Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Same goes for food.
Fitting into the stereotypical if-it’s-good-for-me-it-can’t-taste-good category, bitter melon may look funny (like a warty cucumber) and may have a sharp taste, but it kills cancer cells.
It Really is Bitter–Sugar-Loving Cancer Doesn’t Like it.
Commonly used in Chinese cooking and medicine, the juice of bitter melons (also known as bitter gourd or karela) contains an enzyme that inhibits the transportation of glucose (sugar), cutting off cancer cells’ food supply.
When bitter melon juice was introduced to pancreatic cancer cells, progression was halted and reversed. Mice were sixty percent less likely to develop the cancer after consuming it.
“BMJ [bitter melon juice] also inhibits proliferation, induces apoptosis and activates AMPK [a biomarker for cellular energy status] in vivo. Overall, BMJ exerts strong anticancer efficacy against human pancreatic carcinoma cells.”
A 2013 study found similar response to head and neck cancer; when mice were fed bitter melon juice, tumors stopped growing.
One Thing Leads to Another.
The way in which the researchers came up with the idea to test for bitter melon’s effectiveness against pancreatic cancer is interesting: previous studies had already established bitter melon as effective in the treatment of diabetes.
Diabetes in adults is caused by a combination of factors: the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to moderate sugar levels in the blood and the decreased capacity of cells to absorb insulin (insulin resistance).
Because bitter melon juice interrupts glucose pathways in the blood, the levels are reduced. Additionally, compounds in the juice stimulated cell membranes to allow sugar intake.
Because bitter melon juice influenced insulin production in the pancreas, scientists wondered if maybe there might be other implications for the pancreas.
They were right.
In traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, bitter melon has been used to heal wounds, treat fever, cough, skin conditions, colic, burns, and as an antiviral. In more modern applications, it aids in weight loss, reduces the incidence of kidney stones, boosts the immune sytem, and is a liver detoxifier.
It can be eaten raw (it is extremely bitter and should be mixed with other ingredients to ameliorate its strong flavor; salting it will reduce the bitterness, whether you choose to eat it raw or cook it), cooked, the juice extracted, or in a tincture. Of course, bitter melon is at its most nutritious when raw but that can be a challenge due to its strong bitter flavor.
Warning: in excess, bitter melon can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.
So hold your breath, close your eyes, and swallow hard—this is one bitter pill that is worth trying.