Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), also known as bitter gourd and balsam pear in other parts of the world, is one of those foods that meet more than your senses of sight and taste. It has a wrinkled exterior and it's as bitter as its name suggests. Yet despite these, bitter melon is highly valued in several cultures not just as food, but also as a medicinal plant. In fact, Li Shizhen, the great Chinese physician and pharmacologist from the 16th century, included bitter melon in what is now famously known as the Compendium of Materia Medica.
And modern research is validating bitter melon's merit as a medicinal plant. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center demonstrated the vegetable's ability to fight pancreatic cancer, one of the hardest cancers to treat.
It found that treating pancreatic cancer tumors in mice with 5 milligrams of freeze-dried bitter melon juice every day reduces the tumors' size and makes them 64 percent smaller than those in untreated mice. What more, bitter melon proved more effective than a common chemotherapy drug used in a similar study, which reduced the tumor size by only 52 percent. The researchers noted that the dosage used in the study caused no adverse effects on the mice and may be adapted for human consumption.
In another study, bitter melon caused apoptosis – cellular death – in four pancreatic cancer cell lines, reducing the viability of two lines by 90 percent and the other two by an impressive 98 percent. It also halted the metastasis and re-growth of the cancer cells. Further research has shown the vegetable's activity against other types of cancer as well, including blood, colon, liver, stomach, and breast cancers.
Most of the studies on the health benefits of the bitter melon focus on its ability to lower blood sugar. Studies indicate that consuming bitter melon enhances the cells' uptake of glucose, improves glucose tolerance, and increases the secretion of insulin. It also activates AMPK, an enzyme that plays an important role in metabolism, to imitate the effects of exercise on the cells' ability to absorb glucose. Incidentally, the activation of AMPK also plays a role in bitter melon's anti-cancer activity.
Bitter melon contains a number of phytochemicals that prove beneficial to diabetics. The charantin, momordin, and vicine found in bitter melon are glycosides, natural versions of the same chemicals found in hypoglycemic medication. Another phytochemical, polypeptide-9, has the same qualities as your body's natural insulin.
Bitter melon can be taken as it is, although its bitter taste may not sit well with first-time eaters. You can cook it with milder vegetables instead, such as corn, carrots, and bell peppers, to diffuse the flavor and add a more familiar taste.
If you really don't think you can take the vegetable's flavor, you can take it in capsule form. Do note that some studies showing its benefits for blood sugar control used dosages as high as 2,000 mg a day. To ensure that bitter melon supplements are the best for your condition, it would be best to consult with your healthcare provider before taking them.
Eating bitter melon can give you numerous health benefits. Find out more at Veggie.news.