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Herbs & Botanicals

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Bitter Melon (ku gua)

What is bitter melon? What is it used for?

Bitter melon is commonly used as a vegetable in tropical areas such as East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. The plant gets its name from the bitter taste of its fruit and juice; however, cooking it with the appropriate spices can reduce the bitterness.

In addition to being a food source, bitter melon is employed as an herbal remedy in many parts of the world. While the seeds, leaves and vines of bitter melon may all be used, the fruit is used most often for medicinal purposes.

At lease three types of compounds in bitter melon are believed to lower blood sugar, which can benefit people with diabetes mellitus. It is still unclear whether these compounds work together or individually, but several controlled clinical studies have confirmed that bitter melon is beneficial in controlling the symptoms of diabetes.

Test-tube studies have also shown that two proteins found in bitter melon – alpha-momorcharin and beta-momorcharin – inhibit the AIDS virus. However, these studies have not been conducted in humans.

How much bitter melon should I take?

For those who can withstand the bitter taste, many herbalists recommend eating one small melon; 100 millileters of a bitter melon decoction; or two ounces of fresh bitter melon juice per day. For people who cannot stand the taste, some practitioners recommend bitter melon tinctures (five millileters, two or three times per day).

What forms of bitter melon are available?

Fresh bitter melon and bitter melon juice can be found at many specialty stores and Asian markets. Bitter melon extracts and tinctures can be found at some health food stores.

What can happen if I take too much bitter melon? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Excessive amounts of bitter melon juice may cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. In addition, patients with hypoglycemia should avoid bitter melon, because it could theoretically worsen their condition.

At present, there are no well-known drug interactions with better melon. As always, make sure to consult with a qualified health care practitioner before taking bitter melon or any other dietary supplement or herbal product.

References

  • Brown DJ, Gaby A, Reichert R, Yarnell E. Phytotherapeutic and nutritional approaches to diabetes mellitus. Quart Rev Nat Med 1998;Winter:329–54.
  • Raman A, Lau C. Anti-diabetic properties and phytochemistry of momordica charantia L (curcurbitaceae). Phytomed 1996;2:349–62.
  • Shi H, Hiramatsu M, Komatsu M, Kayama T. Antioxidant property of fructus momordicae extract. Biochem Molec Biol Int 1996;40:111–21.
  • Werbach MR, Murray MT. Botanical Influences on Illness. Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 1994, pp. 139–41.
  • Zhang QC. Preliminary report on the use of momordica charantia extract by HIV patients. J Naturopathic Med 1992;3:65–9.

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