Updated: Aug 26, 2019
Bitter melon, or bitter gourd, is a vegetable that has been used in Caribbean, Chinese and Indian dishes for centuries. The dried leaves and stems are used for making tea. In traditional Chinese medicine Bitter Melon tea is known for its ability to dramatically lower blood sugar. In some cultures Bitter Melon is seen as a “plant-insulin”, and some studies show that, if administered correctly, it can behave similarly to slow-acting animal insulin which represents exciting potential for a more sustainable, vegetarian, source of insulin. In the Caribbean bitter melon is used for a myriad of uses including digestive upset and blood sugar control.
Western drugs for diabetes are fraught with side effects. On the other hand, bitter melon has been used successfully for hundreds of years.
A study by researchers in Australia, China, and Germany found that four compounds in bitter melon “activate an enzyme that is responsible for… transporting glucose from the blood into the cells.” The enzyme is called AMPK, the same one activated by exercise.
AMPK moves glucose transporter molecules to the surface of cells. There they help bring glucose from the blood into the cells. Science Daily reported, “This is a major reason that exercise is recommended as part of the normal treatment program for someone with Type 2 diabetes.”
Some of the compounds in Bitter Melon that scientists have found to be responsible for its blood sugar lowering action are:
Charantin: a compound of mixed steroids that has been found to be more effective than one oral hypoglycemic drug, Tolbutamide.
Polypeptide P: An insulin-like polypeptide which appears to lower blood sugar even in type I diabetics. This peptide as well as a compound called vicine is similar to insulin. Alkaloids present in the bitter gourd are also noted to have blood sugar lowering effects but researchers are not yet clear on which of the compounds is most effective or if it is the combination of all of them which cause this effect.
Oleanolic Acid Glycosides: These compounds have been found to improve glucose tolerance in Type II diabetics by preventing the absorption of sugar from the intestines?
Bitter Melon has also been linked to effects of increasing the number of beta cells in the pancreas as well, and as a result improving the body’s capability to produce insulin.
In a 2007 study, the Philippine Department of Health determined that 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of bitter melon each day reduces glucose as much as 2.5 mg/kg of glyburide, a sulfonylurea drug, taken twice per day.
In India some doctors are so confident about the anti-diabetic effect of Bitter Melon that it is dispensed in hospitals to people suffering from diabetes.
Bitter Melon Leaf Tea can also help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides as well. Studies show that mice on a high fat diet taking Bitter Melon did not have the nerve and brain inflammation changes associated with a high fat diet and thus it might be of benefit in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Health professionals with the University of Michigan Health System recommend consuming bitter melon as a tea, food, fresh juice or tincture. People with diabetes may consume one small melon or drink 1 teaspoon of fresh bitter melon juice each day (up to 3 teaspoons a day). It’s best to consume bitter melon juice or tea with food to avoid hypoglycemia (blood sugar lows).
The melon itself is quite bitter. Bitter melon leaf tea, on the other hand, is not bitter. It is actually quite savory. Don't add sugar or sweetener to the tea, it destroys the flavor and cancels out some of the health benefits. The tea can be consumed during or after every meal to help lower blood sugar.
Some people take the tea in the morning and evening.
Bitter Melon Side Effects: If you are taking medication for your blood sugar levels, talk to your doctor and keep a close eye on your blood sugar as it may significantly lower blood sugar levels.