A popular Asian fruit that looks kind of like a cucumber with warts, bitter melon has a long history of use in traditional cooking, holding a prominent place in both Indian and Chinese cuisine. But recent research out of St. Louis University (SLU) shows that bitter melon serves as a whole lot more than just a tasty gourd, showing viability in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
With the help of a $40,000 grant from the Lottie Caroline Hardy Charitable Trust, researchers from SLU are expanding their investigation into the anti-cancer effects of bitter melon, which has already shown that the fruit can prevent the growth and spread of breast cancer cells. This time around, Dr. Ratna Ray, Ph.D., a longtime advocate of bitter melon for medicinal use, is looking into how the fruit can help prevent prostate and other forms of cancer.
With additional funding from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Ray believes that what she’s uncovering might be duly beneficial in the treatment of both head and neck cancers. Since its extracts demonstrate generalized anti-cancer benefits, provoking apoptosis in cancer cells of many kinds, bitter melon holds great potential in the field of anti-cancer medicine.
For her study, Dr. Ray will feed bitter melon extract to mice with head and neck cancers to see if the fruit shows efficacy in vivo. Based on the findings, bitter melon could go on to be the subject of phase I clinical trials in humans, potentially going on to become a first-line treatment for cancer that doesn’t involve the use of chemotherapy or radiation.
“The goal of our study is to see if a complementary alternative medicine treatment based upon bitter melon can stop the spread of head and neck cancer,” she explained in a press release. “We have pretty good indications that bitter melon extract works in cancer cell lines to halt the growth. I think it might be effective to treat solid tumors, and our grant will help us to get pre-clinical data to show whether something that looks promising in fighting breast cancer could work in other cancers.”
Generally speaking in terms of cancer, bitter melon acts at the cellular level to stop cancer cells from both multiplying and spreading. Acting upon multiple pathways, including several signal transduction pathways, bitter melon facilitates the body’s natural means of eradicating cancer cells on its own, which it does on a constant basis to prevent the formation of tumors.
Bitter melon is also effective against type-2 diabetes
A true “superfood” in every sense of the word, bitter melon has likewise shown efficacy in the treatment of type-2 diabetes, helping to improve glucose uptake in order to relieve some of the burden of excess blood sugar.
Studies have shown that bitter melon contains special compounds that activate AMP-activated protein kinase, or AMPK, a cellular enzyme that helps protect against obesity and diabetes by encouraging the movement of glucose transporters to the surface of cells. This process, researchers have determined, significantly improves metabolic function, thus minimizing the damage caused by excess sugar intake.
“More transporters on cells’ surfaces increase the uptake of glucose from circulation in the blood into tissues of the body, such as muscle, thus lowering blood sugar levels,” a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology explains. “Bitter melon had a modest hypoglycemic effect and significantly reduced fructosamine levels from the baseline among patients with type-2 diabetes who received 2,000 mg/day.”
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center lists bitter melon not only as a natural remedy for cancer and type-2 diabetes, but also as a treatment for HIV and AIDS, as well as other infections.