Diabetes, a chronic disease of insulin deficiency or resistance characterized by disturbances in carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, can lead to heart disease, stroke, renal failure, blindness and death. According to the National Diabetes Education Program, almost 26 million people in the United States have diabetes. While the need exists for further scientific studies, the fruit of the bitter melon herb may help treat diabetes and reduce injected insulin-dependency. Due to safety issues, consult your physician before use.
About Bitter Melon
Indigenous to southern Asia, bitter melon is a climbing vine that thrives in tropical and subtropical climates. It grows to 6 feet tall and has deeply lobed leaves and yellow flowers. A member of the gourd family, bitter melon's long, warty, cucumber-like fruit has a lengthy history of therapeutic use. In folk medicine, the plant has seen use as a remedy for colds, flu and fever. Traditionally it is used as a treatment for digestive disorders, parasites, worms, skin diseases and diabetes.
Bitter Melon Benefits
While bitter melon can't completely eliminate the need for injected insulin, one of its chemical compounds has the ability to lower blood sugar levels in patients with type 1 diabetes. Polypeptide-p, unlike insulin, does not support the absorption of fat by fat cells, thus giving it credence as a replacement for some of the injected insulin that type 1 diabetics take on a daily basis, asserts Phyllis A. Balch, certified nutritional consultant and author of the book "Prescription for Herbal Healing." Charantin, another key constituent of bitter melon, allows the pancreas to create more insulin. Balch claims that this makes bitter melon more effective than tolbutamide, a popular drug for type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, Balch writes that lab studies show that bitter melon juice appears to decrease oxidative stress caused by diabetes; oxidative stress leads to atherosclerotic plaques, or accumulations of fat in the lining of artery walls.
Asian food markets commonly sell bitter melon in whole fruit form or as a juice. You should drink approximately 50 to 100 ml of fresh juice, divided into three doses during the day. Michael Murray, a naturopath and the author of the book "The Healing Power of Herbs," calls the juice bitter and unpalatable but suggests, "If you want the medicinal effects, simply plug your nose and take a 2-ounce shot."
Although used in Asia as a food, bitter melon juice has some safety concerns. Excessive use can cause stomach pain and diarrhea. Combined with insulin or conventional diabetes drugs, bitter melon may amplify the reduction of blood sugar, resulting in extremely low blood sugar levels. Diabetes patients taking medication should consult a doctor before using the herb, as should children and pregnant and nursing women. According to Phyllis A. Balch, animal lab studies indicate that using bitter melon daily for several years may lead to elevations in liver enzymes, so avoid the herb if you have cirrhosis or a history of hepatitis.
- National Diabetes Education Program: The Facts About Diabetes: A Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.
- The National Bitter Melon Council: Bitter Melon
- "Prescription for Herbal Healing"; Phyllis A. Balch; 2002
- "The Healing Power of Herbs"; Michael Murray; 1995
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: Bitter Melon