Momordica Charantia and Diabetes Control (Facts about Bitter Melon)

Doctors and researchers have been studying the relationship between momordica charantia and diabetes control for many years. Since it is eaten fairly commonly in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean, one medical concern has been over possible momordica charantia side effects. Here, we provide a description of the plant and an overview of its historical and modern day uses, as well as highlights of research about momordica charantia and diabetes.

Momordica charantia, commonly known as Bitter melon, bitter gourd or Karela, is a vegetable that grows on a vine and is similar looking, at least on the outside, to a cucumber. The flavor, as the common names imply, is very bitter, becoming more so as the fruit ripens and eventually becoming impossible to eat.

In China, it is sometimes used as an ingredient in stir fries, soups and teas. In Pakistan and India, it is prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt or stuffed with spices and fried in oil. In the Philippines, where the shoots and leaves are used for salad greens and the melon is served in various dishes, it is known as ampalaya. Also, in the Philippines, bitter melon tea is used among the poor for controlling high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

The understanding that there was a relationship between momordica charantia and diabetes control likely began with an ancient system of medicine known as Ayurvedic. This system of medicine dates back to at least 1000BC and is widely practiced throughout much of India today. Doctors of Ayurvedic Medicine take a holistic approach to the treatment of all diseases, focusing on mind, body and spirit, rather than the body alone. Thus, they do not consider momordica charantia a “cure” for diabetes, but simply one element used in treating the disease and its complications.

In any system of medicine, it is important that doctors and patients discuss diet and the use of over the counter remedies. Concerns over momordica charantia side effects are due largely to a lack of communication between many doctors and their patients. Also, there is a lack of understanding about natural remedies for diseases, i.e. momordica charantia and diabetes control.

Published Research

Over the years, researchers studying the relationship between momordica charantia and diabetes, blood sugar levels, glucose tolerance, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, etc. have noted the following:

o In 1981, “These results show that karela improves glucose tolerance in diabetes,” was published in the British Medical Journal.

o In 1981, in the Journal of Natural Products, “A hypoglycemic peptide, polypeptide-p, has been isolated from fruit, seeds and tissue of momordica charantia…is a very effective hypoglycemic agent when administered subcutaneously to gerbils, langurs and humans.”

o In 1985, at the Foundation for Diabetes Research in Edinburgh, it was found that the only momordica charantia side effects in normal mice were improved glucose tolerance. In diabetic mice, “the level of hyperglycemia was reduced by 50% after 5 hours.

o In 1986, in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, “The fruit juice of Momordica charantia was found to significantly improve glucose tolerance of 73% of patients investigated.

o In 1988 at the Department of Biochemistry in Asarva, India, it was found that along with lowering blood sugar levels, positive momordica charantia side effects included delayed formation of diabetic cataracts in an animal study. A later study in 2002 confirmed these results.

o In 1993, a study concerning momordica charantia side effects indicates that there is no hypoglycemic affect in non-diabetic controls, food intake is normal, growth and weight are normal, i.e. no negative side effects.

Between the years of 1989 and 2006, there have been at least 40 different animal studies similar to the ones mentioned above concerning momordica charantia and diabetes control, all with positive results. As the years have gone by, focus has shifted from whether or not it works to how it works and what is the proper dosage. In the latest published research, in 2007, scientists asked for additional large scale placebo controlled clinical trials. Whether or not these studies will become a reality is unknown, but is unlikely, since the plant extract is already widely available in over the counter dietary supplements.

Additional positive momordica charantia side effects that have been noted over the years include lowering total cholesterol, protecting the kidneys and other organs from damage through anti-oxidant activity, stimulating amino acid uptake into muscles, improving energy levels and improving appetite. Researchers have mentioned that momordica charantia may “favorably impact the aging process”.

In Ayurvedic Medicine, it is sometimes referred to as plant insulin. Scientific evaluation has confirmed the presence of a protein similar to bovine insulin and that, in the laboratory; it “acts” like insulin.

Of all the studies that have been conducted concerning momordica charantia and diabetes, only one showed no effect, and one was inconclusive. Even though conventional practitioners may consider the evidence inconclusive, there is a large amount of supportive evidence and no negative momordica charantia side effects have been noted.

To learn more about new dietary supplements that contain momordica charantia and other natural extracts designed to lower blood sugar levels, please visit the Diabetes Type II Info Guide.