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Why Is Bitter Gourd So Effective In Diabetes Control

Bitter gourd or karela has traditionally been used for a range of medical conditions such as chronic fever, joint pain, jaundice, hemorrhoids, skin diseases, diseases of the liver and digestive system etc. Ayurveda considers it to be useful in reducing obesity as well as lowering blood sugar levels.

bitter gourd diabetes
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Known as ‘madhumeha’ in Ayurveda, diabetes is a growing cause for concern across the world. This condition is indicated by high levels of blood sugar or glucose. A hormone known as insulin, which is produced by your pancreas, is responsible for moving sugar from your blood into cells where it’s used for energy. But in people with diabetes this mechanism doesn’t function properly. There are mainly 2 kinds of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: where your immune system destroys insulin producing cells in your pancreas
  • Type 2 diabetes: where either your body does not respond properly to insulin (insulin resistance) or it produce adequate insulin

During pregnancy, some women may experience high levels of blood sugar. This is known as gestational diabetes.[1][Diabetes](https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/ “Diabetes”).NHS,UK.

It is estimated that around 422 million people in the world suffer from diabetes.[2][Diabetes](https://www.who.int/health-topics/diabetes#tab=tab_1 “Diabetes”). World Health Organization. But this figure doesn’t give us a clear picture of the magnitude of the problem. Many people also suffer from prediabetes, a condition where you have abnormally high blood sugar levels though it’s not high enough to be characterized as diabetes. These people have a higher risk of developing diabetes.

Ayurveda Approach To Treating Diabetes

While modern medicine recommends a healthy diet, regular exercise, and even medication in some cases, to deal with diabetes the ancient science of ayurveda also offers an approach for addressing this condition. Ayurveda implicates hereditary (sahaja) and lifestyle (apathyanimittaja) factors such as an improper diet in the development of diabetes or madhumeha. Madhumeha, which literally translates to having urine that’s sweet like honey, is considered one of twenty urinary disorders (prameha). The ayurvedic approach to dealing with diabetes also places an emphasis on a healthy diet and physical activity. But there will be differences in the approach based on your body constitution (deha prakriti):

  • apatarpana (denourishment) treatments are recommended for obese or heavily built people. This would apply usually to those with kapha body types.
  • santarpana (replenishing) treatments are recommended for people who are lean. This would usually apply to people with vatta or pitta body types.[3][Diabetes: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, Prevention Tips](https://www.easyayurveda.com/2013/11/25/madhumeha-ayurvedic-understanding-diabetes-mellitus/ “Diabetes: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, … Continue reading

Medicinal plants and vegetables have long been an invaluable part of the ayurvedic approach to treating diseases. And bitter gourd or bitter melon is considered to be particularly effective for diabetes.

What Are The Nutritional Properties Of Bitter Gourd?

Bitter gourd or bitter melon (aka karela) has traditionally been used for a range of medical conditions such as chronic fever, joint pain, jaundice, hemorrhoids, skin diseases, diseases of the liver and digestive system etc. Also known as karela, it has a bitter (tikta), pungent (katu) taste (rasa) as well as the qualities (guna) of being light (laghu) and dry (ruksha). Ayurveda considers it to be useful in reducing obesity as well as lowering blood sugar. It is thought to promote strength and work as an anti-toxicant.[4][Bitter Gourd (Karela): Benefits, Remedies, Research, Side Effects](https://www.easyayurveda.com/2016/09/20/bitter-gourd-karela-benefits-remedies-research-side-effects/ “Bitter Gourd (Karela): … Continue reading [5]Bortolotti, Massimo, Daniele Mercatelli, and Letizia Polito. “Momordica charantia, a nutraceutical approach for inflammatory related diseases.” Frontiers in pharmacology 10 (2019): 486. [6]Janagal, Bhageshwary, Chandan Singh, Rajendra Prasad Purvia, and Manoj Adlakha. “A review of hypoglycemic effect of Momordica charantia wsr to madhumeh.” International Journal of Ayurveda … Continue reading

It is also a highly nutritious vegetable which can offer you a dose of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, and B-vitamins. It also contains beneficial antioxidants such as zeaxanthin and lutein.[7]Malia Frey.[Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits](https://www.verywellfit.com/bitter-melon-nutrition-facts-4178970 “Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”).Verywell Fit.

How Can Bitter Gourd Help With Diabetes?

