Bitter Melon


Article Outline
  1. 1. Composition
    1. 1.1. Cucurbitacins
    2. 1.2. Nutrients
  2. 2. Healing Properties
    1. 2.1. Antibacterial (antibiotic)
    2. 2.2. Anti-inflammatory
    3. 2.3. Immunomodulator
    4. 2.4. Antiviral
    5. 2.5. Antidiabetic
      1. 2.5.1. Glucose Regulation
      2. 2.5.2. Glucose Tolerance
      3. 2.5.3. Hypoglycemic
    6. 2.6. Exercise & Training
    7. 2.7. Anticancer
  3. 3. Disease / Symptom Treatment
    1. 3.1. Diabetes
      1. 3.1.1. Carbohydrate Digestion
  4. 4. Adverse Effects
    1. 4.1. Sex-related variations

Bitter Melon or Bitter cucumber (also known as the balsam pear, bitter gourd, and karela) is the fruit of the Momordica charantia plant. It is a part of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae), which includes melon, pumpkin, squash, and cucumber.

The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large, flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit’s flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.

Composition

Bitter Melon contains a number of chemical compounds.

  • The pulp around the seeds of the mature Bitter Melon is rich in the carotenoid lycopene.[1]

Cucurbitacins

Cucurbitacins are chemically classified as triterpenes.

  • Five cucurbitacins, kuguacins A-E (1-5), together with three known analogs, 3beta, 7beta, 25-trihydroxycucurbita-5, (23E)-diene-19- al, 3beta, 25-dihydroxy-5beta, 19-epoxycucurbita-6, (23E)-diene, and momordicine I, were isolated from roots of bitter melon.[2]

  • Momordicoside A & B

    • Antiviral against various viruses infections:[2:1]
      • Epstein-Barr
      • Herpes
      • HIV viruses
    • Increases interferon production and natural killer cell activity.[2:2]

Nutrients

Bitter Melon contains nutritionally important vitamins and minerals:[1:1]

  • Vitamins A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fibers
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Proteins
  • Zinc

Healing Properties

Antibacterial (antibiotic)

Anti-inflammatory

Purified compounds from the bitter melon fruit showed significant anti-inflammatory activity.[3]

Immunomodulator

Bitter melon is known to interact with immune cells. Multiplestudies have shown that various extracts of MC can act asimmunomodulators and, hence, can also act as anti-inflammatory agents.[1:2]

Antiviral

Antidiabetic

Different mechanisms contribute to the antidiabetic activities of M. charantia, these include increasing pancreatic insulin secretion, decreasing insulin resistance and increasing peripheral and skeletal muscle cell glucose utilization, inhibition of intestinal glucose absorption and suppressing of key enzymes in the gluconeogenic pathways.[4]

Glucose Regulation

Momordica charantia is a plant‐based medicine used for improving glycemic control.[4:1]

Glucose Tolerance

Bitter Melon has been used to improve glucose tolerance.[4:2]

Hypoglycemic

The insulin‐like peptide, charantin, and the alkaloid vicine are two compounds which have been derived from the bitter melon plant, both have been reported to have hypoglycemic effects.[4:3]

Exercise & Training

Bitter Mellon Improves running endurance.

  • Increases mitochondrial content in gastrocnemius muscle (the gastrocnemius forms half of the calf muscle. Its function is plantar flexing the foot at the ankle joint and flexing the leg at the knee joint.).[5]
  • Improved endurance capacity via stimulation of mitochondrial biogenesis and function, potentially influencing muscle metabolism and fiber-type composition.[5:1]

Anticancer

Momordica charantia L. (Cucurbitaceae) extract has been demonstrated to play a role in oncogenesis, and accumulated evidence has evaluated its anticancer effects, such as anti-proliferation and anti-migration activity.[6]

  • Isolated cucurbitane triterpenoids and their glycosides have been reported to have significant anticancer and antitumor activity.[3:1]

Disease / Symptom Treatment

Diabetes

Various in vitro and in vivo studies have indicated that extracts of bitter melons have anti-diabetic properties.[3:2] The anti-diabetic activity of bitter melon has been related to various triterpenoids.[3:3]

