Herbal Alternatives to treat diabetes: Bitter melon

October 9, 2015

Although it's a staple of Chinese and Indian cuisine, bitter melon lives up to its names — it's also known as bitter gourd, bitter apple and bitter cucumber.

Cultivated in tropical areas of Asia, Africa and South America, it's been used as a contraceptive, a treatment for psoriasis and a variety of other purposes. Mainly, though, it's been hailed for lowering blood sugar; the fruit and seeds are loaded with chemicals that appear to have an impact on glucose or insulin. One of the chemicals is similar to cow insulin.

Lab and animal studies suggest that bitter melon may work on several levels, such as boosting insulin secretion, improving the ability of cells to absorb glucose and hindering the release of glucose from the liver. One of the largest studies of bitter melon in people with type 2 diabetes lasted only two days, but the melon caused significant drops in blood sugar for 100 participants within hours of drinking suspended vegetable pulp. A number of smaller but longer trials have had similar results.

Bitter melon is widely used in Asia and appears to be safe for most adults, but it's thought to interfere with fertility, so you shouldn't consume it if you're pregnant or hoping to become pregnant.

Keep it out of the reach of children. A number of reports suggest it's toxic to young bodies, and at least one child is known to have died from drinking the juice.

Herbal Alternatives to treat diabetes: Bitter melon

If you try it

You can get bitter melon at health food stores or Asian grocery stores in a variety of forms, including powder, extract, juice and the raw vegetable.

Herbalists often suggest taking it in juice — 50 millilitres (2 ounces) is a typical daily dose, but if you don't like the bitter taste you may want to consider capsules instead — three to 15 grams (0.1 to 0.5 ounces) daily is usually recommended.

Look for products that are made from the fruit or seeds, the apparent source of bitter melon's effects, not the leaves or vine.

As with any treatment or medication, be sure to consult your doctor before trying this or any natural remedy.

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