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Bitter Melon

Medically reviewed on June 7, 2018

What is Bitter Melon?

Bitter melon is a tall-growing annual plant cultivated in Asia, Africa, South America, and India. The plant has lobed leaves, yellow flowers, and edible but bitter-tasting orange-yellow tropical fruit. The unripe fruit is green and cucumber-shaped with surface bumps. The fruit, leaves, seeds, seed oil, and roots are used.

Scientific Name(s)

Momordica charantia

Common Name(s)

Bitter melon is also known as balsam pear, bitter cucumber, balsam apple, art pumpkin, cerasee, and carilla cundeamor.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Bitter melon has been used as a folk remedy for cancer, asthma, skin infections, stomach problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes symptoms. The plant has been used as a traditional medicine in China, India, Africa, and the southeastern US. In the 1980s, the seeds were investigated in China as a potential contraceptive.

General uses

There is insufficient evidence from high-quality clinical trials to recommend the use of bitter melon as a therapeutic option in type 2 diabetes.

What is the recommended dosage?

Bitter melon juice has been recommended for diabetes at daily doses of 50 to 100 mL; 900 mg of fruit given 3 times/day has also been given for the same indication. There are insufficient clinical trials available to substantiate these doses.

Contraindications

Patients deficient in the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase gene should avoid consumption of bitter melon preparations due to the presence of vicine in the seeds.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse reactions include stimulating menstruation and inducing abortion. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

Bitter melon generally causes few adverse reactions. GI effects (eg, abdominal pain, diarrhea) and headache have been reported in clinical trials. Case reports exist of low blood sugar coma and heart atrial fibrillation associated with bitter melon intake. Bitter melon should be used with caution in patients with impaired liver function.

Toxicology

The red arils around bitter melon seeds are toxic to children.

References

1. Bitter Melon. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; December 2010.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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