Carbohydrate Digestion

Compounds which were isolated from the bitter melon fruit exhibit significant inhibition of α-amylase and α-glucosidase, glucosidases required for starch digestion. The overall effect of inhibition is to help reduce the flow of glucose from complex dietary carbohydrates into the bloodstream, diminishing the postprandial effect of starch consumption on blood glucose levels. The effects exhibited by these compounds were comparable to acarbose (an anti-diabetic drug used to treat diabetes mellitus type 2 and, in some countries, prediabetes).[3:4]

Adverse Effects

Dietary intake of Bitter Melon supplements was tested on mice. Bitter melon supplementation was shown to evoke a divergent, and generally less favorable, set of metabolic responses in females compared to males.[7]


  1. Title: Bitter Melon as a Therapy for Diabetes, Inflammation, and Cancer: a Panacea?
    Publication: Current Pharmacology Reports
    Date: January 2016
    Study Type: Review
    Author(s): Deep Kwatra, Prasad Dandawate, Subhash Padhye, Shrikant Anant
    Institution(s): University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, USA; Abeda Inamdar College University of Pune, Pune, India
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  2. Title: The Bitter Gourd Genome
    Publication: Springer: Part of the Compendium of Plant Genomes book series (CPG)
    Date: Jan 2020
    Study Type: Review
    Author(s): Chittaranjan Kole, Hideo Matsumura, Tusar Kanti Behera
    Institution(s): National Research Center on Plants, New Delhi India; Shinshu University Ueda Japan; Indian Agricultural Research Institute New Delhi India
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  3. Title: Cucurbitane-type compounds from Momordica charantia : Isolation, in vitro antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory activities and in silico modeling approaches
    Publication: Bioorganic Chemistry
    Date: January 2019
    Study Type: Human Study: In Vitro, In Silico
    Author(s): Siddanagouda R.S, Wilmer H. Perera, Jose L Perez, Giridhar Athrey, Yuxiang Sun, G.K. Jayaprakasha, Bhimanagouda S. Patil
    Institution(s): Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
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  4. Title: Possible molecular mechanisms of glucose‐lowering activities of Momordica charantia(karela) in diabetes
    Publication: Journal of Cellular Biochemistry
    Date: December 2018
    Study Type: Review
    Author(s): Naseh Pahlavani, Fatemeh Roudi, Mohsen Zakerian, Gordon A Ferns, Jamshid Gholizadeh Navashenaq, Amir Mashkouri, Majid Ghayour‐Mobarhan, Hamidreza Rahimi
    Institution(s): Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Iran; Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Brighton, Sussex, UK; Imam Reza International University, Mashhad, Iran
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  5. Title: Bitter melon seed oil increases mitochondrial content in gastrocnemius muscle and improves running endurance in sedentary C57BL/6 J mice
    Publication: The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry
    Date: 6 June 2018
    Study Type: Animal Study
    Author(s): Fei Koon Chana, Chin Hsub, Tsai-Chung Lic, d, Wen-Hung Chene, Kuo-Tang Tsenge, Pei-Min Chao
    Institution(s): China Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan; National Taiwan University of Sport, Taichung City, Taiwan; Asia University, Taichung, Taiwan; Aquavan Technology Co., Ltd., Taipei City, Taiwan
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  6. Title: Structural characterization of Momordica charantia L. (Cucurbitaceae) oligopeptides and the detection of their capability in non-small cell lung cancer A549 cells: induction of apoptosis
    Publication: The Royal Society of Chemistry
    Date: March 2019
    Study Type: Human Study: In Vitro
    Author(s): Jiao Dong, Xianxin Zhang, Chunxiao Qu, Xuedong Rong, Jie Liu, and Yiqing Qu
    Institution(s): Qilu Hospital of Shandong University, Jinan, Shandong, China; Shandong Provincial Chest Hospital, Jinan, China; Shenzhen University School of Medicine, Shenzhen, China
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  7. Title: Potential adverse effects of botanical supplementation in high-fat-fed female mice
    Publication: Biology of Sex Differences
    Date: September 2018
    Study Type: Animal Study
    Author(s): Scott Fuller, Yongmei Yu, Tamra Mendoza, David M. Ribnicky, William T. Cefalu, Z. Elizabeth Floyd
    Institution(s): Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge, USA; University of Louisiana at Lafayette Lafayette USA; Rutgers University New Brunswick USA
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