Learn More About Bitter Melon
What is bitter melon?
Bitter melon is the fruit of vine commonly found throughout China, India, and other parts of the East. The plant has evolved an extremely bitter taste, and so animals commonly avoid it. However, humans—the only animal that has managed to develop a taste for bitter foods—commonly use it in salads, stir fries, and so on, especially in Asia.
What is bitter melon used for?
Practitioners in India of the herbal medicine known as Ayurveda, as hell as Chinese healers, have traditionally used Bitter Melon to treat what we in the West call Type II diabetes. With the rise of modern science, we have now begun to understand the mechanism of how this remarkable plant operates.
In particular, we now realize that bitter melon contains several dozen active substances that activate an enzyme in the body called AMPK, a protein that regulates metabolism and glucose uptake. One such substance increases fatty acid oxidation and aids in the disposal of sugar, and another even seems to mimic the effects of insulin.
In vitro (test-tube) studies as well as in vivo (living) studies that involve both rats and humans typically show that extracts of bitter melon twice a day can typically lower blood sugar levels and insulin levels, properties of considerable potential value to sufferers of Type 2 diabetes, an increasingly common disease in the overfed industrialized world as well as in developing countries. As a result of both bitter melon’s traditional use for diabetes as well as recent encouraging research, growing numbers of people consume bitter melon extracts in an effort to control their blood sugar.
Because of these properties, some researchers suspect that bitter melon might also aid those attempting to control their weight. Recent work in newly-affluent China, where obesity has become surprisingly common, indicates that rats fed a high-calorie diet but given bitter melon don’t seem to gain as much weight as rats given the same foods without bitter melon.
Less commonly known, but also intriguing, are hints that bitter melon might also be useful for other serious conditions. A St. Louis study suggested that bitter melon might kill breast cancer cells, although the work is extremely preliminary, while other scientists have noted that certain anti-viral compounds found in bitter melon appear to inhibit HIV.
How is bitter melon taken?
In America, those wishing to see if bitter melon might help them usually take this herb in capsule or tablet form, generally twice a day. Look for a product whose label indicates that it is a standardized extract.
Some people with blood sugar issues combine bitter melon with promising anti-diabetic nutrients such as cinnamon, chromium, banaba, and alpha lipoic acid for additional benefit.
Is bitter melon safe?
Practitioners of both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine contend that bitter melon has no known side effects, and that appears to be the case, since bitter melon has a history of use stretching back thousands of years. However, pregnant women should definitely avoid this herb. Also, those with serious health conditions who wish to take bitter melon would be wise to work with a nutritionally knowledgeable physician.
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