Bitter melon has a long history of use as a hypoglycemic agent. Its effects have been explored to a great extent and have helped our understanding of its mechanism of action. This has led to several studies looking at bitter melon as a hypoglycemic agent in type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Most naturalists, who use botanical medicine, have some familiarity with bitter melon. It is a member of the cucurbitaceae family and is a perennial climbing vine with long leaves, yellow flowers, and elongated fruit that resembles a gourd or cucumber (it is also referred to as bitter gourd or bitter cucumber).
The leaves, vine, and seeds have all been used for these reproductive indications. It is thought that the primary nutrients responsible for the hypoglycemic properties are charantin, insulin-like peptides, cucurbutanoids, momordicin, and oleanolic acids.1 The most compelling area of research for these is in the field of type 2 diabetes.
Reductions in blood sugar after taking bitter melon can be seen quickly – as soon as 30 minutes – with the greatest reduction occurring at 4 hours and lasting for 12 hours. The effect was noted within 30–60 with a 21.5% drop from baseline glucose. The peak effect ranged from 4–12 hours with a 28% drop after 12 hours.2
There have several non-controlled studies with positive results but, more recently, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, trial was done in type 2 diabetics. They used dried bitter melon fruit and seeds for 2 months and found a similar trend in favor of bitter melon for the reduction of glycosylated hemoglobin.3
Several animal studies have shown significant decreases in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and increases in HDL cholesterol with bitter melon. In the longest study of 10 weeks, bitter melon extract as given to normal and induced type 1 diabetic rats with elevated total cholesterol, triglycerides and decreased HDL. All measurements normalized after the 10 weeks in the mice that received the bitter melon as compared to the non-treated rats.4
The most appropriate or effective dose of bitter melon is not entirely clear but Standardized extract dosing ranges from 100 to 200 mg 3 times daily.
Safety and Summary
Bitter melon has a long history of safe and effective use as a hypoglycemic agent in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. It is considered safe as an oral hypoglycemic agent, but blood glucose monitoring should follow.
Bitter melon should be avoided in pregnant women and use in children should be avoided until further research is done.
Bitter melon has emerged as one of our stronger botanical interventions for improving blood glucose and HbA1c. The science and native wisdom behind the plant show its value in treating type 2 diabetes mellitus.5
Bitter melon is strong and bitter (as in its name). Fortunately, combining it with the many other herbs and nutrients we use, we do not need to use in the large amounts an individual use of bitter melon would need. This allows us to add it to our supplement and, with exercise and food changes, it can be part of a new you.
- Harinantenaina L, Tanaka M, Takaoka S, et al. Momordica charantia constituents and antidiabetic screening of the isolated major compounds. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2006;54:1017-1021.
- Baldwa V, Bhandari C, Pangaria A, Goyal R. Clinical trial in patients with diabetes mellitus of an insulin-like compound obtained from plant sources. Upsala J Med. 1977;82:39-41.
- Dans A, Villarruz M, Jimeno C, et al. The effet of Momordica charantia capsule preparation on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus needs further studies. J Clin Epidemiol. 2007;60(6):554-559.
- Chaturvedi P, George S, Milinganyo M, Tripathi Y. Effect of Momordica charantia on lipid profile and oral glucose tolerance in diabetic rats. Phytothera Res. 2004;18:954-56.
- Chaturvedi P. Role of Momordica charantia in maintaining the normal levels of lipids and glucose in diabetic rats fed a high – fat and low-carbohydrate diet. Br J Biomed Sci. 2005;62:124-26.