Bitter melon is just that: bitter. However, bitterness isn’t the only quality this plant provides. It contains lots of different compounds that give it health benefits.
One of these is that it helps to lower blood sugar levels. This is something that can be helpful to those with diabetes or even prediabetes. Below we will talk about what bitter melon is and its effects are on blood sugar and hemoglobin a1c.
We will then go into risks, side effects, forms, and doses of bitter melon. We will also discuss practical applications of bitter melon as we talk about nutrition information, recipe tips, and how to reduce the bitter taste.
We will even go into other ways that you can naturally lower your blood sugar. Let’s talk about bitter melon and your health and wellbeing.
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What Is Bitter Melon?
Its Latin name, Momordica charantia, also know bitter melon. Some people also refer to it as “bitter gourd” or “bitter karela melon.” Bitter melon belongs to the Curcurbitaceous family of plants.
Other plants in this same family include Coccinia indica, which is also hypoglycemic in nature. People all over the world cultivate bitter melon, including the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, the Amazon, east Africa, and the Caribbean. Bitter melon is often used as a vegetable and in folk medicine as well.
What Are The Effects Of Bitter Melon On Diabetes?
Bitter melon leads to significant decreases in blood glucose levels compared to placebo. It greatly improves hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
One study looked at the effects of bitter melon in patients with type 2 diabetes over a four-week span. Patients in this study took bitter melon at a dose of either 500, 1000, or 2000 milligrams per day.
One group received 1000 milligrams per day of metformin instead of bitter melon. Researchers found that bitter melon had a hypoglycemic effect. It significantly reduced blood sugar levels from baseline. This was especially true for the group who took 2000 milligrams per day.
Another study looked at 95 different patients. They were put into three different groups. One group took two grams of bitter melon. Another group took four grams of bitter melon. The final group took five milligrams of glibenclamide. This study went for ten weeks. Researchers found that bitter melon was able to lower blood glucose levels significantly.
Scientists have found that one of the ways bitter melon works is by decreasing the intestines’ uptake of glucose. It also increases the uptake and use of glucose in the body’s tissues.
Hemoglobin A1C levels
A study looked at 24 patients over a span of three months. They took either 2000 milligrams per day of bitter melon or a placebo. They found that the group taking bitter melon had a significant decrease in their hemoglobin a1c levels.
Bitter melon also has other effects on the body. Some are related to diabetes, while others are not. Bitter melon’s medicinal properties, according to human and animal studies, include the following:
- Accelerates and improves wound healing in patients with diabetes
- Protects brain function
- Protects cholesterol levels (by suppressing adipocyte differentiation)
- Improves spatial memory performance
- Improves fatty liver in those with type 2 diabetes
- Reduces pain and improves symptoms of osteoarthritis
- Improves running endurance in athletes
- Anticancer (breast cancer, skin cancer, etc.): induces cell death, cell cycle arrest, and inhibits cancer stem cells
Potential Risks And Side Effects
When it comes to risks and side effects, bitter melon doesn’t have many.
One thing to watch out for is if you are taking other medications or supplements to lower blood sugar. It may have additive effects, meaning it could lower your blood sugar too much. Monitor your blood sugar carefully if you are taking other medications or supplements for your blood sugar.
Some adverse effects have been reported concerning bitter melon. They are as follows:
- Reduced fertility
- Hypoglycemic coma
- Increase in liver enzymes (alkaline phosphatase and gamma-glutamyltransferase)
As always, pregnant women should take extra care. Be sure to let your health care provider know if you are pregnant and interested in trying bitter melon as a supplement.
Forms And Doses Of Bitter Melon
You can consume bitter melon in any of the following forms:
- Melon juice
- Isolated compound
Research shows that an effective dose of bitter melon in the treatment of people with diabetes is 2000 milligrams per day.
Bitter melon is one of those medicinal plants where all parts are used. It is commonly consumed and cooked with other vegetables.
Bitter melon can be stir-fried, stuffed, or used in small quantities in soups or beans. As the name describes it, bitter melon gives food a bitter taste.
Bitter is rich in many different bioactive chemical compounds, including the following:
- Cucurbitane type triterpenoids
- Triterpene glycosides
The most prevalent ingredients found in bitter melon are rutin and epicatechin. Rutin is highest in the leaves. Epicatechin is highest in the flowers and fruits of the plant.
Bitter melon gets its antioxidant properties from the tannins, vitamin C, and flavonoids.
You can simply eat bitter melon as a fruit. Or, you can make it into karela juice. If you would like to add it to your food in powder form, you can make a powder out of bitter melon seeds. You can also make what’s called a decoction or bitter melon tea.
You do this by boiling pieces of the melon in water. You can also take bitter melon as a herbal supplement. Bitter melon is relatively easy to find, as it is offered in Asian grocery stores.
