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Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or balsam pear, is commonly grown in tropical areas and is consumed both as a fruit and as a vegetable. In many cultures, bitter melon is also an accepted form of medicine due to its incomparable health benefits.
The pods of bitter melon can be light to dark green in color and have oblong or oval shapes with a pointed tip at the blossom end. The inner flesh is white with rough-edged seeds. The seeds turn red when ripe.
How Bitter Gourd Is Beneficial to Your Health
Here are some benefits that you can get from bitter melon.
1. Controls diabetes
Bitter melon has been found useful in managing diabetes due to its blood glucose-lowering effect; however, it is not considered an approved treatment on its own.
Bitter melon contains various substances that exhibit antidiabetic properties, including charantin, vicine, and polypeptide-p. (1) Polypeptide-p mimics the function of insulin in diabetic patients by reducing blood sugar naturally. Charantin, on the other hand, facilitates glycogen synthesis within liver and muscle cells.
Furthermore, bitter melon is doubly effective in increasing pancreatic insulin secretion as well as preventing insulin resistance, making it beneficial for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, a 2,000 mg daily dose of bitter melon significantly reduced the blood glucose levels among people with type 2 diabetes. However, the hypoglycemic effect was comparatively less than that of a 1,000 mg/day dose of metformin, an approved medication for type 2 diabetes. (2)
How to use:
- Drink ½ to 1 cup of bitter gourd juice on an empty stomach each morning.
- You should also include a bitter gourd preparation daily in your diet.
Note: Bitter melon should not be taken as a standalone cure for diabetes, as it is not yet a medically approved treatment for it. Instead, it should be included as a healthy component of your diet while you follow the doctor-prescribed course of diabetes medication.
Also, keep monitoring your blood sugar level to ensure that your intake of bitter melon is not interfering with your medication.
2. Purifies blood
Bitter melon works effectively as a natural blood purifier. Problems such as constant headaches, allergies, fatigue, and weak immunity, which are often rooted in the presence of toxins in the blood, are prevented and eliminated as a result.
The antifungal and antibacterial properties of bitter melon promote healthy and glowing skin. It helps treat skin ailments, such as blood boils and itching due to toxemia, acne, psoriasis, and eczema. Additionally, the vitamin C-laden bitter melon prevents the formation of wrinkles and deters skin aging.
How to use:
- Add a tinge of lemon juice and honey to a glass of fresh bitter melon juice.
- Sip it slowly on an empty stomach daily for six months. (3)
3. Supports liver health
Bitter melon juice has liver-protecting properties, making it an elixir for your liver health. It promotes the filtering functions of your liver, which helps rid the blood of impurities, and aids in eliminating harmful toxins in the body. (3)
A properly functioning liver, in turn, reduces the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive problems, jaundice, and other health issues.
How to use:
Drinking a cup of bitter melon juice at least once a day works as a tonic to keep your liver healthy.
4. Lowers cholesterol
Bitter gourd is a magic ingredient for lowering the level of your low-density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad” cholesterol, which prevents plaque accumulation on the arterial walls. Decongested arteries preserve your heart health and keep you safe from the threat of a heart attack or a stroke.
Moreover, the phytonutrients and antioxidants present in bitter melon help to increase your level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), also known as “good’’ cholesterol. Thus, bitter melon aids in striking the perfect LDL/HDL balance.
According to a 2013 animal-based study published in Nutrition Research, bitter gourd was found to have a mitigating impact on cholesterol levels. While the findings of this animal trial can only be validated after further research on human subjects, they have nevertheless led researchers to deduce that bitter melon can prove potent in managing hypercholesterolemia. (4)
How to use:
Include bitter melon in your diet, or alternatively take a supplement but only after consulting your doctor.
5. Boosts immunity
Regular intake of bitter melon can help bolster your immune defenses, thereby improving your body’s resilience to combat diseases, infections, and free radical damage. Enriched with antioxidants like vitamin C, bitter melon protects against allergies as well. (5)
How to use:
- Include bitter melon in your diet to prevent serious diseases.
- You can also drink 1 to 2 cups of bitter melon tea daily to boost your immunity.
- To prepare the tea, steep 4 to 5 bitter melon pieces in a cup of hot water for 5 minutes.
6. Aids weight loss
Besides being low in calories, bitter gourds are replete with phytonutrients and antioxidants that help with weight loss. Bitter melon is composed of 80%–85% water; it induces a feeling of fullness for much longer and keeps you from binge eating or overeating.
