JAN 13, 2020 2:47 PM PST

The anti-cancer properties of bitter melon

New research published in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling suggests that bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd, may have anti-cancer properties. Already known for its use as an alternative medicine for diabetes, bitter melon is native to the South Indian state of Kerala, where its medicinal properties have been known for centuries.

In case you’ve never seen the spiky-looking gourd, its long green oblong shape reminds one of the cucumber/zucchini family. Momordica charantia has been making its way around the world since the 14th century and its unique bitter taste is a common addition of flavor in many Asian countries.

The recent study that details the cancer-fighting properties of the gourd in mice was led by Professor Ratna Ray Saint Louis University in Missouri. Professor Ray and her colleagues showed that the extract from the bitter melon prevents tumors from breast, prostate, head and neck cancers from growing and spreading. They also showed that bitter melon extract was able to reduce the incidence of tongue cancer and mouth cancers.

So, what are the magic properties of the plant? According to their research, the extract interferes with glycolysis and lipid metabolism throughout the body, therefore impeding the growth of cancer cells and in oral cancer even inducing ER and oxidative stress-mediated cell death.

New research suggests that the extract from bitter melon may have anti-cancer effects. Photo: Pixabay

While the researchers are not sure that bitter melon extract would work as effectively on human cancer cells, they say that their findings are promising. “All animal model studies that we've conducted are giving us similar results, an approximately 50% reduction in tumor growth," says Professor Ray. "Our next step is to conduct a pilot study in [people with cancer] to see if bitter melon has clinical benefits and is a promising additional therapy to current treatments," she notes.

If nothing else, says Ray, bitter melon is a beneficial addition to your daily diet. "Natural products play a critical role in the discovery and development of numerous drugs for the treatment of various types of deadly diseases, including cancer. Therefore, the use of natural products as preventive medicine is becoming increasingly important."

Sources: Cell Communication and Signaling, Medical News Today

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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