Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean,
and South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. The fruit of this plant
lives up to its name—it tastes bitter. Although the seeds, leaves, and vines of bitter
melon have all been used, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used
Bitter melon has been used
in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual
health concern for complete information):
and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies
suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal
or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health
Historical or traditional use (may
or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Being a relatively common food item, bitter melon was traditionally used for an array of
conditions by people in tropical regions. Numerous infections, cancer, and diabetes were among the most common conditions it has
been purported to improve.1 The leaves and fruit have both been used in the Western
world to make teas and beer or to season soups.
At least three different groups of constituents in bitter melon have been reported to have
blood-sugar lowering actions of potential benefit in diabetes mellitus. These include a mixture of
steroidal saponins known as charantin, insulin-like peptides, and alkaloids. It is still
unclear which of these is most effective, or if all three work together. Some clinical trials
have confirmed the benefit of bitter melon for people with diabetes.2
In traditional herbal medicine, bitter melon—like other bitter-tasting herbs—is
thought to stimulate digestive function and improve appetite. This has yet to be tested in
How much is usually taken?
For those with a taste or tolerance for bitter flavor, a small melon can be eaten as food,
or up to 3 1/3 ounces (100 ml) of a decoction or 2 ounces (60 ml) of fresh juice can be drunk
per day.3 Though still bitter, tinctures of bitter melon (1 teaspoon [5 ml] two to
three times per day) are also sometimes used. The amounts recommended would be appropriate for
people with diabetes.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Ingestion of excessive amounts of bitter melon juice (several times more than the amount
recommended above) can cause abdominal pain and
diarrhea.4 Excessive ingestion of the seeds had been associated with headache,
fever, and coma. Bitter melon is not recommended for pregnant women. People with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should not take bitter
melon, because it may trigger or worsen the problem. This effect has been reported in two
young children and one adult patient with
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions
with bitter melon.
References (To view, roll mouse over the "References" heading; to hide, click on the heading)
1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC
Press, 1985, 315–6.
2. Raman A, Lau C. Anti-diabetic properties and phytochemistry of
Momordica charantia L (Curcurbitaceae). Phytomed 1996;2:349–62.
3. Werbach MR, Murray MT. Botanical Influences on Illness.
Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 1994, 139–41.
4. Brown DJ, Gaby A, Reichert R, Yarnell E. Phytotherapeutic and
nutritional approaches to diabetes mellitus. Quart Rev Nat Med
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only.
It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience,
or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur
in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over
the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist
for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in