The hypoglycemic effects of bitter gourd is medically well established.
It’s amazing as well as thrilling when I read medical sciences reporting on the efficacy of some of the traditional home medicines I have been using for decades. I have chronicled some of them: for example, post-natal diets for new mothers, medicinal uses of castor oil, Benefits of lemon, Benefits of Fenugreek, and Benefits of Holy Basil.
It’s now the turn of bitter gourd (Momordica Charantica).
Bitter gourd or bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of Africa, and the South America and Asia. In India, it is widely used in cooking. If this vegetable doesn’t have as many fans as other vegetables, it’s the bitterness that turns many off. The bitterness of the fruit is removed by peeling off the ridged skin, smearing it with salt and discarding the water that oozes out. In most of North India this is how bitter gourd is prepared, the insides scooped and then fried after stuffing it with masalas and herbs. That may be great for taste, but its medicinal efficacy becomes compromised. A recipe popular in the southern part of the country is called ‘pittalai’ or sambhar. Slices of bitter gourd are boiled in tamarind water to which a ground paste of coconut and other spices and cooked gram or legumes are added. This, I believe, is a healthier option for deriving the full medicinal benefits of bitter gourd.
If you are not interested in using bitter gourd in cooking, you can make a juice out of it along with tomatoes and beets and squeeze in lime. Else you may prepare soup using the gourd along with other vegetables of your choice. Choose unripe bitter melons that are firm. Bitter melon is also available in a capsule form and sold as a food supplement.
Medicinal Benefits of Bitter Melon
• Nutrition: Bitter gourd is rich in nutrients like thiamine, beta-carotene, foliate, riboflavin and minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, magnesium, zinc and dietary fiber. Regular use of bitter gourd juice boosts body stamina and prevents chronic fatigue. The beta-carotene content in bitter gourd helps in controlling eye disorders and enhances eyesight.
• Bitter melon stimulates a sluggish digestive system and treats dyspepsia. However, since it promotes secretion of acid, it may make an existing ulcerous condition worse.
• Scientific studies show that fresh juice of bitter melon can lower blood sugar values and keep insulin under check. The hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) action is due to the presence of a unique phyto-constituent called charantin, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids, all of which act together to improve glucose tolerance without increasing blood insulin levels. These compounds activate a protein called AMPK, which regulates fuel metabolism and enables glucose uptake, processes which are impaired in diabetics. Bitter melon has been found to increase the number of insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas. Multiple clinical studies have documented the efficacy of bitter gourd, and several pharmaceutical companies have jumped in and included them in their formulations.
• Bitter gourd juice can also prevent jaundice by strengthening the liver. By detoxifying and nourishing liver, bitter melon juice may be beneficial in the treatment of a hangover.
• Researchers hypothesize that bitter melon is as an immunomodulator. One clinical trial found limited evidence that bitter melon might improve immune cell function in people with cancer. If proved, bitter melon could help people infected with HIV. Other potential uses include treatment for fever, the cold and flu, malaria, cancer and tumors, high cholesterol, and psoriasis.
• Piles: A popular folk remedy is to mix three teaspoonfuls of juice from bitter melon leaves with a glassful of buttermilk to be taken every morning for about a month on empty stomach.
• Cholera : Fresh juice of leaves of bitter gourd is also an effective medicine in early stages of cholera and other types of diarrhea.
Excessively high doses of bitter melon juice can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. Anyone with hypoglycemia should not take bitter melon because this may worsen low blood sugar. Pregnant women should avoid taking too much bitter gourd or its juice as it may stimulate the uterus that may lead to preterm labor.