1. It Helps Lower Blood Sugar Levels

An animal study looked at the effect of bitter gourd on postprandial glycemic response, that is, blood sugar levels after having a meal. It was found that bitter gourd extracts significantly suppressed blood sugar levels after 30 minutes. It is thought to work by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase. This enzyme helps breakdown food (carbohydrates) into glucose which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. So by inhibiting it you reduce the sugar released into the bloodstream.[8]Uebanso, Takashi, Hidekazu Arai, Yutaka Taketani, Makiko Fukaya, Hironori Yamamoto, Akira Mizuno, Keisuke Uryu, Takahiko Hada, and Eiji Takeda. “Extracts of Momordica charantia suppress … Continue reading

2. It Prevents Insulin Resistance

During the course of a study where rats were fed a high fat diet for 6 weeks, it was found that those who were also given a bitter gourd extract showed significantly better glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. That is, they were able to clear glucose from their bloodstream faster and their bodies responded better to insulin. This means that bitter gourd could possibly help prevent insulin resistance and diabetes.[9]Yang, Soo Jin, Jung Mook Choi, Se Eun Park, Eun Jung Rhee, Won Young Lee, Ki Won Oh, Sung Woo Park, and Cheol-Young Park. “Preventive effects of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) against … Continue reading

3. It Improves Glucose Tolerance

Glucose tolerance is described as your body’s ability to clear glucose from the bloodstream. People with impaired glucose tolerance have higher than normal blood sugar levels. According to a study, bitter gourd juice significantly improved glucose tolerance in 73% of diabetic patients who participated.[10]Welihinda, J., E. H. Karunanayake, M. H. H. Sheriff, and K. S. A. Jayasinghe. “Effect of Momordica charantia on the glucose tolerance in maturity onset diabetes.” Journal of … Continue reading

Meanwhile, another study found that while a small improvement in glucose tolerance was noticed by adding fried karela to the diet, the effect was most noteworthy when raw karela juice was consumed.[11]Leatherdale, B. A., R. K. Panesar, G. Singh, T. W. Atkins, C. J. Bailey, and A. H. Bignell. “Improvement in glucose tolerance due to Momordica charantia (karela).” Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) … Continue reading

4. It Helps With Diabetes-Related Complications
  • Cataract:
    People with cataracts develop cloudy patches on the lens of their eye leading to blurred vision. And those who have diabetes face a two to five times greater risk of developing cataracts. They’re also likely to suffer from them at an earlier age.[12][Diabetic Retinopathy](https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy “Diabetic Retinopathy”). National Institutes of Health. But bitter gourd may be helpful here. One animal study found that when diabetic rats were given an extract of bitter gourd it delayed the development of cataract by 50 to 80 days. The researchers suggest that cataract formation is dependent on blood sugar levels, therefore, bitter gourds may have worked by keeping blood sugar at a lower level.[13]Srivastava, Y., H. Venkatakrishna-Bhatt, and Y. Verma. “Effect of Monordica charantia Linn. pomous aqueous extract on cataractogenesis in murrin alloxan diabetics.” Pharmacological … Continue reading
  • Peripheral neuropathy:
    Over time, diabetes can cause damage to your nerves. People with peripheral neuropathy can experience a range of symptoms from a tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet, to pain, and muscle weakness.[14][Peripheral neuropathy](https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/ “Peripheral neuropathy”) NHS,UK. But research shows that bitter gourd can be of help here, too. Bitter gourd fruit juice is able to not just lower blood sugar levels but also correct structural abnormalities seen in the peripheral nerves of those with diabetes.[15]Singh, J., E. Cumming, G. Manoharan, H. Kalasz, and E. Adeghate. “Medicinal Chemistry of the Anti-Diabetic Effects of Momordica charantia: Active Constituents and Modes of Actions. The Open … Continue reading

How Does Bitter Gourd Control Blood Sugar?

Bitter gourd exerts its anti-diabetic effects through various mechanisms and several useful compounds such as p-insulin and charantin are thought to contribute to these effects.[16] Raman, A., and C. Lau. “Anti-diabetic properties and phytochemistry of Momordica charantia L.(Cucurbitaceae).” Phytomedicine 2, no. 4 (1996): 349-362.

