Diabetes and cancer are two of the most devastating chronic illnesses in America today — and it appears that a small Asian fruit might be able to help treat them both. Read on to find out more about the great benefits you get from bitter melon — and what the latest research is saying.
You Get a Great Combination of Nutrients and Antioxidants
Bitter melon (also called bitter gourd or balsam pear) is a fruit native to Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and in those regions has been used for thousands of years both as a folk remedy and a food source. It is in the same family as other super-healthy foods like cucumbers and melons and is loaded with nutrients, including folate, Vitamins A and C, and potassium. It is also antioxidant-rich, containing both beta-carotene and lutein. Many researchers believe that it is its unique combination of nutrients that make it effective against both cancer and diabetes.
You Get Great Anti-Cancer Benefits
The newest study that everyone is talking about is out of the University of Colorado which has been conducting both in vitro (test tube) and in vivo (live animal) studies on the health effects of bitter melon, in this case in regards to pancreatic cancer. Both types of studies have shown that the extract from this melon is able to inhibit the reproduction of cancer cells (which leads to tumor growth) and to induce apotosis (cell death). Scientists believe that it is able to do this through cutting off the supply of glucose to the cancer cells, which they then use as a energy source to grow and spread.
This is great news for patients with pancreatic cancer, which is usually not detected until it is well-advanced and usually has a poor survival rate and few options for treatment. But pancreatic cancer is not the only form of this disease that bitter melon has proved to be useful at treating. Breast cancer, one of the most serious health problems facing American women today, has also proven to be effected by bitter melon in past research; studies done on prostate cancer cells have also been promising.
And because of this ability to regulate glucose and insulin in the body, scientists wondered what its effect would be on diabetics….
You Can Treat Diabetes Naturally, Too
Diabetics, like cancer patients, can also benefit from the use of bitter melon in their diets. It is not just the University of Colorado study which proved its ability to regulate insulin levels — and thus the levels of glucose in the body. A 2008 study published in the journal Chemistry and Biology found that diabetics using bitter melon regularly did exhibit better control of their blood sugars and an increased sensitivity to the action of insulin — in other words, the bitter melon allowed their bodies to use the glucose more efficiently. A more recent 2011 study which appeared in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology also found that diabetics taking around 2000mg of bitter melon extract daily did display better glycemic control, though this affect was not found to be as strong as the common anti-diabetic drug metformin.
You Should Talk to a Professional First, Though….
According to the Sloane Kettering Memorial Cancer Center (SMKCC), however, there are some precautions to be aware of before you start taking bitter melon. The most important one is that it should not be taken by women during pregnancy, as it can induce vaginal bleeding, uterine contractions and miscarriage. It should also not be taken along with oral anti-diabetic drugs or insulin, since it can cause blood sugars to drop to a dangerously low levels. Some reactions, including atrial fibrillation, stomach ulcers and allergic reactions have also been reported.
In short, if you are struggling with diabetes or cancer or know someone who is, bitter melon is definitely an herb to investigate. However, it should only be done under the supervision of a doctor or naturopath who is trained in the use of medicinal herbs and can guide you as to dosage and other concerns so that you are taking it safely!