Bitter melon is a perennial plant that grows in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, South America, East Africa, and the Caribbean. It is used both as food and in medicine to treat diabetes, cancer, viral infections, and immune disorders. Its bitterness is attributed to the presence of alkaloids, momordicosides, and momordicines.
In vitro and animal studies indicate anticancer (1) (2) (3), antiviral (4) (5) (6) and lipid lowering (7) effects.
Bitter melon was also shown to exert hypoglycemic effects in both healthy and diabetic patients (8), but further studies are required to recommend its use (9).
Recently findings suggest that bitter melon extracts have the potential for increasing insulin sensitivity in patients with type 2 diabetes compared to those with type 1 disease (31).
Bitter melon had no effect on natural killer cell activity in a study of cervical cancer patients (10).
Although bitter melon is consumed as food, consumption of the seeds, extracts, and large quantities of juice can cause adverse effects.
Bitter melon may interact with certain drugs including chemotherapy agents such as vinblastine and paclitaxel (11) (12). It also has additive blood sugar lowering effects when combined with insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents.