- Side Effects
- Drug Interactions
- Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
- What Else to Know
Generic Name: bitter melon
Other Names: balsam apple, balsam pear, bitter apple, bitter cucumber, bitter gourd, karela, lakwa, margose, Momordica charantia, wild cucumber
Drug Class: Herbals
What is bitter melon, and what is it used for?
Bitter melon, known by many other names such as bitter gourd and bitter cucumber, is the edible fruit of Momordica charantia, a climbing vine that grows in Asia, East Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. The fruit is eaten as a vegetable and is also valued for its medicinal properties. Bitter melon has been traditionally used for treating many conditions including diabetes, cancer, fever, and infections.
Bitter melon contains many phenolic compound, flavonoids, triterpenoids, and insulin-like peptides, in addition to nutritional vitamins and minerals. Studies indicate that compounds such as charantin, insulin-like peptides (polypeptide-p), and vicine (found in the seeds), have blood glucose lowering (hypoglycemic) effects. Bitter melon also appears to reduce fat deposition, weight gain, and abnormally high blood fat levels, and protect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and high blood pressure (hypertension).
Bitter melon has antioxidant properties that may neutralize free radicals and prevent associated cell damage that is implicated in many diseases. Research suggests that both bitter melon and the compounds isolated from it may have hypoglycemic properties, however, there is little scientific evidence to back any of its other uses.
Bitter melon is available as fresh unripe fruit that can be juiced or eaten as a vegetable, the seeds can be powdered and added to food, and bitter melon extracts can be purchased over the counter (OTC) as herbal supplements. The suggested uses of bitter melon include:
- Do not take bitter melon if you are pregnant.
- Do not take concurrently with antidiabetic medication or insulin, bitter melon can have additive effects and lead to hypoglycemia.
- Bitter melon may change the way certain drugs work. Check with your healthcare provider before you take bitter melon supplements if you are taking any regular medications.
What are the side effects of bitter melon?
Side effects of bitter melon are mostly dose-related and may include:
- Excessive lowering of blood glucose (hypoglycemia)
- With excessive ingestion of bitter melon juice:
- With excessive ingestion of seeds:
Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms or serious side effects while using this drug:
- Serious heart symptoms include fast or pounding heartbeats, fluttering in your chest, shortness of breath, and sudden dizziness;
- Severe headache, confusion, slurred speech, severe weakness, vomiting, loss of coordination, feeling unsteady;
- Severe nervous system reaction with very stiff muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, fast or uneven heartbeats, tremors, and feeling like you might pass out; or
- Serious eye symptoms include blurred vision, tunnel vision, eye pain or swelling, or seeing halos around lights.
This is not a complete list of all side effects or adverse reactions that may occur from the use of this drug. Call your doctor for medical advice about serious side effects or adverse reactions. You may also report side effects or health problems to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
What are the dosages of bitter melon?
A standard dosage for bitter melon has not been established.
- 50-100 mL once/day OR
- 900 mg of fruit three times daily
- Eating bitter melon in small quantities as food is unlikely to result in overdose. Bitter melon overdose is unlikely to cause any serious adverse effects.
- Overdose of bitter melon juice may cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhea, which should resolve with discontinuation of bitter melon.
- Ingestion of excessive vicine from bitter melon seeds may cause headache, fever, abdominal pain, and coma.
- Overdose treatment may be supportive and symptomatic care.
What drugs interact with bitter melon?
Inform your doctor of all medications you are currently taking, who can advise you on any possible drug interactions. Never begin taking, suddenly discontinue, or change the dosage of any medication without your doctor’s recommendation.
- Bitter Melon has no known severe or serious interactions with other drugs.
- Bitter Melon has moderate interactions with at least 25 different drugs.
- Mild Interactions of bitter melon include:
The drug interactions listed above are not all of the possible interactions or adverse effects. For more information on drug interactions, visit the RxList Drug Interaction Checker.
It is important to always tell your doctor, pharmacist, or health care provider of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you use, as well as the dosage for each, and keep a list of the information. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you have any questions about the medication.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
What else should I know about bitter melon?
- Bitter melon eaten as food is likely safe for most people. Bitter melon juice and extracts in recommended doses for a short period are possibly safe for most adults.
- Check with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplement, including bitter melon.
- Take bitter melon supplements exactly as per label instructions.
- Herbal products often contain many ingredients. Check labels for the components in the bitter melon product you choose.
- Bitter melon is marketed as a herbal supplement and is not regulated by the FDA. Products may differ in formulations and strengths, and labels may not always match contents; exercise caution in choosing your product.
- Store safely out of reach of children.
- In case of bitter melon overdose, seek medical help or contact Poison Control.
Bitter melon, an edible fruit with many phenolic compound, flavonoids, triterpenoids, and insulin-like peptides, has been traditionally used for treating many conditions including diabetes, cancer, fever, and infections. Other uses for bitter melon include diabetes, cancer prevention, gastrointestinal upset, abnormal blood fat levels (dyslipidemia), obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, psoriasis, and others. Do not take bitter melon if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
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Diabetes is an impairment in the manner in which the body manages and uses sugar (glucose) as a fuel. High blood sugar levels may cause problems with the cardiovascular system, neurological system, and immune system.
What Are the Early Signs of Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by increased blood sugar (glucose) level. Type 2 Diabetes is caused by either insufficient insulin secretion or resistance to that hormone’s action. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and helps process the glucose in the blood. Thus, with inadequate insulin, the bodies can’t burn all the blood sugar for energy in an efficient way. This means the glucose level in the blood rises, causing a variety of symptoms and when severe may even lead to death.
Treatment & Diagnosis
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Medications & Supplements
Prevention & Wellness
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.