Green Indian bitter melon herb is known throughout Asia for many medicinal properties. It's used as a treatment for poor digestion, malaria, HIV infection and diabetes, but few clinical trials support its medicinal use. Because it is also a culinary herb; however, it is generally regarded as safe for most people to try, although its efficacy is questionable.
About Green Indian Bitter Melon Herb
Green Indian bitter melon herb is not exactly an herb. It's a fruit, related to the cucumber and the melon plant. It actually looks a like the typical salad cucumber except its surface has a lot of ridges or ripples on it. It's grown in China, India, the Philippines and other Asian countries and enjoyed as a bitter, crunchy salad or vegetable dish ingredient. In many countries, a very spicy dish consisting of friend bitter melons, hot peppers and onions is a popular street food, the fast food of the people.
Among the traditional cultures living throughout Asia, bitter melon has been used as a treatment for stomach upset, malaria and type II (adult onset) diabetes. Recent research, especially in the Philippines where herbal medicine is popular, suggests also that bitter melon may have some effect on the HIV virus too.
Herbalists will often prescribe bitter herbs to stimulate digestive activity. The premise is that bitter herbs stimulate the digestive juices necessary for proper digestion of food. For people who get a lot of stomach upset, burping, gas and stomach pains, bitters can often help. These are taken with meals or food. Bitter melons are often served raw on a salad as part of the treatment for "slow digestion." Although some bitter herbs can worsen stomach ulcers, bitter melon has the unique advantage of also containing a chemical that soothes inflammation, so people with ulcers can use this herb, although they should use care and caution when just starting out. If at any time their ulcers worsen, they should discontinue bitter melon use.
Type II Diabetes
The most promising field of research to date has been the use of bitter melon in the treatment of Type II diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes.Diabetes is a disease in which the body either produces insufficient amounts of insulin, the chemical that regulates blood sugar, or the body's cells become resistant or 'deaf' to the circulating insulin levels. Insulin works like a lock in a key, opening the cell doors to allow blood glucose inside. Glucose or sugar is necessary to sustain energy and life. If the cells won't allow the blood glucose inside, the levels rise in the bloodstream and in the internal organs, causing high blood glucose levels that can create dangerous side effects. Over time, this can lead to blindness, limb amputation and death if left unmanaged.
Bitter melon appears to help cells become more sensitive to insulin. Think of it like the graphite you buy from the hardware store and spray onto locks that stick - it helps open the cell lock once the insulin key is inserted and turned.
Research continues on bitter melon and its implications for diabetics. Science Daily summarized the research from two teams, one at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the second at Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, both of which are investigating which chemical compound can be extracted from bitter melon to create new medicines for diabetics. Diabetes Health also provides a glimpse into the ongoing research into the use of bitter melon extracts for diabetes control.
Malaria and HIV
Bitter melon has a long traditional use as a malaria treatment. Because the bitter taste is reminiscent of quinine, a known treatment for malaria, traditional herbal healers believed the herb contained the same chemical. Research proves otherwise. Anecdotal evidence is quite strong, however, that bitter melon does provide some sort of protective effect against malaria, but researchers aren't sure why.
Similarly, research into the use of bitter melon as an antiviral agent turned up some surprising results; it appears to fight the HIV virus. Laboratory tests indicate that several proteins extracted from bitter melon do fight the HIV virus, but these proteins cannot be easily absorbed by people. Researchers are still following this line of inquiry, hopeful that additional extracts or changes to the protein structure can keep them effective and easily absorbed by people infected with HIV.
Cautions and Contraindications
Like any food or drug, you can be allergic to bitter melon, so seek medical attention immediately if a rash, hives or difficult breathing occurs after taking bitter melon. Too much of this plant can cause intense stomach cramps and diarrhea, so follow directions on the label for any herbal extract. Do not give this herb to children as it has been known to cause upset stomach. For diabetics, never stop taking your medications unless under the guidance of a physician. Always tell your doctor about any herbs or supplements you are taking.
For More Information
The Bitter Melon Research Institute provides more information on the medicinal uses of bitter melon.