Bitter Melon Ext (fruit)
Momordica Charantia Products

Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon Introduction

Bitter melon is also known as karalla fruit, bitter gourd, and balsam pear. It is a large trailing plant with wide leaves and tendrils. It produces melons that can be used as a food or medicinal supplement. It grows in the tropical areas of South America and Asia.

Bitter melon has been used for centuries as a popular food and medicine in South America, Asia, and India. It was traditionally used as a treatment for diabetes. Interestingly, bitter melon’s use in diabetics continues to be its primary medicinal use today.

The main constituent of bitter melon is a steroidal saponin-charantin, and is the constituent responsible for the fruit’s anti-diabetic effects. Other important constituents are polypeptide-p, triterpene glycosides, and alkaloids.

Again, bitter melon’s main action is as an anti-diabetic. More recently, it has shown promise as anti tumor agent and may possess the ability to inhibit anti-HIV activity.

Bitter Melon Uses

Parts Used

All aerial parts of the plant can be used. The entire fruit, including seeds, leaves, and stem, is considered medicinally active .

Bitter Melon Uses

Bitter melon’ most prominent application is with the treatment of diabetes. It can be used in both Type I and Type II diabetes mellitus. Although the action of bitter melon is not strong enough to be a first line treatment in these individuals, it is a useful adjunctive treatment to any protocol.

Bitter melon has insulinomimetic properties, meaning it works similar to insulin. This may allow individuals with Type I diabetes to lower their insulin dose. Bitter melon is also thought to exhibit a sulfonylurea-like activity. Sulfonylurea medications are a conventional treatment for Type II diabetes and include medications such as Glyburide. [1]

Bitter melon improves glucose tolerance by enhancing tissue uptakes of glucose and by inhibiting glucose uptake from the intestines. These actions are all therapeutically beneficial for individuals suffering from diabetes mellitus. [2]

Preliminary studies in vitro have shown that certain proteins in bitter melon may inhibit growth of HIV. Of greatest interest is the protein MAP30. In various clinical applications, this protein has been shown to be reactive in different stages of the HIV life cycle, and has also exhibited efficacy for acute and chronic infections resulting from immunosuppression. [3]

Although, the direct mechanism of action is unknown, these same proteins have also been show to possess certain anti-tumor activities. [4] Further study is needed both in vitro and in human subjects, to further assess MAP30’s effectiveness on certain cancers.

Bitter melon has also been proven effective as an adjunctive treatment for individuals on chemotherapeutic drugs. It has been shown in some studies to reduce the resistance to the “chemo” by cells. [5] The action is exerted on a particular cell’s phenotype, thereby limiting the accumulation of chemotherapeutic drugs within the cell. The leaves are the primary plant components responsible for this effect.

Bitter Melon Contraindications & Interactions

Bitter Melon Contraindications

Bitter melon is contraindicated in pregnant and lactating women. It also has the potential to be an emmenogogue and abortifacient. [6, 7] It is also contraindicated in persons with liver disease. [8]

Bitter Melon Interactions

Bitter melon may interact with oral hypoglycemics and insulin due to its hypoglycemic effects. Individuals who are using medications to control their blood sugar should regularly monitor blood glucose levels and adjust dosages accordingly. [9]

Bitter Melon Dosages

The whole melon can be juiced (including seeds), diluted with water, and then added to different beverages.

  • 5 - 10 milliters (ml), three times daily of a 1:5 tincture.
  • 200 - 400 milligrams (mg), three times daily of powdered whole herb.
  • 200 mg, twice daily of herb standardized to 5% triterpene content.

Bitter Melon Toxicities

Side effects include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), headache, increases in liver enzymes (hepatitis), and convulsions in children. [10] One of the constituents that occurs in the seeds, lectin, is toxic and can interfere with protein synthesis in the intestinal wall. [11]


[1] Rotshteyn Y, Zito SW. Application of modified in vitro screening procedures for identifying herbals possessing sulfonylurea like activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Aug; 93(2-3): 337-344

[2] Welihinda J et al. Effect of Momordica charantia on the glucose tolerance in maturity onset diabetes. J Ethnopharmacol. 1986 Sep; 17(3): 277-282.

[3] Lee-Huang S et al. Anti-HIV and anti-tumor activities of recombinant MAP30 from bitter melon. Gene 1995 Aug 19; 161(2): 151-156.

[4] Lee-Huang S et al. Anti-HIV and anti-tumor activities of recombinant MAP30 from bitter melon. Gene 1995 Aug 19; 161(2): 151-156.

[5] Limtrakul P, Khantamat O, Pintha K. Inhibition of p-glycoprotein activity and reversal of cancer multi-drug resistance by Momordica charantia extract. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2004 Dec; 54(6): 525-530.

[6] Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 3rd Edition. Eclectic Medical Publications, Sandy OR 2001: 39.

[7] Leung SO et al. The immunosuppressive activities of two abortifacient proteins isolated from the seeds of bitter melon (Momordica charantia). Immunopharmacology. 1987 Jun; 13(3): 159-171.

[8] Tennekoon KH et al. Effect of Momordica charantia on key hepatic enzymes. J Ethnopharmacol. 1994 Oct; 44(2): 93-97.

[9] Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 3rd Edition. Eclectic Medical Publications, Sandy OR 2001: 39.

[10] Busch E, Gabardi S, Ulbricht C. Bitter melon (Momordica charantia): a review of efficacy and safety. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003 Feb15; 60(4): 356-359.

[11] Lampe KF, McCann MA. AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants. American Medical Association, Chicago, IL. 1985.