Bitter melon or Momordica charantia is a plant that grows extensively across many areas of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. It comes in many varieties, each producing wartly, oblong fruit known for it’s extremely bitter taste. Around 32 active chemicals have been identified in the juice of bitter melon to date, including beta-sitosterol-d-glucoside, citrulline, GABA, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. They are also a great source of vitamins and minerals, with, 100 grams of bitter melon containing calcium (19 mg), carbohydrates (4 g), copper (0.034 mg), dietary fiber (3 g), dietary folate (72 mcg), folate (72 mcg), food folate (5.6 mcg), iron (0.43 mg), magnesium (17 mg), manganese (0.089 mg), Pantothenic Acid (0.212 mcg), phosphorus (31 mg), potassium ( 296 mg), protein (1 g), selenium (0.2 mcg), sodium (5 mg), Vitamins A, B, C, E, K, and zinc (0.8 mg).
Also, the USDA National Nutrient database states that, 100 grams of bitter melon contains 17 Kcal of energy, 0.17g total fat, niacin (0.400 mg), pyridoxine (0.043 g), Riboflavin (0.040 mg), and Thiamin (0.040 mg).
Bitter melon has long been used as a natural remedy for fever, burns, chronic coughs, painful menstrual cramps and minor skin conditions, with some areas claiming that it can prevent and treat malaria. But more recently it has been found to have a positive affect on the regulation of insulin, which could be promising to advance the treatments of both diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to treat, partly because it is often discovered later than other forms of cancer. Prognosis of pancreatic cancer is extremely poor, suggesting critical needs for additional drugs to improve disease outcome. Traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy are not often particularly successful in treating this type of cancer. This has led scientists to look elsewhere for therapies that can assist in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
Studies of bitter melon have shown that those suffering with diabetes are able to control their levels of insulin by taking bitter melon juice. Diabetes is often considered to be a precursor for pancreatic cancer, as the cancerous tumours have insulin receptors. Ingesting glucose aids in their growth and multiplication. Scientists are therefore testing bitter melon juice as a possible alternative treatment for this form of cancer.
Bitter Melon Juice and Diabetes
The Journal of Ethnopharmacology published a study in 2011, by Fuangchan A, et al. which showed modest hypoglycemic effects and significant fructosamine stabilisation in those taking 2000mg/day of bitter melon.
“Bitter melon had a modest hypoglycemic effect and significantly reduced fructosamine levels from baseline among patients with type 2 diabetes who received 2,000 mg/day. However, the hypoglycemic effect of bitter melon was less than metformin 1,000 mg/day.”
In a separate study from 2008, Tan, MJ et al. indicated that certain compounds isolated in bitter melon improved control of glycemic levels, specifically helping cells to uptake glucose. They found an overall improvement in glucose tolerance. These findings indicate that cucurbitane triterpenoids, the characteristic constituents of M. charantia (compounds of bitter melon), may provide leads as a class of therapeutics for diabetes and obesity.
It seems therefore that bitter melon can aid in the regulation of diabetes, therefore, it would in turn help to prevent pancreatic cancer. And more encouraging still, are results discussed below that show reductions in the rate of cancerous tumour growth in the pancreas and even death of pancreatic cancer cells as a result of taking the supplement.
Bitter Melon Juice and Pancreatic Cancer
A study published in the Oxford Journals by Manjinder Kaur et al found that Bitter melon juice activated cellular energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase causing apoptotic death of human pancreatic carcinoma cells.
This study tested 4 lines of pancreatic cancerous cells in vivo and in vitro. They injected a group of mice with pancreatic cancer cells and then proceeded to feed the control group with water, and the other half with bitter melon juice. The results showed that tumour growth was inhibited by 60% in the group ingesting the bitter melon, and evidence of strong apoptotic death (programmed death of the cancerous cells). The juice was found to decrease cell viability in all four pancreatic carcinoma cell lines.
“IHC analyses of MiaPaCa-2 xenografts showed that BMJ(Bitter Melon Juice) also inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis and activates AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase) in vivo. Overall, BMJ exerts strong anticancer efficacy against human pancreatic carcinoma cells, both in vitro and in vivo, suggesting its clinical usefulness.”
The results are extremely promising, and this study has opened the door to further research into this area.
Using Bitter Melon at Home
As mentioned, this fruit has an extremely bitter flavour, but if you can handle that, then a small melon can be eaten as food or fresh juice (approx 50ml) can be taken per day. There are also supplements or tinctures for those who do not enjoy the taste.
Please note that taking high doses of bitter melon juice can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Small children or those suffering with hypoglycemia should not take bitter melon as there is a chance that it could cause dangerously low levels of blood sugar. Diabetics taking hypoglycaemic drugs or insulin should seek advice before taking bitter melon. It has also been found that this fruit can have abortive properties and it should therefore be avoided by pregnant women.
The published research into the benefits of taking bitter melon juice show strong results for specific types of cancer cell destruction, successful treatment of diabetes and even the possible prevention of pancreatic cancer. It is all very encouraging, and hopefully more studies are in progress to enable us to better learn how this interesting plant can help us to fight these illnesses. Do your research before choosing to start eating bitter melon at home. While there are many benefits, it is best to gather all of the facts first.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this amazing knobbly fruit!
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