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Bitter Melon

What is it?

Bitter melon is a plant. The fruit and seeds are used to make medicine.

Bitter melon is used for various stomach and intestinal disorders including gastrointestinal (GI) upset, ulcers, colitis, constipation, and intestinal worms. It is also used for diabetes, kidney stones, fever, a skin condition called psoriasis, and liver disease; to start menstruation; and as supportive treatment for people with HIV/AIDS.

Topically, bitter melon is used for deep skin infections (abscesses) and wounds.

Bitter melon is used as a vegetable in India and other Asian countries and as an ingredient in some kinds of curries.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for BITTER MELON are as follows:

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Diabetes. Research results so far are conflicting and inconclusive. Some studies show that bitter melon fruit, fruit juice, or extract improves glucose tolerance, reduces blood sugar levels, and lowers HbA1c (a measure of blood sugar control over time) in people with type 2 diabetes. However, these studies have some flaws. Other research has not been positive.
  • Psoriasis.
  • HIV/AIDS.
  • Stomach and intestinal disorders.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Liver disease.
  • Skin abscesses and wounds.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of bitter melon for these uses.

How does it work?

Bitter melon contains a chemical that acts like insulin to help reduce blood sugar levels.

Are there safety concerns?

Bitter melon fruit is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in the short-term. The safety of long-term use (beyond 3 months) is not known. There also is not enough information about the safety of consuming other parts of the bitter melon or applying bitter melon to the skin.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Bitter melon is LIKELY UNSAFE when taken by mouth during pregnancy. Certain chemicals in bitter melon fruit, juice, and seeds can start menstrual bleeding and have caused abortion in animals. Not enough is known about the safety of using bitter melon during breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Diabetes: Bitter melon can lower blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes and take medications to lower your blood sugar, adding bitter melon might make your blood sugar drop too low. Monitor your blood sugar carefully.

Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency: People with G6PD deficiency might develop “favism” after eating bitter melon seeds. Favism is a condition named after the fava bean, which is thought to cause “tired blood” (anemia), headache, fever, stomach pain, and coma in certain people. A chemical found in bitter melon seeds is related to chemicals in fava beans. If you have G6PD deficiency, avoid bitter melon.

Surgery: There is a concern that bitter melon might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using bitter melon at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Are there interactions with medications?

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Bitter melon can decrease blood sugar levels. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking bitter melon along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to be too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Bitter melon can lower blood glucose levels. Using it with other herbs or supplements that have the same effect might cause blood sugar levels to drop too low. Some herbs and supplements that can lower blood sugar include alpha-lipoic acid, chromium, devil's claw, fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, horse chestnut, Panax ginseng, psyllium, Siberian ginseng, and others.

Are there interactions with foods?

There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

The appropriate dose of bitter melon depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for bitter melon. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Other names

African Cucumber, Ampalaya, Balsam Pear, Balsam-Apple, Balsambirne, Balsamo, Bitter Apple, Bitter Cucumber, Bitter Gourd, Bittergurke, Carilla Fruit, Carilla Gourd, Cerasee, Chinli-Chih, Cundeamor, Fructus Mormordicae Grosvenori, Karavella, Kathilla, Karela, Kareli, Kerala, Kuguazi, K'u-Kua, Lai Margose, Melón Amargo, Melon Amer, Momordica, Momordica charantia, Momordica murcata, Momordique, Pepino Montero, P'u-T'ao, Sorosi, Sushavi, Vegetable insulin, Wild Cucumber.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

References

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Last reviewed - 02/13/2015