Scientific evidence is confirming that an ancient plant medicine called bitter melon can significantly reduce pain and increase mobility for osteoarthritis sufferers. It also can reduce blood sugar and help type 2 diabetes patients manage their blood sugar.
The plant compound called bitter melon has the botanical name of Momordica charantia. It has been used in traditional medicines around the world for a variety of inflammatory and metabolic conditions. The plant has been used medicinally throughout Asia and Africa, South America, Central America and Japan for centuries.
Now we find research proving many of the medicinal benefits of bitter melon.
Bitter melon helps type 2 diabetics
Many of these studies have been conducted on animals, and some small studies on humans were conclusive. But now we find some larger clinical studies providing concrete evidence.
In a large 2018 study from the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda, 1,045 type 2 diabetes patients were studied for between one month and four months.1 The researchers gave patients bitter melon, placebo or pharmaceutical management. The study found that HBA1c levels by an average of 26 percent. It also reduced post-meal blood sugar and fasting blood sugar levels significantly.
The researchers also tested 52 prediabetes patients, and again found their fasting blood sugar levels were decreased with bitter melon supplementation.
Bitter melon reduces bad cholesterol
In a 2018 study from the Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, researchers studied 43 patients with high cholesterol levels.2 They were split into two groups and given either 100 milligrams of bitter melon extract or a placebo for 30 days.
The researchers found that the bitter melon supplement significantly reduced low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-c) levels in the patients. LDL-c is typically known as the “bad” cholesterol because it is implicated in artery disease and heart disease.
Bitter melon studied on osteoarthritis
Research from the School of Medical Sciences at the University Sains Malaysia studied 75 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee for three months.4
The doctors split the patients into two groups. One group was given 500 milligrams of bitter melon three times a day – 1,500 milligrams per day. The other group was given a placebo.
The researchers focused on the knee pain, and assessed the patients using the Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Scores and the EQ-5D-3L Health questionnaire. They also tested the patients for body weight, body mass index, and blood sugar parameters.
The medical researchers found that after three months, those taking the bitter melon had significant improvements in their osteoarthritis pain, inflammation and mobility. They also had improved blood sugar and lowered BMI levels according to the data.
The researchers concluded:
“Momordica charantia supplementation offers a safe alternative to reducing pain and improving symptoms among the primary knee osteoarthritis patients while reducing the need for analgesia consumption. These beneficial effects can be seen as early as 3 months of supplementation.”
Anti-inflammatory bitter melon constituents
As do most plant medicines, bitter melon contains numerous active compounds. These include cucubitacins, momocharins, cucrbitins, charantin, quinic acid, gallic acid, gentisic acid, epicatechin, catechin, and a variety of other alkaloids, saponins, terpenoids, sterols, flavonoids, phenolics, glycosides, proteins and peptides.
Taken together, these have been shown to exert antioxidant activity, antimicrobial activity, anti-inflammatory activity and anti-tumor activity based on a plethora of laboratory and clinical research over the past two decades.5
It is for this reason that we can safely conclude that bitter melon exerts a combination of effects from its various constituents on the inflammatory condition of osteoarthritis. This is typical of plant medicines: They do not contain one or two active compounds like pharmaceuticals do. They typically contain hundreds of compounds that work synergistically. This is the wisdom of nature.
Many of the plant parts are used for medicines, including the gourd-like fruit, the leaves and vine, and the root. The fruit is often squeezed into a juice, Bitter melon fruit looks sort of like a large cucumber. The gourd tasts bitter as named, but there the bitterness can be neutralized with some creative cooking.6
1. Peter EL, Kasali FM, Deyno S, Mtewa A, Nagendrappa PB, Tolo CU, Ogwang PE, Sesaazi D. Momordica charantia L. lowers elevated glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Mar 1;231:311-324. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2018.10.033.
2. Kinoshita H, Ogata Y. Effect of Bitter Melon Extracts on Lipid Levels in Japanese Subjects: A Randomized Controlled Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018 Nov 8;2018:4915784. doi: 10.1155/2018/4915784.
3. Peter EL, Kasali FM, Deyno S, Mtewa A, Nagendrappa PB, Tolo CU, Ogwang PE, Sesaazi D. Momordica charantia L. lowers elevated glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2019 Mar 1;231:311-324. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2018.10.033.
4. Soo May L, Sanip Z, Ahmed Shokri A, Abdul Kadir A, Md Lazin MR. The effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) supplementation in knee osteoarthritis: A single-blinded, randomized controlled trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2018 Aug;32:181-186. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2018.06.012.
5. Jia S, Shen M, Zhang F, Xie J. Recent Advances in Momordica charantia: Functional Components and Biological Activities. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Nov 28;18(12). pii: E2555. doi: 10.3390/ijms18122555.
6. Snee LS, Nerurkar VR, Dooley DA, Efird JT, Shovic AC, Nerurkar PV. Strategies to improve palatability and increase consumption intentions for Momordica charantia (bitter melon): a vegetable commonly used for diabetes management. Nutr J. 2011 Jul 28;10:78. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-78.