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. Its most well-known benefits are the ability to help manage diabetes, reduce the effects of hemorrhoids, improve respiratory health, and boost skin health. It is said to 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, it is a staple in various cultural cuisines across the world.
What is Bitter Melon?
Bitter melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, same as squashes, melons, and gourds. It is why the fruit is known by at least three distinctive names, depending on where in the world you are eating this herbaceous vine. This 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. However, its origins have been traced 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 used in the cuisine of some cultures.
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Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Consuming bitter gourd, scientifically known as Momordica charantia, 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:
According to a 2005 study, bitter melon is one of the most potent fruits for managing diabetes mellitus. There are significant levels of charantin (peptides that resemble insulin), and alkaloids within the fleshy fruit. These components actively help in reducing the blood sugar levels. It also helps to prevent unpredictable spikes and drops in insulin levels by regulating the metabolism and using the sugar consumed by the body. 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 skincare. Bitter gourd is also effective in treating various skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis.
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 its 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!
Watch Video: 7 Amazing Benefits Of Bitter Melon
The LWT – Food Science and Technology journal has covered a study suggesting that 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 diseases such as heart attack, kidney damage, and liver failure.
According to a paper titled ‘Bitter melon: a panacea for inflammation and cancer’, the plant extract inhibits cancer cell growth by inducing apoptosis, cell cycle arrest, autophagy and inhibiting cancer stem cells. The study also mentions that cucurbitane type triterpenoids, a major class of compounds found in bitter melon, possess a wide variety of biological activities, including anticancer activity.
Dr. Ratna Ray, associated with the Cancer Center, Saint Louis University, USA, in her research, says “Bitter melon offers great potential in the fight against cancer by inhibiting the carcinogenesis process through the regulation of cell homeostasis and cell-death machineries.”
Furthermore, karaviloside III found in M. charantia is said to have exhibited excellent inhibitory activity in a 2019 paper published in the Phytochemistry. It was noted that the compound may have potential to be developed as a chemotherapy agent for the treatment of hepatic fibrosis or carcinoma and protection against both diseases.
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.
A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests that 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.
Some people are sensitive to dehydrogenase deficiency, which bitter melons can cause. The symptoms of this are similar to anemia and 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.