1. It Mimics Insulin

Fruit juice extracts of bitter gourd have been found to act like insulin. Just like insulin they move sugar into your cells where they’re used for energy.[17]Cummings, E., H. S. Hundal, H. Wackerhage, M. Hope, M. Belle, E. Adeghate, and J. Singh. “Momordica charantia fruit juice stimulates glucose and amino acid uptakes in L6 myotubes.” … Continue reading

2. Stimulates The Release Of Insulin

One study found that bitter gourd extracts stimulate the release of insulin by pancreatic cells from obese and diabetic mice.[18]Welihinda, J., G. Arvidson, E. Gylfe, B. Hellman, and E. Karlsson. “The insulin-releasing activity of the tropical plant momordica charantia.” Acta biologica et medica Germanica 41, no. … Continue reading

3. Blocks The Breakdown Of Food Into Sugar

Research indicates that bitter gourd can inhibit the enzymes involved in converting food into glucose. This means that less glucose is formed in the body, therefore less glucose is released into the bloodstream.[19]Shibib, Baizid A., Liakot Ali Khan, and Rafiqur Rahman. “Hypoglycaemic activity of Coccinia indica and Momordica charantia in diabetic rats: depression of the hepatic gluconeogenic enzymes … Continue reading [20]Uebanso, Takashi, Hidekazu Arai, Yutaka Taketani, Makiko Fukaya, Hironori Yamamoto, Akira Mizuno, Keisuke Uryu, Takahiko Hada, and Eiji Takeda. “Extracts of Momordica charantia suppress … Continue reading

What Can You Do With Bitter Gourd?

  • Bitter gourds can make a great addition to a healthy and well-balanced diet. Make a curry or add it to a stir fry for a delicious side dish.
  • Bitter gourd juice is often used for dealing with diabetes. A typical dose for an adult would range between 10 to 20 ml.[21]Janagal, Bhageshwary, Chandan Singh, Rajendra Prasad Purvia, and Manoj Adlakha. “A review of hypoglycemic effect of Momordica charantia wsr to madhumeh.” International Journal of Ayurveda … Continue reading However, this can vary depending on individual characteristics. Do check with your ayurvedic doctor to determine the appropriate dose for you. Please keep in mind that consuming large quantities of bitter gourd juice can be toxic.[22] Raman, A., and C. Lau. “Anti-diabetic properties and phytochemistry of Momordica charantia L.(Cucurbitaceae).” Phytomedicine 2, no. 4 (1996): 349-362.

Who Should Not Take Bitter Gourd?

  • You should avoid bitter gourd if you’re pregnant as it can cause a miscarriage.
  • If you are on anti-diabetic medication, bitter gourds can cause your blood sugar levels to drop too low.
  • Never mix raw bitter gourd juice (karela) with bottle gourd juice (lauki) as the latter is sometimes found to be toxic and tastes bitter.
  • If you take P-glycoprotein substrates or Cytochrome P450 substrates you may experience problems with bitter gourds. Please check with your doctor if bitter gourd is safe to consume along with any medication that you may be using.
  • Some people experience headaches, vomiting, or diarrhea when they have bitter gourd. Start off by having a small quantity of bitter gourd to see how your body responds to it before making it a part of your diet.[23][Bitter Gourd Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits](https://www.verywellfit.com/bitter-gourd-nutrition-facts-4178970 “Bitter Gourd Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”).Verywell Health.
  • Avoid consumption of bitter gourd juice on a daily basis or in large quantities.

