Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and the American Cancer Society reports that roughly 53,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2016 alone. Now, emerging research demonstrates that a unique type of Asian melon is showing potential to prevent and treat this aggressive and deadly disease – and other forms of cancer as well.
Bitter melon is a true medicinal food
Bitter melon, scientifically known as Momordica charantia and also known as bitter gourd, balsam pear and karela, is a member of the pumpkin family native to South America, Asia, parts of Africa and the Caribbean.
A powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, bitter melon has been utilized for centuries as both a nutritious food and an important herbal remedy in Chinese Traditional Medicine. In fact, Li Shizhen, China’s legendary sixteenth-century physician and pharmacologist, valued bitter melon’s healing properties enough to include it in the famous Compendium of Materia Medica.
Five hundred years later, modern research is validating the disease-fighting effects of bitter melon.
Bitter melon outperforms standard chemotherapy drug in inhibiting cancer
A new animal study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center showed that the juice from bitter melon dramatically suppressed the growth of pancreatic tumors in mice – with mice that had been treated with 5 mg a day of freeze-dried bitter melon juice demonstrating tumors that were 64 percent smaller than those of untreated mice.
In fact, the bitter melon was more effective than a common chemotherapy drug used in a similar study – which only reduced pancreatic tumor size by 52 percent.
Noting the “remarkable potency” of the bitter melon extract, the researchers also commented that the dosage used on mice – which caused no adverse effects – could be easily adapted for humans.
Bitter melon appears to target cancer cells with a vengeance
Researchers report that constituents in bitter melon – which include a triterpenoid called charantin – activate an enzyme called AMPK, interfering with the cancer cells’ metabolism of glucose and depriving them of the sugar they need to survive.
In a cell study, bitter melon drastically reduced the viability of all four pancreatic cell lines tested – two of them by 98 percent and the other two by 90 percent. Bitter melon not only causes apoptosis – or cell death in cancer cells – along several pathways, but can stop the spread and re-growth of cancer cells.
And, bitter melon targets other types of cancer as well. It has also shown activity against cancers of the prostate, colon, liver, stomach and naso-pharynx – as well as against leukemia. In addition, scientists at Saint Louis University Cancer Center found that bitter melon destroys breast cancer cells as well.
Bitter melon can help diabetics in many ways
Extensive research has confirmed bitter melon’s powerful blood sugar-lowering effects – which go to work against diabetes in a variety of ways. Studies have shown that bitter melon increases the cellular uptake of glucose, improves glucose tolerance and stimulates insulin secretion.
When it comes to fighting diabetes, this unusual melon has no shortage of ammunition. Glycosides such as charantin, momordin and vicine all help to decrease blood glucose concentrations, and one compound found in bitter melon – polypeptide-9 – has qualities similar to insulin.
Bitter melon’s ability to activate the enzyme AMPK – which helps to regulate metabolism and enable glucose uptake – mimics the beneficial effects of exercise. Significantly, AMPK activation is also instrumental in the way bitter melon attacks cancer cells.
Are there any studies on blood sugar-lowering effects in humans?
Extensive animal and cell studies have shown bitter melon’s effect on blood sugar, and clinical research is bearing this out.
A four-week clinical trial published in Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that 2000 mg of bitter melon a day caused marked reductions in blood sugar levels in subjects newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
How should I take bitter melon?
You can find fresh, organic bitter melon at Asian markets. The bitter flavor can be something of an acquired taste – some aficionados advise stir-frying it in conjunction with milder vegetables such as corn, bell peppers or carrots.
Bitter melon supplements are available in capsule form. Studies showing blood sugar reduction have used up to 2,000 mg a day – naturally, you should discuss bitter melon supplementation with a qualified healthcare provider before trying it.
Research into the clinical applications of bitter melon is ongoing. But one thing is already clear: when it comes to fighting life-threatening diseases, the benefits of this mouth-puckering bitter food may turn out to be pretty sweet.