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Bitter melon, a popular member of the gourd family, is celebrated for its rich nutrient content and flexibility in cooking and as a natural health remedy. A study investigates its much-heralded role in Type 2 diabetes treatment, focusing on its fermented juice form
Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or by its scientific name Momordica charantia, packs a punch and a good reputation as a staple ingredient and for its nutrient content. As part of the gourd family, this tropical vine is a close kin of zucchini, pumpkin and squash as well as cucumber.
A single cup of raw bitter melon, or 94 grams (g), offers 20 calories, 4 g of carbs, 2 g of fiber, 93% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for vitamin C and 44% of the RDI for vitamin A.[i] It is also a source of folate, potassium, zinc and iron, to name a few.
This plant has received much attention for its anti-diabetes properties, particularly among the indigenous populations of Asia, South America, India and East Africa.[ii] Its fruit extract shows strong antioxidant and hypoglycemic action in experiments, both in vivo and in vitro.[iii] It also demonstrated potential therapeutic effects in obesity-related metabolic dysfunction in animal research and clinical studies.
Bitter melon's beneficial effects are linked to its ability to induce lipid and fat metabolizing gene expression, as well as enhance the function of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs).[iv] The fruit contains anti-diabetic plant agents such as charantin, insulin-like peptides and alkaloid -- compounds that help increase tolerance to glucose without increasing blood insulin levels.[v]
In addition, bitter melon has been shown to improve a number of markers of long-term blood sugar control, including fructosamine and hemoglobin A1c levels.[vi] However, more high-quality research is deemed necessary. Another study had a further look at bitter melon's potential as a Type 2 diabetes treatment, focusing on its fermented juice.
Bitter Melon Lowers Blood Sugar
Writing in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, a group of researchers used bitter melon's fermented juice, given the impressive health benefits of fermented vegetables.[vii] Previously, fermenting bitter melon juice using Lactobacillus fermentum bacteria increased antioxidant activity by 15%.[viii]
The team fermented fresh, unripe bitter melon and induced Type 2 diabetes in 24 male rats. After three days of treatment, the animal subjects were randomly divided into four groups given one of the following for 28 days: acarbose (a diabetes drug), bitter melon, fermented bitter melon or distilled water. They then measured their glucose and other values.
The results: Fasting glucose and blood glucose levels after eating were significantly slashed in groups given either unfermented or fermented bitter melon. Both the fermented and unfermented bitter melon increased superoxide dismutase (SOD), enzymes that form a crucial defense against oxidative stress in the body,[ix] as well as lowered fasting and postprandial blood glucose.
The fermented form, though, exhibited greater benefits than the unfermented one. The researchers wrote, "This study revealed that fermented MC [bitter melon] juice has a more powerful antihyperglycemic effect than nonfermented one. However, acarbose showed a stronger effect than MC and fermented MC juice. The better antidiabetic potential can be attributed to the higher content of antioxidants in fermented MC juice."[x]
The reduced glucose levels in the bitter melon groups is associated with charantin and its antidiabetic and antioxidant effects. High glucose levels are known to stimulate the formation of free radicals, which are scavenged and fought off by antioxidants.
Waging the Battle Against Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is now considered a global pandemic, a major human health challenge in the 21st century that has gone beyond being a disease of the affluent "Western" nations of North America and Europe.[xi]
This metabolic disorder, characterized by high blood sugar and with inflammation and oxidative stress driving the damage, is expected to affect 700 million people worldwide by 2045.[xii] As a potent medicinal aid, bitter melon helps reduce blood sugar and wages the war against Type 2 diabetes. Here are some previous findings:
- In a three-month study on 24 diabetes patients, taking 2,000 milligrams of bitter melon every day reduced blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c.[xiii]
- Bitter melon reduced elevated fasting plasma glucose levels in an intervention study among prediabetics in Tanzania.[xiv]
- The fruit was helpful in improving the way sugar is used in tissues, promoting the secretion of insulin, the hormone responsible for the regulation of blood sugar levels.[xv]
- Bitter melon could be more effective in the management of diabetes and its related complications than the drug rosiglitazone (Avandia).[xvi]
- Two different extracts of bitter melon had beneficial effects on insulin resistance in rats fed a high-fructose diet.[xvii]
The highly promising, time-tested medicinal benefits of bitter melon, however, aren't limited to diabetes but include a whole gamut of conditions ranging from inflammation to ulcers to tumors. Find out more when you peruse our database containing nearly 100 abstracts related to bitter melon's therapeutic actions.
[ii] Baby Joseph et al "Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency" Asian Pac J Trop Dis. 2013 Apr; 3(2): 93-102.
[v] Hartajanie L et al "Probiotics Fermented Bitter Melon Juice as Promising Complementary Agent for Diabetes Type 2: Study on Animal Model" J Nutr Metab. 2020 Feb 28;2020:6369873.
[vi] Baby Joseph et al "Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potentcy" Asian Pac J Trop Dis. 2013 Apr; 3(2): 93-102.
[viii] L Hartajanie et al "Lactobacillus fermentum LLB3 improves antioxidant activity of bitter melon (Momordica charantia)," Microbiology Indonesia. 2018 Jan: 12(2).
[ix] H Younus et al "Therapeutic potentials of superoxide dismutase" Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2018 May-Jun; 12(3): 88-93.
[x] Hartajanie L et al "Probiotics Fermented Bitter Melon Juice as Promising Complementary Agent for Diabetes Type 2: Study on Animal Model" J Nutr Metab. 2020 Feb 28;2020:6369873.
[xi] Ranjit U et al "Type 2 Diabetes: Demystifying the Global Epidemic" Diabetes. 2017 Jun; 66(6): 1432-1442.
[xii] International Diabetes Foundation, Diabetes Facts & Figures https://www.idf.org/aboutdiabetes/what-is-diabetes/facts-figures.html
[xiii] Marisol CN et al "Momordica charantia Administration Improves Insulin Secretion in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus" J Med Food. 2018 Jul;21(7).
[xiv] Michael K et al "Bitter gourd reduces elevated fasting plasma glucose levels in an intervention study among prediabetics in Tanzania" J Ethnopharmacol. 2018 Apr 24 ;216:1-7. Epub 2018 Jan 12.
[xv] Habicht SD et al "Momordica charantia and type 2 diabetes: from in vitro to human studies" Curr Diabetes Rev. 2014 Jan;10(1):48-60.
[xvi] Inayat-ur-Rahman et al "Serum sialic acid changes in non-insulin-dependant diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) patients following bitter melon (Momordica charantia) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) treatment" Phytomedicine. 2009 May;16(5):401-5. Epub 2009 Apr 10.
[xvii] Chun-Ching Shih et al "Momordica charantia extract on insulin resistance and the skeletal muscle GLUT4 protein in fructose-fed rats" Antioxid Redox Signal. 2005 Nov-Dec;7(11-12):1612-20.