This is further aided by its high fiber content, which facilitates a smooth digestive process. This vegetable also promotes the secretion of bile acids that promote fast metabolism of carbohydrates; as a result, less fat is stored in the body. (6)
According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, the anti-adiposity property of bitter melon is effective in reducing body fat accumulation. (7)
How to use:
You can include bitter melon in your diet or take a high-quality supplement after consulting your doctor.
7. Kills intestinal worms
Bitter melon contains anthelmintic compounds that help kill intestinal worms. It even helps get rid of the toxins that these parasites leave behind as they die. (8)
How to use:
- Drink ½ cup of bitter melon juice on an empty stomach for a week.
- Another option is to crush 5 to 10 dried bitter melon seeds. Sauté the crushed seeds in a little clarified butter and consume it twice daily for a week.
8. Treats hemorrhoids (piles)
The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of bitter melon make it a very good remedy for hemorrhoids or piles. (9)
Additionally, the dietary fiber present in bitter melon softens stools and increases the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. This helps prevent chronic constipation and, in turn, provides relief from hemorrhoids.
How to use:
- Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of juice extracted from bitter melon leaves to a glass of buttermilk. Drink one glass of this concoction every morning on an empty stomach for about a month.
- You can also make a salve of the roots of the bitter melon plant and apply it topically to external hemorrhoids to reduce inflammation and relieve pain and bleeding.
9. Protects against cancer
The antioxidant-rich bitter melon helps to curb the effects of free radicals within the body. Free radicals are responsible for the destruction of healthy cells and, thus, make the body vulnerable to numerous types of cancer.
Added to that, bitter melon also exhibits certain anticarcinogenic and anti-tumor effects, which make it helpful in preventing or reducing the risk of cervical, prostate, and breast cancers. (10)(11)
Researchers analyzed the anti-tumor activity of bitter melon in a 2010 study published in Anticancer Research. They concluded that bitter-melon-related products induce cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, or cell death, in cancerous cells without affecting the growth of normal cells, stopping cancer in its tracks. (12)
To help ward off cancer, make bitter melon a regular part of your diet or drink its juice on a regular basis.
Nutritional Content of Bitter Gourd
Nutritional value of bitter gourd per 100 grams:
|Fiber, total dietary||g||2.8|
Bitter Melon Juice
To prepare bitter melon juice, follows these steps:
- Wash 1 or 2 medium-sized bitter melons under cold running water.
- Slice them down the center with a sharp knife, and then scoop out the seeds and the white flesh with a spoon.
- Chop the remaining green flesh of the melon into small pieces.
- Soak the pieces in a glass of water for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Blend the soaked pieces along with the water.
- Strain the juice to remove any solid residue.
- Add honey, black pepper powder, lemon juice, or ginger juice for taste.
Precautions and Risk Factors
- Although the short-term consumption of bitter gourd which extends to up to 3 months is generally considered safe for most people, it may lead to digestive distress in some people. There also is not enough information about the safety of applying bitter melon directly to the skin.
- Pregnant women are recommended not to consume bitter gourd since it contains certain chemicals which can trigger menstrual bleeding and have been found to cause abortion in animals. Given the dearth of reliable information regarding the consumption of bitter gourd during the nursing period, the best way to is to avoid its use when breastfeeding.
- Bitter gourd might come in the way of effectively regulating your blood sugar levels during and after a surgery. Thus, it is well-advised to stop using bitter melon at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Bitter melon can lower blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes and take medications to lower your blood sugar, adding bitter melon might make your blood sugar drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.
Additional Tips and Warnings
- When buying bitter melon, choose fresh, young, and tender bitter melons that are dark green. It’s better to avoid those that have turned yellow or orange or have soft spots.
- Always rinse your bitter melon under cold running water before juicing or cooking.
- To play down the bitterness, soak bitter melon pieces in salt water for 10 minutes before cooking.
- To make the bitter gourd juice a bit appetizing, add honey, carrot juice, or apple juice.
- Do not consume more than 2 to 3 bitter gourds a day, as excessive intake can cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.
- Pregnant women should avoid taking too much bitter gourd as it can induce preterm labor.
Notorious for being the bitterest of all edible vegetables, bitter melon can send you running in the opposite direction if you consider it only for its taste. However, a quick rundown of its nutritional merits will have you come crawling back.
Enriched with protein, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, and several B vitamins, bitter melon is a holy grail for many of your health issues.
This is amplified by the fact that it is high in dietary fiber and low in calories. This fruit also contains linolenic acid (an essential omega-6 fatty acid) and oleic acid (an unsaturated fat). (13)
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