What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Bitter Melon (Bitter Gourd)?

  • Medical Reviewer: Dany Paul Baby, MD
Medically Reviewed on 7/28/2022

What is bitter melon?

Bitter melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which is also known as the gourd family. The benefits of bitter melon include that it helps control blood sugar, helps fight cancer, and helps fight cancer, but side effects may include indigestion and diarrhea.
Bitter melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which is also known as the gourd family. The benefits of bitter melon include that it helps control blood sugar, helps fight cancer, and helps fight cancer, but side effects may include indigestion and diarrhea.

Bitter melon is a popular vine of the tropics. Though eaten all over the world, it's particularly important in Asian cuisine. Its edible fruit, which is also rich in nutrients, has long been used in the traditional medicine systems of India and China. 

While there are many health benefits of bitter melon, it's best known for its ability to control blood sugar and cholesterol levels. But this fruit can also have some side effects when eaten in large amounts, especially for those taking certain kinds of medications.

Bitter melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which is also known as the gourd family. Vegetables like pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon, melon, squash, and zucchini also belong to this group. The scientific name of bitter melon is Momordica charantia (MC). Around the globe, it’s known by many other names, like:

  • Pare 
  • Karela
  • Bitter apple 
  • Bitter gourd
  • Balsam pear
  • Leprosy gourd 
  • Bitter cucumber

Being a tropical plant, bitter melon is widely used in Asia, South America, and East Africa. As its name suggests, its fruit tastes extremely bitter, especially when it's ripe and mature. The fruit is oblong in shape as well as yellowish-green in color when unripe and yellowish-orange when ripe.

But these features can differ slightly from one variety of bitter melon to another. For example, while the Chinese variety is smooth-skinned, the Indian variety has a bumpy texture.

You can eat bitter melon raw or cooked or make a concentrated extract from it. The latter is the most nutritious and has the most health benefits. As is done in Asian cuisine, you can also use its unripe fruit as a vegetable and make stir-fries and many other recipes from it.

What are the nutrients in bitter melon?

The amount and types of nutrients that you can get from bitter melon will depend on whether you eat it raw or cooked. It will also depend on which part of the plant you're using. Generally speaking, there are at least 32 active chemicals in this fruit. 

You can get the following nutrients from eating 1 cup (130 grams) of cooked bitter melon:

  • Calories: 53.3 kcal
  • Protein: 1.07 g 
  • Total fat: 3.52 g
  • Carbohydrates: 5.45 g
  • Sugar: 2.46 g
  • Fiber: 2.47 g

Bitter melon also contains these vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants:

VitaminsBitter melon is an excellent source of vitamin C, containing around 41.5 g of this vitamin in 1 cup. It also contains good amounts of folate, the natural form of vitamin B9, which your cells need to grow and develop. 

Minerals. Bitter gourd is a great source of sodium, as just 1 cup can provide you over 166 mg of sodium. It also contains twice the amount of calcium as spinach and twice the amount of potassium as bananas.

Antioxidants. Bitter melon contains high amounts of antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from inflammation and oxidative damage. Among them, the most powerful ones are gallic acid, chlorogenic acid, catechin, and epicatechin.

What are the health benefits of bitter melon?

There are many health benefits of bitter melon. Here are some of the main ones:

Controls blood sugar. Bitter gourd is best known for its ability to control and lower blood sugar levels. Studies show that eating the fruit raw, as a dried powder, or in its juice form can help manage diabetes. This is because bitter melon extract usually has a similar effect as animal insulin.

More high-quality, human-based studies are needed to study the effect of this fruit on the general diabetic population. So, don’t consider this fruit a replacement for your normal insulin medications if you’re prediabetic or diabetic.

Helps fight cancer. Scientists have found a good number of cancer-fighting chemicals in bitter melon. According to some studies, its concentrated extract can fight cancer cells in the uterus, skin, bone marrow, breast, and prostate gland. Note that most of these studies used concentrated bitter gourd extract for their experiments. It’s still not clear if having normal amounts of bitter gourd can help treat cancer. 

Lowers chances of microbial infections. Studies suggest that bitter melon contains many bioactive chemicals with antimicrobial effects. Its pulp extract can help fight infections caused by different kinds of bacteria, like E. coli, Heliobacter, Staphylococcus, and Salmonella, to name a few. Scientists have also discovered a few bitter gourd proteins capable of fighting HSV-1, SINV, and HIV viruses.

Keeps metabolic disorders at bay. Various bioactive phytochemicals with strong antioxidant activities have been found in the bitter gourd pulp. These antioxidants play a big role in protecting your cells from oxidative stress. Over time, this can lead to metabolic syndrome — a condition in which your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body fat levels reach unhealthy levels. 

So, by preventing metabolic syndrome, bitter melon also reduces your risk of heart disorders, obesity, and kidney problems.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

How much bitter melon can you have in a day?

If you’re planning to add bitter melon to your diet, make sure to only have moderate amounts of it per day. Have no more than 3 to 15 grams of powdered dried fruit in a day. If drinking it as fresh juice, limit the amount to 100 to 200 ml per day. If you're planning to use bitter gourd extract, keep your dose between 100 to 200 mg, and have it no more than three times a day.

What are the side effects of bitter melon?

Bitter melon offers many health benefits when you have it in the recommended amounts. But it can pose some health risks when taken in high amounts or in the form of supplements.

The most common side effects of bitter gourd include digestive disorders. For example, drinking bitter melon juice for days has been found to cause indigestion and diarrhea. The same also applies to bitter gourd extract. When taken beyond the recommended dose, it can cause gastric ulcers and even severe kidney injury in extreme cases. 

Who should not eat bitter melon?

Though bitter gourd is generally considered safe, it can pose significant risks for certain groups of people. These include:

Expecting mothers, breastfeeding women, and those trying to get pregnant. Research on the long-term effects of bitter melon on growing human babies is lacking. According to some animal studies, it can even cause birth defects.

Those taking cytochrome P450 substrate drugsThe extract of bitter gourd is known to prevent this drug from metabolizing properly. 

Those taking insulin or diabetes medications. Bitter melons can further enhance the effect of insulin or your prescribed drug and thereby lower your blood sugar to extreme levels.

Those taking P-glycoprotein substrate drugs. Bitter melon can increase the toxicity levels of such drugs. 

Those with physical weakness. Our bodies can feel particularly weak after prolonged fasting, recent surgery, or losing large amounts of blood. You should avoid eating bitter gourd in these situations since it can lower your blood sugar levels and cause you to feel dizzy or faint.

If you belong to any of these groups, make sure to talk to your doctor and follow their advice before adding bitter melon to your diet.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/28/2022

American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy: "Bitter melon (Momordica charantia): a review of efficacy and safety."

International Journal of Molecular Sciences: "Recent Advances in Momordica charantia: Functional Components and Biological Activities."

Journal of Lipids: "Beneficial Role of Bitter Melon Supplementation in Obesity and Related Complications in Metabolic Syndrome."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Bitter Melon."

Natural Medicine Journal: "Nutrient Profile: Bitter melon (Momordica charantia)."

ScienceDirect: "Bitter Gourd."

Tennessee State University: "Bitter Melon Fact Sheet."

U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Bitter melon, cooked."

Vepachedu Educational Foundation: "Bitter Melon."