Bitter Melon Juice Regulates Insulin and Prevents Cancer
Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking and is a significant ingredient in Japanese cuisine. It has biologically active substances which have been shown to exhibit anticancer, antiviral, and cardioprotective properties. A new study shows that bitter melon juice restricts the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to metabolize glucose, thus cutting the cells’ energy source and eventually killing them.
Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African herbal medicine systems for a long time. In Turkey, it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. The fruit is broken up typically soaked in either olive oil or honey.
The plant contains several biologically active compounds, chiefly momordicin and cucurbitacin. Anticancerand Antidiabetic
Two compounds extracted from bitter melon, eleostearic acid from the seeds and fruit have been found to induce the termination of leukemia cells. Diet containing 0.01% bitter melon oil were found to prevent colon cancer is rats.
The current study goes much, much farther. We used the juice -- people especially in Asian countries are already consuming it in quantity. We show that it affects the glucose metabolism pathway to restrict energy and kill pancreatic cancer cells,” says Rajesh Agarwal, PhD, co-program leader of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CU Cancer Center and professor at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The University of Colorado Cancer study published in the journal Carcinogenesis
Agarwal’s interest came from connecting the dots of existing research in a novel way. Diabetes tends to presage pancreatic cancer and bitter melon has been shown to effect type-II diabetes, and has been used for centuries against diabetes in the folk medicines of China and India. Following this line of thinking, Agarwal and colleagues wondered what would happen if they closed out the middle man of diabetes and directly explored the link between bitter melon and pancreatic cancer.
The result, Agarwal says, is, “Alteration in metabolic events in pancreatic cancer cells and an activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase, an enzyme that indicates low energy levels in the cells.”
Bitter melon also regulates insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells. After studies in cell cultures, mouse models of pancreatic cancer that were fed bitter melon juice were 60 percent less likely to develop the disease than controls.
Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its nonprotein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin's effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon. As bitter melon is extremely bitter if eaten raw, it must be cooked to make it palatable.
The plant is also traditionally used against viral diseases such as chickenpox and measles. Tests with leaf extracts have shown in vitro activity against the herpes simplex type 1 virus, apparently due to unidentified compounds other than the momordicins.
Laboratory tests suggest compounds in bitter melon might even be effective for treating HIV infection. As most compounds isolated from bitter melon that impact HIV have either been proteins or lectins, neither of which are well-absorbed, it is unlikely that oral intake of bitter melon will slow HIV in infected people. Oral ingestion of bitter melon possibly could offset negative effects of anti-HIV drugs, if an in vitro study can be shown to be applicable to people.
In combination with Chinese yam, bitter melon has been shown to contribute to weight loss. Over a period of 23 weeks, those eating the diet containing bitter melon lost 7 kilos.
Dr. Marianna Pochelli is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine specializing in the treatment of disease through superfoods and herbal strategies. She actively promotes detoxification, colon cleansing, and a vegetarian lifestyle using living foods as a platform to health.