in the lab. Dr. Ray cautioned that it is too early to jump to conclusions that the extract could help breast cancer patients -- but her findings are promising.
"Cancer prevention by the use of naturally occurring dietary substances is considered a practical approach to reduce the ever-increasing incidence of cancer. Studying a high risk breast cancer population where bitter melon is taken as a dietary product will be an important area of future research," Dr. Ray said in the press statement.
Dr. Ray and colleagues are currently conducting follow-up studies. They are looking at a number of different cancer cell lines in order to investigate how bitter melon halts cancer cell growth. They are also planning to test the vegetable extract in animals to see if it will delay or kill breast cancer cells. If that research goes well, clinical trials in human breast cancer patients could soon follow.
"Breast cancer is a major killer among women around the world, and in that perspective, results from this study are quite significant," Rajesh Agarwal, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Colorado, Denver School of Pharmacy, and the Cancer Research associate editor for this study, commented in a media release. "This study may provide us with one more agent as an extract that could be used against breast cancer if additional studies hold true."
Bitter melon is widely grown in Asia, Africa and South America. Extracts of this vegetable are currently included in some dietary supplements in Western countries because bitter melon is known to contain healthful phytochemicals such as carotenoids, flavanoids and polyphenols, as well as vitamin C.