6 Benefits of Bitter Melon (Bitter Gourd) and Its Extract
Written by Rachael Link, MS, RD From Healthline
Bitter melon — also known as bitter gourd or Momordica charantia — is a tropical vine that belongs to the gourd family and is closely related to zucchini, squash, pumpkin, and cucumber.
It’s cultivated around the world for its edible fruit, which is considered a staple in many types of Asian cuisine.
The Chinese variety is typically long, pale green, and covered with wart-like bumps.
On the other hand, the Indian variety is more narrow and has pointed ends with rough, jagged spikes on the rind.
In addition to its sharp flavor and distinct appearance, bitter melon has been associated with several impressive health benefits.
Here are 6 benefits of bitter melon and its extract.
Bitter melon is a great source of several key nutrients.
One cup (94 grams) of raw bitter melon provides (1Trusted Source):
- Calories: 20
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin C: 93% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Vitamin A: 44% of the RDI
- Folate: 17% of the RDI
- Potassium: 8% of the RDI
- Zinc: 5% of the RDI
- Iron: 4% of the RDI
It’s also high in vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes skin health and proper vision (3Trusted Source).
Bitter melon is a good source of catechin, gallic acid, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid, too — powerful antioxidant compounds that can help protect your cells against damage (5Trusted Source).
Plus, it’s low in calories yet high in fiber — fulfilling approximately 8% of your daily fiber needs in a single one-cup (94-gram) serving.
SUMMARYBitter melon is a good source of nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, folate and vitamin A.
Thanks to its potent medicinal properties, bitter melon has long been used by indigenous populations around the world to help treat diabetes-related conditions (6Trusted Source).
In recent years, several studies confirmed the fruit’s role in blood sugar control.
A 3-month study in 24 adults with diabetes showed that taking 2,000 mg of bitter melon daily decreased blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c, a test used to measure blood sugar control over three months (7).
Another study in 40 people with diabetes found that taking 2,000 mg per day of bitter melon for 4 weeks led to a modest reduction in blood sugar levels.
What’s more, the supplement significantly decreased levels of fructosamine, another marker of long-term blood sugar control (8).
However, research in humans is limited, and larger, more high-quality studies are needed to understand how bitter melon may impact blood sugar levels in the general population.
SUMMARYBitter melon has been shown to improve several markers of long-term blood sugar control, including levels of fructosamine and hemoglobin A1c. Still, more high-quality research is needed.
Research suggests that bitter melon contains certain compounds with cancer-fighting properties.
For example, one test-tube study showed that bitter melon extract was effective at killing cancer cells of the stomach, colon, lung, and nasopharynx — the area located behind the nose at the back of your throat (10Trusted Source).
Another test-tube study had similar findings, reporting that bitter melon extract was able to block the growth and spread of breast cancer cells while also promoting cancer cell death (11).
Keep in mind that these studies were performed using concentrated amounts of bitter melon extract on individual cells in a laboratory.
Further research is needed to determine how bitter melon may affect cancer growth and development in humans when consumed in the normal amounts found in food.
SUMMARYTest-tube studies show that bitter melon may have cancer-fighting properties and could be effective against stomach, colon, lung, nasopharynx, and breast cancer cells.
High levels of cholesterol can cause fatty plaque to build up in your arteries, forcing your heart to work harder to pump blood and increasing your risk of heart disease (12Trusted Source).
Several animal studies found that bitter melon may decrease cholesterol levels to support overall heart health.
One study in rats on a high-cholesterol diet observed that administering bitter melon extract led to significant decreases in levels of total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (13).
Another study noted that giving rats a bitter melon extract significantly reduced cholesterol levels compared to a placebo. Higher doses of bitter melon showed the greatest decrease (14).
Still, current research on the potential cholesterol-lowering properties of bitter melon is mostly limited to animal studies using large doses of bitter melon extract.
Additional studies are needed to determine whether these same effects apply to humans eating the gourd as part of a balanced diet.
SUMMARYAnimal studies show that bitter melon extract may decrease cholesterol levels, which could help support heart health. Nonetheless, human research to confirm these effects is lacking.
Bitter melon makes an excellent addition to a weight loss diet, as it’s low in calories yet high in fiber. It contains approximately 2 grams of fiber in each one-cup (94-gram) serving (1Trusted Source).
Therefore, swapping higher-calorie ingredients with bitter melon could help increase your fiber intake and cut calories to promote weight loss.
Some research also shows that bitter melon can have beneficial effects on fat burning and weight loss.
One study found that consuming a capsule containing 4.8 grams of bitter melon extract each day led to significant decreases in belly fat.
Participants lost an average of 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) from their waist circumference after seven weeks (17Trusted Source).
Similarly, a study in rats on a high-fat diet observed that bitter melon extract helped decrease body weight compared to a placebo (18Trusted Source).
Note that these studies were performed using high-dose bitter melon supplements. It remains unclear whether eating bitter melon as part of your regular diet would have the same beneficial effects on health.
SUMMARYBitter melon is low in calories but high in fiber. Human and animal studies have found that bitter melon extract may also help decrease belly fat and body weight.