Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is a tropical plant that grows in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. It is also known as balsam pear. This annual of the Cucurbitaceae family is a thin, climbing vine with long, stalked leaves that flowers in July or August. The plant bears a long, cucumber-shaped fruit that hangs like a pendulum, with small bumps all over it. The plant, which is green when it is young and yellowish-orange when it is ripe, fruits around September or October. All parts of the plant—the seeds, leaves and vines—are used for medicinal purposes, but the actual fruit of the bitter melon is most commonly used. The name of the plant's
genus, Momordica, is derived from the Latin word for bite, as the seeds of the fruit are serrated and appear as if they have been chewed or bitten.
Bitter melon is used both as a medicine and as a food. It is often added to dishes, for all parts of the plant, as its name suggests, taste very bitter and add an astringent or sour quality to foods. Bitter melon contains a protein, MAP30, that was patented by American scientists in 1996. These scientists stated that MAP30 is effective against tumors, AIDS, and other viruses. The plant has been used around the world, from native healers in the Amazon to Ayurvedic doctors in India, to treat diabetes as it is a natural hypoglycemic. In India, the plant is also used in treating hemorrhoids, abdominal discomfort, fever, warm infections, and skin diseases.
Bitter melon has been used to treat diabetes mellitus. The plant contains at least three known compounds that significantly lower the body's blood sugar level. The plant's phytochemical composition is a combination of steroidal saponins, charantin, peptides, and alkaloids that
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
The alpha- and beta-momorchardin proteins contained in bitter melon have an inhibiting effect on human immunodefiency virus (HIV) infection, according to a test-tube study published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. Bitter melon can be used alone for the treatment of HIV, but it has also been used in combination with other AIDS treatments.
True to its antiviral properties, the MAP30 found in bitter melon can also be used by patients with herpes. In a 1982 study of the effects of bitter melon on the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), MAP30 inhibited the reproduction of the virus, as well as reducing its ability to form plaques (patches of irritated skin).
Practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have used bitter melon as a treatment for skin diseases, especially scabies. The juice is extracted from the leaf and applied externally to the affected area. In traditional Chinese medicine, bitter melon is used to treat dry coughs, bronchitis, and throat problems. The seeds are used topically for skin swellings caused by sprains and fractures, and for sores that are slow to heal.
Patients who do not mind the extremely bitter taste can eat a small melon. Otherwise, up to 50 ml of fresh bitter melon juice can be taken once a day. Patients who do not want the bitterness of the fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice can take a fresh fruit tincture in 5 ml doses two or three times per day.
Bitter melon is an abortifacient, so it should not be taken by women who are pregnant or nursing. It is also a medicinal herb that should not be given to small children and infants due to its hypoglycemic effects. Bitter melon is also an emmenagogue, which means that it brings on or increases menstrual flow in women.
If too much bitter melon juice is taken, it can cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.
Although bitter melon is commonly used for patients with diabetes, it should be taken with caution. Bitter melon should not be used by diabetic patients who are currently taking such prescription medications as chlorpropamine, glyburide, or phenformin, as well as insulin, for their condition. Bitter melon can increase the effects of these drugs and lead to severe hypoglycemia. Patients with diabetes should always take bitter melon under the supervision of a medical or herbal professional.
American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. P. O. Box 20386. Seattle, WA 98112.
American Foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine (AFTCM). 505 Beach Street. San Francisco, CA 94133. (415) 776-0502. Fax: (415) 392-7003. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katherine Y. Kim