Is Bitter Melon Poisonous?

Bitter melon is a tropical fruit that goes by several names, including bitter gourd, bitter cucumber and wild cucumber. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, clinical studies on the plant suggest that it may be effective as a diabetes and cancer treatment. Still, you should be aware of its poisonous and toxic properties to prevent dangerous conditions. Check with a doctor before self-treating with bitter melon.

Bitter melons for sale at a market.
Credit: Kinsei-TGS/iStock/Getty Images

Identification

Bitter melon is a tropical climbing vine that produces a foul smell and cucumberlike fruits. The fruits are yellow-orange in color with a bumpy exterior. Ripe bitter melon fruit form brown and white seeds inside a red-colored pulp. Bitter melon originates from the tropical areas of Asia, Africa and Australia, where the leaves are a food source and the seeds and fruit are used for medical purposes. Areas with warm, tropical summers are able to cultivate bitter melon.

Toxicity

The red arils that cover the seeds of bitter melon are poisonous to humans. Consuming this part of the fruit causes a reaction that includes vomiting, diarrhea and possibly death, according to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Keep all parts of the plant away from children, who are at a higher risk of a toxic reaction. WomensHealth.gov reports that bitter melon fruit may be dangerous during pregnancy.

Drug Interactions

Some people consume bitter melon supplements or the plant and seeds as a treatment for diabetes, due to the insulinlike polypeptides present in bitter melon. The University of Colorado at Denver warns against consuming bitter melon while on diabetes medication to prevent a interaction with some antidiabetic drugs. Bitter melon may reduce blood glucose, resulting in a hypoglycemic condition. Consult with your physician before consuming bitter melon in supplement or plant form.

Concerns

The University of Colorado at Denver recommends consuming bitter melon as a supplement for a period less than four weeks at a time. All parts of bitter melon are toxic when consumed in large quantities. Side effects of consuming too much bitter melon include headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting.

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