Bitter melon may contain compounds that can help lower blood sugar. But if consumed in excess or with certain medications, it may have negative affects on your health.

Bitter melon (also known as Momordica charantia or bitter gourd) is a plant that gets its name from its taste. It becomes more and more bitter as it ripens.

It grows in a number of areas, including Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and East Africa. People have used bitter melon for a variety of medical conditions over time.

Bitter melon contains many nutrients that can be beneficial to your health. It’s linked to lowering blood sugar, which some studies suggest means it can aid in diabetes treatment.

Bitter melon is considered a complementary or alternative medicine. Therefore, the use of bitter melon isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of diabetes or any other medical condition.

Bitter melon is linked to lowering the body’s blood sugar. This is because the bitter melon has properties that act like insulin, which helps bring glucose into the cells for energy.

The consumption of bitter melon can help your cells use glucose and move it to your liver, muscles, and fat. The melon may also be able to help your body retain nutrients by blocking their conversion to glucose that ends up in your blood stream.

Bitter melon isn’t an approved treatment or medication for prediabetes or diabetes despite the evidence that it can manage blood sugar.

Several studies have examined bitter melon and diabetes. Most recommend conducting more research before using any form of the melon for diabetes management.

Here are two studies that address bitter melon and diabetes:

  • A report in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews concluded that more studies are needed to measure the effects of bitter melon on type 2 diabetes. It also cited the need for more research on how it can be used for nutrition therapy.
  • A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology compared the effectiveness of bitter melon with a current diabetes drug. The study concluded that bitter melon did reduce fructosamine levels with type 2 diabetes participants. However, it did so less effectively than a lower dose of the already approved medication.

There’s no medically approved way to consume bitter melon as a treatment for diabetes at this time. Bitter melon may be eaten as part of a healthy and varied diet. Consuming bitter melon beyond your dinner plate may pose risks.

As a fruit that also has properties of a vegetable, bitter melon contains vitamins A and C as well as iron. It has been recognized by many cultures as having medicinal value.

There are no standard dosages for bitter melon as a medical treatment at this time.

You may find bitter melon in its natural vegetable form, as a supplement, and even as a tea. Keep in mind that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA and don’t have to adhere to any stringent standards prior to being sold.

You shouldn’t use bitter melon as a supplement without consulting your doctor.

Use bitter melon with caution beyond occasional use in your diet. Bitter melon can cause side effects and interfere with other medications.

Some of the risks and complications of bitter melon include:

  • diarrhea, vomiting, and other intestinal issues
  • vaginal bleeding, contractions, and abortion
  • dangerous lowering of blood sugar if taken with insulin
  • liver damage
  • favism (which can cause anemia) in those with G6PD deficiency
  • problems due to mixing with other drugs to alter effectiveness
  • problems in blood sugar control in those who have had recent surgery

Bitter melon consumed occasionally as a fruit or vegetable may be a healthy addition to your diet. More research is needed to make connections between the varied forms of bitter melon and the treatment of medical conditions.

Bitter melon products should be used with caution. Consult your doctor prior to using them.