Reducing the bitterness
Believe it or not, there are studies out there that determine the best way to cover up the bitterness of bitter melon.
One such study looked at 50 different patients in Hawaii. They evaluated consumption information and whether the patients would have bitter melon again in the future.
Researchers found that tomato-based recipes seemed to work best as compared to recipes containing spices like curry powder. The researchers concluded that incorporating bitter melon into commonly consumed food dishes, especially those with tomato, can mask the bitter taste.
Other Ways To Naturally Lower Blood Sugar
A diet that is low in carbohydrates can help to lower blood sugar. This could be a high protein diet or a high-fat diet, such as the ketogenic diet. One study looked at 14 healthy females and their glycemic score.
Researchers gave them 1000 kJ of glucose three times within three weeks. They would also give them a low glycemic test food on separate days twice per week. Researchers found that the low glycemic test foods produced a significantly lower glycemic response compared to the glucose.
The average blood glucose levels after glucose intake were 122 mg/dL. But the average blood glucose levels after the intake of low glucose test foods was just 89 mg/dL.
The fact that these test foods had such a low impact on blood sugar levels after a meal shows that they would be useful in diabetes. A low carbohydrate diet that is either high in protein or fat would be a good choice for a person with diabetes.
Exercise is usually one of the first things advised to patients with type 2 diabetes. Together with the proper dietary and lifestyle changes, exercise is essential to the treatment of diabetes.
It doesn’t matter whether you do cardio or weight training for skeletal muscle, or a combination of these. Any of these will improve the regulation of glucose in the body. High-intensity interval training is also effective. One added bonus? High-intensity interval training is highly time-efficient.
Researchers analyzed six adults with type 2 diabetes. They had them participate in a laboratory procedure to look at the effects of an acute stressor on blood sugar levels.
The participants then went home but continued to have their stress, and blood sugar monitored. The results showed that blood sugar levels went up with stress levels. Spikes in blood glucose were higher on high-stress days. These findings show us that stress increases levels of blood glucose.
There are several different natural ways to manage diabetes mellitus. They operate using different mechanisms of action to help manage symptoms and/or treat the root cause of diabetes.
Alpha-lipoic acid is a natural remedy that can be used to help in the management of diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid is effective at lowering blood sugar levels.
Alpha-lipoic acid can lead to significant improvement in pain, numbness, peripheral nerve conductance, sensory symptoms, decreased nerve fiber degeneration, and improved neuropathy and endoneurial function. But alpha lipoic acid doesn’t just help with nerve-related symptoms.
It has also been found to reduce markers of oxidative stress and to inhibit copper and iron-mediated oxidative damage.
Cinnamon isn’t just a tasty spice. It’s also medicinal, particularly in the management of diabetes! In patients with HbA1c higher than 7.0, it can help to significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels. It is also helpful in managing cholesterol levels of those with diabetes.
Cinnamon has been shown to reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides. It also helps to increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“good” cholesterol).
Chromium is a micromineral that is often used in the management of diabetes. Chromium works by helping to lower fasting blood glucose levels. Chromium is a helpful supplement in diabetes treatment, but there is a risk of a minor interaction with metformin. This happens due to added drug effects, which lead to increased effects of metformin specifically.
Gymnema Sylvestre is a herb that helps with the regeneration and repair of the beta cells of the pancreas. These are the cells that produce insulin in a healthy person. Beta cells may have difficulty with this in someone with insulin resistance or insulin sensitivity.
When beta cells in someone with diabetes are repaired, this raises serum insulin levels, which then helps to bring down blood glucose. It is also good at assisting patients in getting to the point where they can decrease the dose of their conventional diabetes medications, such as metformin or glibenclamide.
Finally, Coccinia cordifolia is a herb known for its hypoglycemic actions. Compared to placebo, Coccinia cordifolia significantly decreases fasting blood glucose, postprandial glucose, and HbA1c.
Although there are some supplement-medication interactions to look out for, there are several supplements that actually are safe to take with metformin (alpha-lipoic acid, for example). Just be sure to check with your health care provider to see what is and is not safe for you to take.
Our hope is that we have clarified the mechanisms behind bitter melon for you. Now that you know more about this wonder plant and how to use it, you can incorporate it into your lifestyle. If you have diabetes, prediabetes, or even just insulin resistance, bitter melon could be helpful.
Bitter melon could be especially beneficial for those with metabolic syndrome. This is a condition that involves high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol levels.
Bitter melon is helpful with multiple of these situations related to lipid metabolism. Be sure to contact your health care provider first, though.
It is always a good idea to ask a health care professional if any herb or supplement is right for you before self-prescribing or trying it on your own. See your primary health care provider today and ask if bitter melon might be right for you.