Bitter melon is a plant native to India, but it is also widely used in cooking in China as well. A tripical vine, it is grown all over the world, from Africa to the Caribbean.
As its name implies, the fruit of the plant is extremely bitter – making it something of an acquired taste, especially among people who are used to a Western diet. But despite its unusual appearance and flavor, bitter melon has a host of health benefits that make it a great addition to anyone’s diet.
1. Bitter Melon And Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most common disorders in the world, both in developed and developing countries, and not all patients with diabetes manage it solely through the means of Western medicine. Some estimates speculate that around one third of diabetes patients use some form of complementary or alternative medicine.
Bitter melon has received a lot of attention recently as a food with potent antidiabetic properties, used widely in traditional medicines for the treatment of diabetes in Asia, South America, India and East Africa. Bitter melon contains over 225 different medicinal constituents, but it is known for having been “used as dietary supplements and ethnomedicine throughout centuries for relieving symptoms and conditions related to what we known in modern days as diabetes.”(1)
It works by affecting the metabolism and regulating blood sugar levels, two things that individuals with diabetes often struggle to control.
2. Bitter Melon And Obesity
The effects of bitter melon on metabolism make it a unique food with implications for the treatment and management of obesity, a condition that has a high comorbidity with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease. The treatment of obesity is strongly related to the treatment of diabetes, but is also unique unto itself, as the two don’t necessarily always go hand in hand.
One paper explains that “[bitter melon] extracts and different compounds seem to exert their beneficial effects via several mechanisms… [which] mediated glucose, and fat metabolism in various tissues which are directly related to the beneficial effect of controlling and treating diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and obesity related cardiovascular complications.”(2)
3. Bitter Melon And Cancer
Although research on the subject is still in the experimental stage, there is strong evidence that bitter melon extract may be effective in the treatment of breast cancer tumors.
“Although there are effective drugs for treating advanced stages of breast cancers, women eventually develop resistance,” a recent study explains.
“One of the approaches to control breast cancer is prevention through diet, which inhibits one or more neoplastic events and reduces cancer risk… [Bitter melon extract] treatment of breast cancer cells resulted in a significant decrease in cell proliferation and induced apoptotic cell death.”(3)
Making Bitter Melon Part Of Your Diet
Cooking with bitter melon can be difficult, especially if you are not used to it. The fruit can be found in Asian and Indian markets, and is commonly prepared by stir-frying it with sugar and salt. It can also be paired with sweet sauces, like mango chutney, and with mild meat like pork.
While the taste may take some getting used to, it’s a worthy food to introduce into your diet, especially if you are someone who struggles with weight related issues, or is living with diabetes.