Bitter Melon Use in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine
What is bitter melon?
Also known as bitter gourd, wild cucumber, and balsam pear, bitter melon is a versatile bitter-tasting fruit used in the cuisine of countries such as China, India, Vietnam, Nepal and Pakistan. It also has a long and remarkable history in Asian traditional medicine. The fruit has a lime green, shriveled cucumber appearance, and a similar texture, though shades, shapes and textures can vary depending on the country. Recently, bitter melon has gained significant culinary and medicinal popularity in the west.
Medicinal properties of Bitter Melon: Digestion Aid
Perhaps the most common medicinal property of bitter melon is its ability to aid in digestion. On the tongue, bitter food immediately stimulates the production of amylase, an enzyme that turns starch into sugar. This is also evidenced with foods like celery, kale, artichokes, and parsley.
Ancient Medicinal Uses of Bitter Melon
In Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, the symbiosis of foods is important and should include bitter taste along with salty, sweet and sour. Two additional tastes are pungent and astringent. Ayurveda is a holistic philosophy of life which advises getting our necessary nutrients from all of the six taste groups. These nutrients include vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Medicinal properties of Bitter Melon: Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
Chemicals in bitter melon have been suggested to lower glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance, and increase glucose absorption. Additionally, the chemicals promote the way in which liver and muscle glycogen works together, and promotes healthy glucose oxidation. These findings are particularly note-worthy for diabetes research.
Uses of Bitter Melon around the World
A link has also been established between bitter melon and the elevated number of beta cells found in the pancreas, the organ which produces insulin. In the Amazon, the juice, and sometimes leaves, of the fruit are used to combat diabetes. In India, the leaves are made into a powder and mixed with the fruits juice to make an extract for the treatment of diabetes.
- Fights bacteria and viruses. Particularly in Panamanian and Columbian countries, bitter melon has been known to treat malaria. Bitter melon has been taken to kill parasites such as intestinal worms. In many countries, bitter melon is recommended for the common cold, flu and even fever.
- The seeds of bitter melons reportedly have immunosuppressive traits, and may assist those with autoimmune diseases.
- In China, bitter melon has been used to treat some kinds of cancer, impotency, and kidney problems.
- In India, the fruit is a common recommendation for constipation, eczema, fever, pneumonia, and menstrual disorders.
- Bitter melon is naturally high in vitamin c, iron, folate and magnesium.
Bitter Melon: Future directions
A link has been made between bitter melon and the treatment of HIV and AIDS, but further research needs to be done. The virus is thought to be inhibited by certain proteins in the fruit. Similarly, the reproduction of the Herpes virus and its ability to form plaques seems to be hindered by the alpha and beta momorchardin proteins found in bitter melon. Bitter melon remains a popular culinary and medicinal fruit around the world. Its many healthful uses are increasingly being recognized in the west. Sources: http://www.diabeteshealth.com/read/2005/02/01/4095.html http://www.chow.com/stories/10138 http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69138.cfm http://www.bittermelon.org/pages/heal/research_diabetes.html