If you’re not familiar with the yellowish-green, cucumber-looking vegetable known as the bitter melon, then you’ve been missing out, my friend.
While bitter melons have been a dietary staple in tropical regions like India, Thailand, Central American and the Caribbean, they’ve only just started to infiltrate the Western palette.
And it’s a good thing, too! With a staggering amount of nutritional benefits enough to make any health-conscious individual beam, there quite simply isn’t a reason not to try a bitter melon. Take a look for yourself at all this one vegetable can do.
1.Bitter melons lower blood glucose levels
As rates of Type I and Type II diabetes continue to climb, people are turning to natural approaches to help curb glucose levels and improve the health of the all-essential pancreas.
Why the pancreas, you ask? It’s simple. The pancreas is a central organ in your digestive and endocrine systems. When your body breaks down the sugars in foods, it routinely enters the bloodstream in the form of glucose, a neat little energy source nearly all cells in our body need. The problem though is if too much glucose builds up in blood. Diabetic symptoms will then begin to ensue, things like fatigue, constant thirst, frequent urination and stomach pain.
Cue the pancreas. One of its main functions is to produce hormones like insulin, which, in turn, takes glucose from the blood and helps convert it into glycogen, an energy compound which can be stored in muscles and the liver. This is a natural recycling process for your body and keeps things running in homeostasis.
In many ways, bitter melons compliment the pancreas’ insulin regulation. They contain a unique protein compound very similar to that of insulin itself, thus boosting insulin production and naturally lowering blood sugar. Multiple studies have gleaned bitter melon in nearly any form (raw, tea, or leaves) works in this essential way.
2. Bitter melons work to reduce cholesterol
While your body innately needs a certain amount of fat to line nerve cells, produce hormones and store energy, the levels at which we see it in today’s modern diet are simply excessive.
The problems of disproportionate body fat go beyond the number you read on a scale. Internally, fat wreaks havoc on your arteries in the form of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. These can cause massive buildup in your arteries, the kind that inevitably leads to heart attacks, strokes and inflammation.
Bitter melons have been shown to reduce the inflammatory effects of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, keeping your arteries clear and clean and pumping smoothly.
3. Bitter melons have impressive antiviral and antibacterial agents
Stemming from a growing list of documented herbal properties, bitter melons routinely display some mean antiviral and antibacterial features. It has a long history of being used by the indigenous populations in tropical areas to combat a host of illnesses and pathogens, from curtailing fevers to measles and hepatitis. Externally, it is grounded and added to salves to reduce swelling and prevent wound infection.
All this is due to the vegetable’s potently unique chemical makeup of triterpenes, proteins and steroids. In particular, what researchers have dubbed the bitter melon’s H and M extracts point toward exciting detoxification and immune-enhancing benefits.
4. Bitter melons combat free radicals
Of the increased research being funneled into bitter melon health extracts, some of the most inspiring revolve around possible cancer cures – especially those aligned with free radical damage.
Bitter melon’s cancer-fighting capabilities pack a real punch, starting with their high scores in fighting free radicals. When too much oxygen builds up or isn’t being regulated and recycled by the cells in your body, they undergo molecular changes that make them unstable and damaging. Bitter melons, with their antioxidant count, directly latch on to free radical molecules and inhibit their growth – one of the leading theories behind cancer cell’s reproduction.
5. Bitter melons contain anti-tumor agents
Relatedly, bitter melons go one step further with their ability to regulate a rogue cell system’s energy sources.
In some truly groundbreaking work, scientists at Colorado’s Cancer Prevention and Control Centre found bitter melons use their rare set of bioactive compounds to activate AMPK, an enzyme located in places like the colon and pancreas. Once activated, AMPK can target glucose metabolism pathways and restrict their flow, essentially choking of the nutrients cancer cells need to multiply and build tumors.
Similar enzyme activations have also been found in breast cancer studies to inhibit cell proliferation and induce apoptosis. Fancy doctor jargon aside, all in all, it seems bitter melons know how to kick cancer to the curb.
6. Bitter melons boost libido
Once you’re done snickering over this one, do read on. After all, foods as aphrodisiacs have been documented to go together nearly as long as humankind itself.
It’s extremely common for men and women alike experience sexual dysfunction as they age. And for as natural as decreased sex drives and blood flows are, it sure isn’t an enjoyable occurrence.
By curbing the problematic blood sugar levels explained above, bitter melons open passageways and make blood flow to sexual organs easier. This is especially good for men with low testosterone that leads to weak erections, improving erectile tissue and stimulating healthy libido levels.
But don’t worry ladies, bitter guards have you covered as well! Its neuromuscular properties work to better “warm up” your own sexual organs, stimulating pleasure areas and allowing enhanced sensation.
7. Bitter melons hold promising HIV treatments
Certain studies have pointed to the seeds of bitter melons as containing a chemical compound strong enough to prevent HIV from infecting human cells.
Though such research is still very much in infancy, they have isolated two specific proteins – MAP 30 and momorcharain – which dramatically reduced the spread of the virus in lab experiments. The results are positively linked to the same kind of reduction in pancreatic and breast-cancer tumors, where the proteins were able to target problematic areas, induce apoptosis (controlled cell death) and encourage new, healthier and functional cell replacements.
8. Bitter melons are brimming in beta carotenes
You’ve probably heard beta carotenes mentioned in the context of fruit and veggie pigments. Think the radiant orange of carrots or the deep blues and purples of blueberries. Indeed, it’s a plant’s unique beta carotenes configuration that supplies its coloration.
In bitter melon’s case, each large pod holds twice the beta carotene amount as broccoli, a much more familiar option in the west. Such a high dose your body needs to convert vitamin A, which then goes on to build glowing skin, healthy vision, mucus membranes, immune system tissue and free radical-fighting antioxidants.
9. Bitter melons break apart kidney stones
Needless to say, kidney stones really, really hurt. Anyone whose had the displeasure of trying to pass one knows the sooner they’re out, the better!
Bitter melons contain organic acid reducers and fiber counts strong enough to literally bust apart a kidney stone. They also help block further stones from developing, even if you have a predisposed history.
But the best part? They can do so with minimal intake. A few ounces of bitter melon powder mixed with warm water cuts straight to the source and will help expedite that pesky pain.
10. Bitter melons are ridiculously low calorie
Bitter melons are so low in calories, it’s almost comical.
One full, raw pod typically rounds out at only 20 calories/cup (roughly half the melon). Combined with their densely rich vitamin A, K and C amounts, fiber intake, calcium and potassium, they are as close to guiltless as any food can get.
11. Bitter melons can help you lose weight
The exact properties that make it good for blood sugar, calorie counters and the digestive track all combine to make bitter melons a weight-loss staple.
With a fiber dose to keep you full, bitter melons go the extra yard in activating your liver to produce optimal bile secretion. When the liver is in full-gear, you’re better able to break down fats and metabolize them into energy, all while maintaining proper blood glucose levels.
You get all this – and so much more – from one little vegetable.