Bitter Melon, commonly known as bitter gourd or bitter squash, has a wealth of health benefits that can be derived by including it in your diet. The most well-known benefits of bitter melon are its ability to help manage diabetes, reduce the effects of hemorrhoids, improve respiratory health, and boost skin health. It can strengthen the immune system, and prevent and reduce symptoms of cancer too. Bitter melon has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antibiotic, anti-allergenic, antiviral, antiparasitic, and expectorant qualities. For all these reasons and many more, bitter melon is a staple among a number of cultural cuisines across the world.
What is Bitter Melon?
Bitter melon is 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. The fruit has a very warty, ridged exterior and is harvested before ripening, as it becomes increasingly bitter.
It is most commonly found in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, and its origins have been traced back to the Indian subcontinent. It began to spread more than 600 years ago.
The name is well-deserved, and it is considered one of the most bitter fruits available with certain culinary benefits. The benefits of the fruit are found in its flesh, which has the consistency of cucumber or green pepper before it ripens. If the fruit is allowed to ripen, a bright red pith emerges, which is also used in some cultures in their cuisines.
Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Consuming bitter melon is an assured way to add another nutritious food to your diet, and the number of health benefits it has is impressive. The well-studied benefits are listed below:
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. These components actively help in reducing the blood sugar levels. Bitter melon also helps to prevent unpredictable spikes and drops in insulin levels by regulating the metabolism and use of sugar the body has consumed. It is a powerful hypoglycemic agent so avoid its use if taking medicines that lower blood sugar!
Bitter melon is known as an effective blood purifier. The antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of the gourd help in purification of the blood, thereby promoting skin care. Bitter gourd is also effective in treating various skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis.
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. A paste created from the root of the bitter melon plant can be applied topically to reduce the inflammation and relieve pain and bleeding. If you can handle the bitter taste, drink bitter melon juice to receive similar benefits!
Bitter melon is a source of many different antioxidants that make it a powerful defense against illnesses in the body. Antioxidants scavenge the body for free radicals and dangerous compounds released during cell metabolism that can cause different illnesses. By adding bitter melon to your diet, you can greatly improve your chances of defending against very diseases, including heart attack, kidney damage, and liver failure.
The antioxidants present in bitter melon can 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 antioxidant properties. Primarily, studies have shown positive correlations between eating bitter melon and the prevention or reduction of 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 to find out more about the powerful anti-cancer properties that this fruit seems to possess.
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 can occur while you’re asleep!
The antifungal and antibacterial qualities of bitter melon make it ideal for fighting off various fungal infections. These properties also help to get rid of any toxins in the bloodstream before they can cause any more damage.
Bitter melon, rich in anti-inflammatory properties, helps reduce the irritating itching linked with skin conditions and infections such as ringworm and psoriasis. The juice extracted from its leaves can be the best salve or cure for these conditions when topically applied to the affected areas.
Word of Caution: Avoid consuming bitter melon during pregnancy as it can stimulate excess menstrual bleeding. More research is done on consuming bitter melon while breastfeeding, so for now, it is best to avoid it. Also, as mentioned earlier, it acts very strongly to reduce blood sugar levels, so should be avoided pre and post-surgical procedures.
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.