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Top 9 Bitter Melon Benefits (Momordica Charantia) + Risks

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology) | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

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Bitter Melon

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 [1].

Its fruit, which is known to be super bitter, are used for cooking and also as an anti-diabetic compound [1].

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 ACE, B1B2B3, and B9. Some minerals include potassium, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron [1].

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 [1].

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 [2].

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 [2].

All early diabetic patients showed no side effects due to the polypeptide-p [2].

Although bovine insulin is mainly used to treat diabetes mellitus, bitter melon is being seen as a better replacement to bovine insulin as bitter melon is a plant and may be less antigenic [2].

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 [3].

The fruit of the bitter melon also can be used to fight bacteria. The fruit has been used to fight off tuberculosis and H. pylori, which causes stomach ulcers [3].

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 [3].

The essential oil derived from the seeds of the bitter melon was also seen to have antifungal properties [4].

3) Has Antiviral Properties

The fruit and seeds of the bitter melon have been shown to contain antiviral properties [5].

The bitter melon was seen to activate lymphocytes, which are a subset of white blood cells in the immune system. Lymphocytes include natural killer cells, B cells, and T cells [5].

Bitter melon seeds contain antiviral proteins called MAP30, which have been shown to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) replication and infection [6].

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 [7].

4) Lowers Blood Fat Levels

Diabetic rats which were treated with bitter melon extracts showed a marked decrease in the levels of fat in the blood. The main fats that showed a decrease was cholesterol and triglycerides [8].

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 [8].

5) Has Anticancer Properties

Lectins isolated from the seeds of the bitter melon have been shown to have anticancer properties [9].

The lectins were seen to inhibit both protein and DNA synthesis in leukemic lymphocytes (see an antiviral section for the definition of lymphocytes) [9].

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 [10].

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 [10].

Other studies have shown that MAP30, which have antiviral properties, can inhibit the growth of HIV cells (BC-2) in AIDS patient [11].

BC-2 cells are involved in the creation of tumors and the suppression of apoptosis (cell death) [11].

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 [11].

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 [12].

To study this treatment further, ulcers created by alcohol were treated with an olive oil extract of the fruit of the bitter melon in rats. This treatment did seem to have an anti-ulcer effect [12].

The extract not only cured ulcers but was also seen to have an inhibitory effect [12].

The study also focused on ulcers formed with indomethacin and diethyldithiocarbamate and the extract also showed positive effects [12].

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 [13].

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 [13].

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 [13].

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 [14].

These trypsin inhibitors were seen to inhibit key factors in the blood clotting process such as XIIa and Xa although at different levels [14].

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 [14].

9) Can be Used to Fight Obesity

Bitter melon increases the activity of AMPK. This protein allows for more glucose usage, where the glucose will be turned into starch and energy for the body to use [8].

Because of the elevated use of the AMPK, the body undergoes glucose shortages and the body uses fats instead of energy. Continued use of these fats for energy eventually leads to weight loss [8].

Possible Bitter Melon Side Effects

Inhibits Pregnancy

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 [15].

α-trichosanthin has also been tested in women and during days 9 – 14 of pregnancy, the α-trichosanthin has been shown to induce abortions [15].

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 [15].

-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 [16].

The -momorcharin blocked the attachment of the blastocyst and also kept embryos from hatching in mice [16].

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 [17].

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 [17].

All these symptoms were seen to cause temporary infertility in the male rats. However, when the treatment ended, so did infertility [17].

Other Side Effects

The seeds of the bitter melon contain a molecule called vicine [1].

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 [1].

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 [1].

The red arils of the bitter melon have also been seen as possibly toxic to children [8].

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 [1].

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 [1].

Seeds of the bitter melon were seen to reduce protein synthesis through lectins [18].

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 [18].

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About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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