The bitter melon is known to host a variety of vitamins and minerals, which make it extremely healthy for the body. The main use for bitter melon today is as an alternative to insulin to treat diabetes as there are bioactive compounds in the bitter melon that have hypoglycemic properties. Read on to know more about the various health benefits of bitter melon.
What is Momordica Charantia?
The Momordica Charantia, better known as the bitter melon or bitter gourd, is a tropical plant found all over the world especially in Asia, India, East Africa, and South America .
Its fruit, which is known to be super bitter, are used for cooking and also as an anti-diabetic compound .
The bitter melon is known to host a variety of vitamins and minerals, which make it extremely healthy for the body. Some of these include vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B3, and B9. Some minerals include potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron .
The main use for bitter melon today is as an alternative to insulin to treat diabetes as there are bioactive compounds in the bitter melon that have hypoglycemic properties. Hypoglycemic simply means the molecule lowers blood sugar levels and as diabetes patients have abnormally high blood sugar levels, molecules with hypoglycemic properties are known to benefit diabetes patients. Bitter melons themselves contain charantin, polypeptide-p, and vicine, which are known as hypoglycemic molecules .
9 Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
1) Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Polypeptide-p, which can be found in the fruit, seeds, and tissue of the fruit Momordica Charantia (or bitter melon), was found to contain hypoglycemic effects. Hypoglycemic effects are those that lower blood sugar levels .
Animal and human studies both showed that the polypeptide-p reduced blood sugar levels. For the human studies, both early and mature diabetic patients showed reduced blood sugar levels .
All early diabetic patients showed no side effects due to the polypeptide-p .
2) Has Antimicrobial Properties
The leaves of the bitter melon are known to have antimicrobial properties. They are especially useful against the microbes E. Coli, Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella among others .
Due to these antimicrobial properties, topically rubbing bitter melon fruit powder to sites of injury has been shown to promote wound healing and tissue regeneration in rats .
The essential oil derived from the seeds of the bitter melon was also seen to have antifungal properties .
The fruit and seeds of the bitter melon have been shown to contain antiviral properties .
Alpha-momocharin, also from bitter melon, also was shown to have anti-HIV activity. It inhibited the replication of lymphocytes that had been infected by HIV .
4) Lowers Blood Fat Levels
The bitter melon was shown to reduce the amount of apolipoprotein B and reduce the formation of apolipoprotein C, which is known as “bad” cholesterol. On the other hand, the bitter melon increased the formation of apolipoprotein A-1, which is a major component of “good” cholesterol .
5) Has Anticancer Properties
The lectins were seen to inhibit both protein and DNA synthesis in leukemic lymphocytes (see an antiviral section for the definition of lymphocytes) .
When mice were subjected to skin carcinogens to bring about tumors and cancer, extracts from the fruit of the bitter melon were shown to offer the mice protection from the tumors and increase life expectancy .
In the same studies, fat degradation in the liver and damage to DNA in lymphocytes which were carcinogen-derived were reduced after bitter melon treatment .
BC-2 cells are involved in the creation of tumors and the suppression of apoptosis (cell death) .
By suppressing the growth of these BC-2 cells, MAP30 is seen to be able to be used as a therapeutic agent against tumors of AIDS-origin .
6) Can be Used to Cure Ulcers
The fruits of the bitter melon have been used in Turkish folk medicine for the treatment of peptic ulcers .
The extract not only cured ulcers but was also seen to have an inhibitory effect .
7) Can Help with Pain
Studies in mice and rats showed that extracts from the seeds of the bitter melon had analgesic effects. Analgesic simply means relief from pain .
Two different methods to measure pain were used (a writhing and tail-clip assay) and both showed that the bitter melon extract decreased the amount of pain in rats and mice .
In mice, compared to the control group using morphine, the maximum effect of the extract was similar to the effect of morphine showcasing the effectiveness of the extract and its analgesic properties .
8) Can Slow the Process of Blood Clotting
The bitter melon includes a protein called a trypsin inhibitor, which is in a subset of proteins called proteases. The bitter melon has both trypsin inhibitor I and II .
These trypsin inhibitors were seen to inhibit key factors in the blood clotting process such as XIIa and Xa although at different levels .
By inhibiting these factors, the time it takes for the blood to clot increased. Other studied inhibitors from similar plants to the bitter melon that slowed blood clotting also had strong effects on XIIa, so there is strong evidence to show that this family of inhibitors target XIIa to slow clotting .
9) Can be Used to Fight Obesity
Possible Bitter Melon Side Effects
α-trichosanthin along with α-momorcharin, which can be found from the seeds of the bitter melon, have been shown to inhibit pregnancy during the stage of embryonic implantation in pregnant mice .
α-trichosanthin has also been tested in women and during days 9 – 14 of pregnancy, the α-trichosanthin has been shown to induce abortions .
The α-trichosanthin and α-momorcharin impaired the development of blastocysts in mice so that many of the blastocysts actually did not hatch in cell studies .
-momorcharin, which can also be found in the seeds of the bitter melon, was also seen to terminate an early pregnancy in a similar manner to that of α-trichosanthin .
The -momorcharin blocked the attachment of the blastocyst and also kept embryos from hatching in mice .
Causes Infertility in Men
Rat studies have shown that large amounts of bitter melon extracts reduced the size of major reproductive organs such as the seminiferous tubules, testes, prostate glands, seminal vesicles and the epididymides .
The seminiferous tubules contained the major damage as the extract was seen to cause degeneration of the tubules, shedding of the outermost layers of the membranes, and reduction of the diameters
The same studies showed that the extracts also decreased the number of sperm in the rats and their motility as well .
All these symptoms were seen to cause temporary infertility in the male rats. However, when the treatment ended, so did infertility .
Other Side Effects
The seeds of the bitter melon contain a molecule called vicine .
Vicine, which was first found in the fava bean, has been shown to produce favism. Favism is a disease where red blood cells break down when exposed to different medications .
Although there have been no cases of bitter melon bringing about favism, the presence of vicine should warrant caution in people who are susceptible to favism .
The red arils of the bitter melon have also been seen as possibly toxic to children .
Due to the anti-pregnancy effects of the bitter melon, pregnant women are advised not to eat bitter melons as it may cause premature birth or abortion .
Because of the hypoglycemic effects of the bitter melon, people with diabetes that are taking medications to lower their blood sugar levels may have their blood sugar lowered to too far a level after bitter melon ingestion .
Seeds of the bitter melon were seen to reduce protein synthesis through lectins .
The lectins reduce protein synthesis by changing ribosomes in the body. Ribosomes are essential for protein synthesis. By altering the ribosomes, the lectins make the ribosomes unable to properly synthesize proteins .
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