References

References
1 [Diabetes](https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diabetes/ “Diabetes”).NHS,UK.
2 [Diabetes](https://www.who.int/health-topics/diabetes#tab=tab_1 “Diabetes”). World Health Organization.
3 [Diabetes: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, Prevention Tips](https://www.easyayurveda.com/2013/11/25/madhumeha-ayurvedic-understanding-diabetes-mellitus/ “Diabetes: Ayurvedic Treatment, Remedies, Prevention Tips”). Easy Ayurveda.
4 [Bitter Gourd (Karela): Benefits, Remedies, Research, Side Effects](https://www.easyayurveda.com/2016/09/20/bitter-gourd-karela-benefits-remedies-research-side-effects/ “Bitter Gourd (Karela): Benefits, Remedies, Research, Side Effects”). Easy Ayurveda.
5 Bortolotti, Massimo, Daniele Mercatelli, and Letizia Polito. “Momordica charantia, a nutraceutical approach for inflammatory related diseases.” Frontiers in pharmacology 10 (2019): 486.
6, 21 Janagal, Bhageshwary, Chandan Singh, Rajendra Prasad Purvia, and Manoj Adlakha. “A review of hypoglycemic effect of Momordica charantia wsr to madhumeh.” International Journal of Ayurveda and Pharma Research (2018).
7 Malia Frey.[Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits](https://www.verywellfit.com/bitter-melon-nutrition-facts-4178970 “Bitter Melon Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”).Verywell Fit.
8, 20 Uebanso, Takashi, Hidekazu Arai, Yutaka Taketani, Makiko Fukaya, Hironori Yamamoto, Akira Mizuno, Keisuke Uryu, Takahiko Hada, and Eiji Takeda. “Extracts of Momordica charantia suppress postprandial hyperglycemia in rats.” Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology 53, no. 6 (2007): 482-488.
9 Yang, Soo Jin, Jung Mook Choi, Se Eun Park, Eun Jung Rhee, Won Young Lee, Ki Won Oh, Sung Woo Park, and Cheol-Young Park. “Preventive effects of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) against insulin resistance and diabetes are associated with the inhibition of NF-κB and JNK pathways in high-fat-fed OLETF rats.” The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 26, no. 3 (2015): 234-240.
10 Welihinda, J., E. H. Karunanayake, M. H. H. Sheriff, and K. S. A. Jayasinghe. “Effect of Momordica charantia on the glucose tolerance in maturity onset diabetes.” Journal of ethnopharmacology 17, no. 3 (1986): 277-282.
11 Leatherdale, B. A., R. K. Panesar, G. Singh, T. W. Atkins, C. J. Bailey, and A. H. Bignell. “Improvement in glucose tolerance due to Momordica charantia (karela).” Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 282, no. 6279 (1981): 1823-1824.
12 [Diabetic Retinopathy](https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy “Diabetic Retinopathy”). National Institutes of Health.
13 Srivastava, Y., H. Venkatakrishna-Bhatt, and Y. Verma. “Effect of Monordica charantia Linn. pomous aqueous extract on cataractogenesis in murrin alloxan diabetics.” Pharmacological research communications 20, no. 3 (1988): 201-209.
14 [Peripheral neuropathy](https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/ “Peripheral neuropathy”) NHS,UK.
15 Singh, J., E. Cumming, G. Manoharan, H. Kalasz, and E. Adeghate. “Medicinal Chemistry of the Anti-Diabetic Effects of Momordica charantia: Active Constituents and Modes of Actions. The Open Medicinal Chemistry Journal, 5, 70-77.” (2011).
16, 22 Raman, A., and C. Lau. “Anti-diabetic properties and phytochemistry of Momordica charantia L.(Cucurbitaceae).” Phytomedicine 2, no. 4 (1996): 349-362.
17 Cummings, E., H. S. Hundal, H. Wackerhage, M. Hope, M. Belle, E. Adeghate, and J. Singh. “Momordica charantia fruit juice stimulates glucose and amino acid uptakes in L6 myotubes.” Molecular and cellular biochemistry 261, no. 1 (2004): 99-104.
18 Welihinda, J., G. Arvidson, E. Gylfe, B. Hellman, and E. Karlsson. “The insulin-releasing activity of the tropical plant momordica charantia.” Acta biologica et medica Germanica 41, no. 12 (1982): 1229-1240.
19 Shibib, Baizid A., Liakot Ali Khan, and Rafiqur Rahman. “Hypoglycaemic activity of Coccinia indica and Momordica charantia in diabetic rats: depression of the hepatic gluconeogenic enzymes glucose-6-phosphatase and fructose-1, 6-bisphosphatase and elevation of both liver and red-cell shunt enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase.” Biochemical Journal 292, no. 1 (1993): 267-270.
23 [Bitter Gourd Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits](https://www.verywellfit.com/bitter-gourd-nutrition-facts-4178970 “Bitter Gourd Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”).Verywell Health.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. For more information pertaining to your personal needs please see a qualified health practitioner.

About the Author

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Dr. Anand R Dwivedi (KAA Expert)

Dr. Anand R Dwivedi is an Ayurevedacharya from Mumbai University, 1987. He has been practicing Ayurveda since 1988. He has a special interest in the treatment of chronic illnesses with the help of Ayurveda. He has been associated with Kapiva since 2015 and helping people lead a well-balanced lifestyle through his deep knowledge of Ayurveda.

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