Bitter Melon, also commonly known as bitter gourd or bitter squash in some western , has a wealth of health benefits that can be derived by including it in your diet. Some of the most well-known benefits of bitter melon are its ability to help manage diabetes, prevent and reduce symptoms of cancer, reduce the effects of hemorrhoids, improve respiratory health, improve skin health, and boost the immune system. It is also proven that bitter melon has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibiotic, anti-allergenic, antiviral, antiparasitic, and expectorant qualities. For these reasons and more, bitter melon is a staple among a number of cultural cuisines across the world.
Bitter melon is actually a member of the same family (Cucurbitaceae) as squashes, melons, and gourds, which is why it has three distinctive names, depending on where in the world you are eating this herbaceous vine. It is most commonly found in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, and its origins have been traced back to the Indian subcontinent and began to spread more than 600 years ago.
The name is well-deserved, and it is considered one of the most bitter fruits available, which does have certain culinary benefits. Ideally, the fruit is harvested before ripening, as it becomes increasingly bitter, and the fruit is long, like a cucumber, with a very warty, ridged exterior. The benefits of the fruit are found in the flesh, which has the consistency of cucumber or green pepper before ripening, when it becomes tough and extremely bitter. If the fruit allowed to ripen, a bright red pith emerges, which is also used in some cultures in their cuisine.
Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Although the fruit can be difficult to find and the timing of harvest is important, it can be a delicious way to add another nutritious and healthy food into your diet, and the number of health benefits it has is impressive. The main, well-studied benefits are listed below:
Diabetes Treatment: Bitter melon is one of the most potent fruits for managing diabetes mellitus for a few reasons. There are significant levels of charntin, peptides that resemble insulin, and alkaloids within the fleshy fruit of bitter melon. All of these components actively affect the levels of blood sugar, namely in reducing it. It also helps to prevent unpredictable spikes and drops in insulin levels by regulating the metabolism and use of sugar that the body has consumed in food. As a powerful hypoglycemic agent, bitter melon should not be used in conjunction with other medicines that lower blood sugar, because it can actually cause a dangerous lack of blood sugar in the body!
Hemorrhoid Relief: A number of studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory qualities present in bitter melon make it a very good salve for the uncomfortable condition of piles, also known as hemorrhoids. When you create a paste from the root of the bitter melon plant, you can apply it topically to reduce the inflammation and relieve pain and bleeding. If you drink bitter melon juice, you can also receive similar benefits, if you can handle the taste!
Immune System Health: Bitter melon is a source of many different antioxidants that make it a powerful defense mechanism against illness in the body. Antioxidants scavenge the body for free radicals, dangerous compounds released during cell metabolism that can cause any number of different illnesses. By adding bitter melon to your diet, you can greatly improve your chances of defending against very serious diseases, including heart attack, kidney damage, and liver failure; three of the many places where free radicals like to cause health issues.
Cancer Prevention: The antioxidants present in bitter melon may help to seek out and destroy free radicals that can cause diseases (including numerous forms of cancer), but that is not the only benefit the fruit has in terms of cancer. Bitter melon has been widely studied as an anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic agent all by itself, along with its natural boost to antioxidant numbers in the body. Primarily, studies have shown positive correlations between eating bitter melon and the prevention or reduction in tumor growth for cervical, prostate, and breast cancer patients. Some of this is due to the fruit’s ability to induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancerous cells. However, more studies are being done all the time to find out more about the powerful anti-cancer properties that this unassuming fruit seems to possess, and which other types of cancer patients it could benefit.
Respiratory Conditions: There have been a number of studies that showed bitter melon as a means of getting relief from respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and hay fever (rhinitis). It’s anti-histamine, suppressant, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and antiviral properties make it an ideal booster for respiratory health. It is recommended to eat some bitter melon before going to bed, so the soothing effects occur while you’re sleeping!
Fungal Infections: The antifungal and antibacterial qualities of bitter melon make it ideal for fighting off various fungal infections, and also helping to rid the bloodstream of those toxins before they can do any more damage. Specifically, in terms of infections and skin health, bitter melon has been useful in treating ringworm and psoriasis. Furthermore, its anti-inflammatory qualities reduce the irritating itching associated with such skin conditions and infections. The juice extracted from the leaves can be the best salve or cure for these conditions, topically applied to the affected areas.
A Few Words of Caution: The chemicals in bitter melons are powerful health tools, but should be respected as well. Pregnant women should not consume bitter melon, because it can stimulate excess menstrual bleeding, and more research must still be done on consuming bitter melon while breast-feeding, so for now, it is best to avoid it. Also, as mentioned earlier, it acts very strongly to reduce blood sugar levels, which can become dangerous, particularly in the time leading up to and after surgical procedures.
Finally, some people are particularly sensitive to dehydrogenase deficiency, which bitter melon can cause. The symptoms of this are similar to anemia, and also include headaches, fevers, and stomach pains. This is a very powerful fruit, and it is highly recommended that you speak with your doctor or physician before adding it to your diet.