Bitter Gourd – Health benefits and side effects

By on January 25, 2013
bitter gourd

It is one of the healthiest vegetables known to man. Apart from being eaten mainly as vegetable, it is particularly reputed as a folk medicine due to its therapeutic properties

Bitter gourd is the English name of Momordica charantia. It looks like a hideous, light green cucumber and it tastes very bitter. There are two varieties of this vegetable. It is mostly found in tropical parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and South America.
It has numerous vital vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorous, Copper and Potassium. There are many health reasons why you should take this bitter vegetable seriously.

Beneficial Effects are given below

Diabetes: The bitter gourd is particularly used as a remedy for diabetes because of its hypoglycemic action. It contains insulin-like peptides, alkaloids and charantin, all of which act together to lower blood and urine sugar levels without increasing blood insulin levels. These compounds activate a protein called AMPK, which is well known for regulating fuel metabolism and enabling glucose uptake, processes which are impaired in diabetics. You can take the juice of 4-5 bitter gourds every morning on an empty stomach, add seeds in powdered form to food or prepare a decoction by boiling the pieces of this fruit in water. If you are taking medications to lower your blood sugar, adding bitter gourd might make your blood sugar drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.

  • Blood Purification: It has blood-purifying properties. As a result, the juice is used in the treatment of blood disorders like blood boils and itching due to blood poisoning. Have it little by little on an empty stomach daily, in 4-6 months you will see enhancement in your state.
  • Piles: Fresh juice of bitter gourd is good for patients suffering from piles. Take a mixture of bitter melon juice and buttermilk every morning for about a month and you will see an improvement. A paste of the roots of bitter gourd plant can also be applied over piles to get a favorable result.
  • Good for stomach: It contains cellulose which is a very good source of fiber thus preventing constipation. It also good digestive agent and helps in stimulating the secretion of gastric juices. This can be very helpful for people with dyspepsia. However, sometimes it may worsen heartburn and ulcers.
  • Aids weight loss: It stimulates liver for secretion of bile juices that are very essential for metabolism of fats. Thus, if you want to have a perfect, slim figure, then bitter gourd can help you.
  • Eye care: It has high amount of beta-carotene that helps alleviate eye problems and improving eyesight.
  • Alcoholism: It is an antidote for alcohol intoxication, and helps purify, restore and nourish liver. Its juice is also beneficial in the treatment of a bad hangover.
  • Cholera: Fresh juice of leaves of bitter gourd is also a useful medication in early stages of cholera.
  • Immune booster: A glass of bitter gourd juice in the morning can help to strengthen your immune system and increase your body’s fighting power against infection. Researchers hypothesize that bitter melon is as an immunomodulator. One clinical trial found limited evidence that bitter melon might improve immune cell function in people with cancer.
  • Skin care: Bitter gourd is also effective in treating skin diseases or skin infections, eczema and psoriasis. It also helps in keeping the skin free from blemishes and keeps the skin glowing. The blood purifying properties make sure that you don’t get acne.
  • HIV: Laboratory tests suggest that compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection. In one preliminary clinical trial, an enema form of a bitter melon extract showed some benefits in people infected with HIV. However, more research is necessary before this could be recommended.

In fact, its extracts are already sold as pills as well and it is being marketed as a blood sugar level reducing medicine. But rather than going for an indirect method of intake why not try to eat some amount of Karela in the form of vegetable/soup/curry in your diets, to get all the benefits.
Although there are several health benefits of including bitter gourd in your diet, it is not recommended to take it in excess amounts as it can lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea. Also, pregnant women are also advised against having bitter gourd.

bitter fruit

Precautions

Only your doctor can tell you how much bitter melon you should take to control your diabetes. Your daily dosage of bitter melon may depend on a variety of factors, including your weight, age and health status. Discuss any questions you have about using bitter melon to regulate your blood sugar with your physician before beginning treatment with this natural supplement.

Recommended Dosage

Health professionals with the University of Michigan Health System recommend consuming bitter melon as a food, decoction, fresh juice or tincture. People with diabetes may consume one small melon or drink 2 oz. of fresh bitter melon juice each day. Unfortunately, the taste of bitter melon is quite unpleasant — you may find that taking the fresh juice as a shot makes the taste more tolerable. Alternatively, you can take 3.3 oz. of a bitter melon decoction daily or 1 tsp. of bitter melon tincture up to three times each day.

