Bitter melon is a little-known fruit that looks very similar to the cucumber and zucchini, which is because it comes from the same family of plants. While each type of food offers some health benefits, bitter melon may surpass its relatives in what it can do for the human body. Among the vast health benefits of bitter melon, recent research finds that this plant food may promote healthy cell growth, helping to protect against the spread of cancer.
What is Bitter Melon?
Originating in South India, bitter melon was first imported by China in the 1300s and, as it gained popularity, was highly exported to Africa and parts of the Caribbean. The food is particularly bitter, which is how it gets its name, and for that reason has become a staple food in Asian cuisine.
It’s long been known that bitter melon is good for human health, particularly because it’s low in calories. At just 20 calories per cup, you can satisfy hunger cravings without filling up on large amounts of calories. Additionally, bitter melon is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Some of the nutritional benefits it provides includes significant servings of vitamins A, B6, C and D. Additionally, it’s packed with calcium, iron and magnesium.
Beyond these essential nutrients, research has found that bitter melon may be responsible for helping us guard against common health conditions that can affect longevity and overall quality of life. For instance, some recent research has found that bitter melon may encourage healthy cell growth, helping to protect against the spread of certain types of cancer.
How Does Bitter Melon Promote Healthy Cell Growth?
A study conducted at Missouri’s Saint Louis University used mice to determine how bitter melon affected the development and spread of cancerous tumors. In the first stage of the study, bitter melon extract was injected into various types of cancer cells, including those from breast and prostate cancer subjects. In this initial part of the research, it was found that the extract seemed to prevent the spread of cancer cells, but Professor Ratna Ray, who headed the project, wanted to confirm those findings.
Using laboratory mice with tongue cancer, the research team looked to see how and why bitter melon appeared to discourage the spread of cancerous cells. In uninterrupted conditions, the body allows fat and glucose to feed cancer cells, which helps them grow and multiply. However, once the bitter melon extract was introduced into the cancer cells, those cells were no longer able to draw nourishment from that process. As a result, cancer cells were unable to continue to spread.
The results were similar in other types of animal testing, showing that the bitter melon extract limited cancer growth by nearly 50 percent in all studies. Additionally, the extract was able to kill the cancer cells to which it was exposed in some of the tests.
While these results are promising, Professor Ray says results in human subjects may differ. She hopes to duplicate the findings in human cancer patients to prove that bitter melon can be effective in promoting healthy cell growth and discouraging the spread of various types of cancer. In the meantime, bitter melon is still a healthy food and can benefit anyone who adds it to their diet. In fact, there are many more health benefits of bitter melon; some of them are listed below.
Additional Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Helps Manage Blood Sugar Levels
In a 90-day study, researchers monitored the blood sugar levels for 24 adults, who were administered daily doses of bitter melon extract. They found that the 2,000 mg daily dose of bitter melon was sufficient to lower blood sugar levels and keep hemoglobin A1c regulated. Hemoglobin A1c is used to test the glucose levels in diabetics.
In a similar study, but with 40 participants, the same amount of bitter melon was helpful in moderating blood sugar levels. More importantly, the researchers in this study found that the bitter melon extract decreased the amount of fructosamine. Lower fructosamine meant subjects exhibited better regulated blood sugar over a longer period of time.
Boosts Heart Health
An individual with high cholesterol will develop the buildup of plaque in their blood vessels, which can interfere with the functioning of the heart. Since slower blood flow forces the heart to work harder, the risk of heart failure is increased.
In a study on bitter melon extract, researchers found that the fruit helped reduce cholesterol levels in mice. As a result, heart health was improved, and the risk of heart failure was reduced. In a related study, researchers noted that the amount of bitter melon administered correlated to the amount of cholesterol in the blood, meaning greater amounts of bitter melon reduced cholesterol levels by that much more.
Helps Weight Loss
Finally, bitter melon can help you maintain a healthy weight in two ways. As previously mentioned, it’s a low-calorie food, so you can eat more of it without ingesting a high amount of calories. Additionally, each one-cup serving contains two grams of fiber. Since the digestive system takes longer to process fiber, foods that are high in fiber help us to manager hunger and appetite. This ensures you’ll eat less, so your body will burn more stored fat throughout the day.
There’s also research that suggests bitter melon is effective in helping the body burn more belly fat. Subjects in one study were given a daily dose of 4.8 grams of bitter melon extract. They lost about 0.5 inches, or 1.3 cm, of their stomach circumference over a seven week trial period.
Even as research continues to discover the benefits that bitter melon provides, it’s already clear that this fruit is beneficial to human health. Taking a supplement that contains bitter melon can help you stay healthier, and may protect cellular health and heart health, help you to maintain a healthy weight, and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. While it shouldn’t be viewed as a cure in itself, it can help you better control your health by possibly reducing risks to your overall health.