Bitter Melon and Diabetes

Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. The fruit of this plant lives up to its nameā€”it tastes bitter. Although its seeds, leaves, and vines have all been used, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used medicinally.

Being a relatively common food item, it was traditionally used for an array of conditions by people in tropical regions. Numerous infections, cancer, and diabetes were among the most common conditions it has been purported to improve. The leaves and fruit have both been used in the Western world to make teas and beer or to season soups.


At least three different groups of constituents in bitter melon have been reported to have blood-sugar lowering actions of potential benefit in diabetes mellitus. These include a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantin, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids. It is still unclear which of these is most effective, or if all three work together. Some clinical trials have confirmed its benefit for people with diabetes.

In traditional herbal medicine, like other bitter-tasting herbs, it is thought to stimulate digestive function and improve appetite. This has yet to be tested in human studies.

For those with a taste or tolerance for bitter flavor, a small melon can be eaten as food, or up to 3 1/3 ounces (100 ml) of a decoction or 2 ounces (60 ml) of fresh juice can be drunk per day.3 Though still bitter, tinctures of bitter melon (1 teaspoon [5 ml] two to three times per day) are also sometimes used. The amounts recommended would be appropriate for people with diabetes.

Side Effects or Interactions

Ingestion of excessive amounts of the juice (several times more than the amount recommended above) can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.4 Excessive ingestion of the seeds had been associated with headache, fever, and coma. It is not recommended for pregnant women. People with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should not take it, because it may trigger or worsen the problem. This effect has been reported in two young children and one adult patient with diabetes.

Bitter Melon & Other Vegetables

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