Side effects

Excessively Low Blood Sugar

  • Bitter melon has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. Those who take medications to lower blood sugar and bitter melon at the same time might reduce blood sugar levels too much, according to WebMD. Like high blood sugar levels, excessively low levels can also cause complications.

Liver Disease

  • Taking bitter melon for an extended period of time to control diabetes can increase your risk of developing liver inflammation. Phyllis A. Balch, author of “Prescription for Herbal Healing,” states although bitter melon doesn’t appear to damage liver tissue, long-term use of the herb can elevate liver enzymes, leading to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. For safety, have your liver enzymes checked routinely while taking bitter melon, and do not take it if you have liver disease, cirrhosis or a history of hepatitis or HIV/AIDS.

Favism

  • It’s possible to suffer an allergic-type reaction to bitter melon called favism. In particular, if you have an inherited deficiency of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, an enzyme needed by red blood cells to maintain their shape, you can have a rare allergy to vicine, a substance found in bitter melon. A deficiency of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G-6-PD, can cause favism, which is a potentially fatal allergic reaction, causing abdominal or back pain, dark urine, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and coma. Anyone can have a G-6-PD deficiency, but it is more prevalent in males of Southeast Asian, African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent.

Other Side Effects

  • Milder side effects include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but bitter melon can also cause stomach ulcers. Bitter melon is toxic to children and should only be taken by adults. Bitter melon can be used to bring on menses, so don’t take it if you are pregnant. Bitter melon can also cause irregular heartbeat, headache, decreased fertility, muscle weakness and drooling. Don’t take bitter melon with diabetes medications, corticosteroids or fertility medication.

Toxicity in Children

  • Sloan-Kettering notes that the seed coverings of bitter melon, known as arils, can have toxic effects on children. It can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and even death.

Other Effects

  • Bitter melon consumption can increase the effects of insulin. Animal studies have indicated it can cause chemically-induced liver damage. Sloan-Kettering reports of a man suffering irregular heartbeats after ingesting two tablespoons of bitter melon juice several times a day. However the report does not indicate how long he was taking the supplement.

Warning for Pregnant Women

  • Pregnant women should not use bitter melon in any form. It can trigger contractions, and according to WebMD, animal studies indicate it can induce abortion. Breastfeeding women should also refrain from using bitter melon as it is not known whether it would have negative effects.

Unpleasant Drug Interactions

  • People with diabetes who receive drug therapy to control their blood sugar levels shouldn’t take bitter melon. Medications of concern include insulin, glipizide, glimepiride and pioglitazone. When used in combination with bitter melon, these treatments may significantly increase your risk of developing hypoglycemia.

ripe bitter fruit

Image courtesy : enchantingkerala.org , sapsiamfood.com , wikimedia.org

12 Comments

  1. ravi menon tharoor

    January 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I am a community pharmacist and the information provided here will be extremely useful while counselling our customers.

    • ethnichealth

      January 25, 2013 at 11:49 am

      Thanks for the support :)

  2. zubair kandakkott

    February 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    good…wery help full

  3. zubair kandakkott

    February 23, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    am all wys share ur post..add me ur all post

  4. Ramany.K.Muraly

    February 23, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    good information….

  5. renjini prince

    February 23, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    very good information

  6. jokkuttan

    May 3, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    bitter gourd godd for sex stimulation

  7. Jue

    June 6, 2013 at 11:42 am

    When I was pregnant with my 3rd..I craved so much on any bitter gourd recipes. I started like on my 2nd trimester and have not experience any contraction neither bleeding. Instead, I delivered a healthy baby boy … the only thing is…he came 3 weeks earlier than the expected date but everything goes well. I as well used bitter gourd leaves juice to rid of phlegm on my children as when they suffer cough with phlegm. Just 1 teaspoon per consumption (but not advise to take daily but depends on how severe is the cough and phlegm. I did like 5 days gap from the 1st day consumption). The phlegm will either come out thru bowel where you will notice icky mucus with the faeces or vomits/puke. I have done this since my 3rd was like 8mths (now 2y/o). It seems like the leaves helped strengthen their immune system since they rarely got sick and even survive thru the flu season…just sharing.

    • ethnichealth

      June 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks jue, for sharing the valuable information. Please do continue.

  8. Funmi

    June 13, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Very detailed useful information ,thanks

  9. ibrahim m.p

    June 28, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    thanks for the advice bitter gourd sharing the valuable information pls. do the needful again.
    more people suffering with diabetes

  10. sarah

    February 15, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    thanks for sharing these tips with us.

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