Bitter Melon and Diabetes

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on January 22, 2018Written by Natalie Silver on January 22, 2018

Overview

Bitter melon (also known as Momordica charantia, bitter gourd, wild cucumber, and more) is a plant that gets its name from its taste. It becomes more and more bitter as it ripens.

It grows in a number of areas (including Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and East Africa) where people have used bitter melon for a variety of medical conditions over time.

Bitter melon contains many nutrients that can be beneficial to your health. It’s linked to lowering blood sugar, which some studies suggest means it can aid in diabetes treatment.

What the research says about bitter melon and diabetes

Bitter melon is linked to lowering the body’s blood sugar. This is because the bitter melon has properties that act like insulin, which helps bring glucose into the cells for energy. The consumption of bitter melon can help your cells utilize glucose and move it to your liver, muscles, and fat. The melon may also be able to help your body retain nutrients by blocking their conversion to glucose that ends up in your blood stream.

Bitter melon isn’t an approved treatment or medication for prediabetes or diabetes despite the evidence that it can manage blood sugar.

Several studies have examined bitter melon and diabetes. Most recommend conducting more research before using any form of the melon for diabetes management.

Some studies discussing bitter melon for diabetes include:

  • A report in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that more studies are needed to measure the effects of bitter melon on type 2 diabetes. It also cited the need for more research on how it can be used for nutrition therapy.
  • A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology compared the effectiveness of bitter melon with a current diabetes drug. The study concluded that bitter melon did reduce fructosamine levels with type 2 diabetes participants. However, it did so less effectively than a lower dose of the already approved medication.

There is no medically approved way to consume bitter melon as a treatment for diabetes at this time. Bitter melon may be used as a food as part of a healthy and varied diet. Consuming bitter melon beyond your dinner plate may pose risks.

Nutritional benefits of bitter melon

As a fruit that also has properties of a vegetable, bitter melon contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It has been recognized by many cultures as having medicinal value. Some of its nutritional benefits include:

  • vitamins C, A, E, B-1, B-2, B-3, and B-9
  • minerals like potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron
  • antioxidants like phenols, flavonoids, and others

Forms and doses of bitter melon

There are no standard dosages for bitter melon as a medical treatment at this time. Bitter melon is considered a complementary or alternative medicine. Therefore, the use of bitter melon isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of diabetes or any other medical condition.

You may find bitter melon in its natural vegetable form, as a supplement, and even as a tea. Keep in mind that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA and don’t have to adhere to any stringent standards prior to being sold.

You shouldn’t use bitter melon as a supplement without consulting your doctor.

Potential risks and complications

Use bitter melon with caution beyond occasional use in your diet. Bitter melon can cause side effects and interfere with other medications.

Some of the risks and complications of bitter melon include:

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, and other intestinal issues
  • Vaginal bleeding, contractions, and abortion
  • Dangerous lowering of blood sugar if taken with insulin
  • Liver damage
  • Favism (which can cause anemia) in those with G6PD deficiency
  • Mixing with other drugs to alter their effectiveness
  • Problems in blood sugar control in those who have had recent surgery

The takeaway

Bitter melon consumed occasionally as a fruit or vegetable may be a healthy addition to your diet. More research is needed to make connections between the varied forms of bitter melon and the treatment of medical conditions.

Bitter melon products should be used with caution. Consult your doctor prior to using them.

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