Bitter Melon: A Potential Diabetes Treatment

Thursday, November 8, 2012
A Potential Diabetes Treatment

This month, we look at an old, Asian folk remedy used in reversing a case of diabetes, helping prevent the spread of cancer and treating a variety of infections. Bitter melon is widely available in Chinese supermarkets--as a food! The fruit that grows from the bitter melon plant tastes, as you might suspect, quite bitter. The plant grows wild in tropical climates, as well as in the Far East.

While many people use it for food, bitter melon is also used medicinally in a number of cultures. Although, in many cases, herbal medicine makes use of the seeds and leaves of a plant, in this case it remains the fruit that is used to treat certain ailments.

Let's slice a melon open and take a quick look inside to see what makes it tick. Inside bitter melon, there are at least three types of ingredients that may help lower blood sugar in the body (thus becoming useful for diabetes). They are known as "charantin," "peptides" and "alkaloids." It is likely that they work together, somehow, as scientists aren't sure which one is the most effective in lowering blood sugar. Early experiments on one polypeptide, which appears to work in a similar fashion to insulin, show that it could regulate blood sugar.

In any event, there are many natural chemicals within the bitter melon that are notable here because they are responsible for whatever medicinal action the plant possesses. This is not mentioning the bundle of vitamins and minerals that the fruit houses, particularly iron and vitamins A, B1, B2 and C.

How it Could Work for You Diabetes

The biggest use for bitter melon lies with type 2 diabetes, owing to a blood-sugar-lowering effect that has been proven in several studies. The fruit itself, juice and powder have been used in these (largely small) studies. No fewer than six studies, stretching between 1981 and 2000, have confirmed that bitter melon could help a diabetic regulate these levels.

A review study last July examined the benefits of using bitter melon--also called bitter gourd--as a dietary approach to high blood-sugar levels. The researchers note the fruit's antidiabetic properties, coming in several natural substances and antioxidants within the fruit's flesh. How it works--for example, whether regulating the release of insulin or altering the metabolism of sugar--is still under debate. "Nevertheless," the researchers state, "bitter gourd has the potential to become a component of the diet or a dietary supplement for diabetic and prediabetic patients.

The fruit has been used in China and elsewhere for some time, but Western science will require better studies before it can recommend bitter melon as a dietary approach to diabetes. Anyone with type 2 diabetes should work closely with a doctor if considering bitter melon.

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