Most people have never heard of karela. Also known as “bitter melon,” this Asian fruit has been renowned for centuries as a healthy superfood with tons of nutritional benefits. Now, researchers have discovered that karela can actually keep cancer at bay.
Published in Cell Communication and Signaling, the research found that bitter melon extract resulted in a 50% reduction in tumor growth in animal studies. The study has yet to be conducted on human subjects, but the outlook so far is promising.
And it’s not the first study to implicate this amazing fruit as an anti-cancer agent.
Ratna Ray, Ph.D., professor of pathology at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, and the study’s author, has evaluated the anti-cancer properties of karela before. Her 2018 paper showed that bitter melon stopped the replication of oral squamous cell carcinoma in mice. Published in Cancer Prevention Research, it was the journal’s most cited paper of the year.
Professor Ray grew up in India, where bitter melon is a regular part of many diets. While earning her doctorate degree at the University of Calcutta, she began studying the fruit that had long been part of Indian folk medicine. She understands the value of utilizing the bounty of nature to help our bodies heal.
According to Professor Ray:
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.”
In her preliminary research, Ray has found that bitter melon extract seems to fight cancer by modulating the immune response. Here at TTAC, we know that the best way to heal your body is to work with the immune system – not against it. Bitter melon extract was also shown to inhibit glycolysis and lipid metabolism. Furthermore, it induces endoplasmic reticulum and oxidative stress-mediated cell death in oral cancer.
Ray explained that the metabolic profiles of cancer cells are different from normal cells due to the aerobic glycolysis (Warburg effect) and lipogenesis. But bitter melon extract can modulate both glucose AND lipid metabolism, making it a potential superstar in treating oral cancers.
Bitter melon extract has also been shown to enhance the efficacy of natural killer cells, the body’s “cancer bounty hunters.” Ray’s 2010 research found that it also seems to induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells, while stopping multiplication and metastasis.
To our knowledge, this is the first report describing the effect of bitter melon extract on cancer cells … Our result was encouraging. We have shown that bitter melon extract significantly induced death in breast cancer cells and decreased their growth and spread. Cancer prevention by the use of naturally occurring dietary substances is considered a practical approach to reduce the ever-increasing incidence of cancer. Studying a high-risk breast cancer population where bitter melon is taken as a dietary product will be an important area of future research.”
Bitter melon has also demonstrated chemoprevention of prostate cancers – with a unique twist. Ray believes that the chemopreventive benefits may be linked to the dietary value of bitter melon alone. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of death in men, but it turns out that the right diet could change all that.
And since bitter melon has shown selective toxicity (meaning that it targets cancer cells without affecting healthy cells) and no major side effects in humans or animals, there is little risk to patients who choose to add this amazing fruit to their diets.
For centuries, Ayurvedic medicine has recommended bitter melon for treating diabetes and related complications. But there is so much more that this powerful fruit can do. Bitter melon (which resembles some kind of alien cucumber) provides over 90% of the RDI of Vitamin C, nearly 50% of Vitamin A, 8% of fiber, and more.
It can also help you lose healthy weight, since there are only 17 calories and 2 grams of fiber in a single serving. Plus, it’s been shown in studies to reduce excess belly fat. In a 2012 study published in BMC’s Nutrition Journal, participants consuming bitter melon extract each day lost an average of a half inch from their waist size in just seven weeks.
As for the Ayurvedic use of bitter melon for treating diabetes, this super fruit comes though yet again. A 3-month study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2018 found that adults taking 2,000mg of bitter melon each day had decreased blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c.
Because bitter melon is loaded with vitamin C, it is also an awesome immune booster. Vitamin C is the main antioxidant both in blood and in your body’s cells. It acts to protect proteins, fats, carbohydrates, DNA, and RNA from damage by free radicals and reactive oxygen species. This damage can be generated by the normal daily workings or as a result of exposure to toxins and pollutants like pollution, chemotherapy drugs, and traditional cigarette smoke.
Where to Find it and How to Prepare
Bitter melon can be found in most Asian markets in any season, though if you choose to grow your own, you’ll want to harvest at the beginning of fall. As the name suggests, the fruit has a bitter taste, but there are plenty of ways to turn it into a tasty dish. The trick is to remove the skin to get to the flesh underneath.
It can be cooked just like zucchini or squash by steaming, pan-frying, or grilling, and is most often used in Asian dishes like stir fry or curry. It can also be juiced, for those who want to quickly get the daily benefits of bitter melon or taken as an extract. Like any other supplement, make sure that you find extract capsules that are pure, organic, and non-GMO. And we always suggest discussing your supplement plan with a health professional.
In Indian and Chinese culture, this food has been a dietary staple. And although it may look funny to you at first, the health and cancer-fighting benefits are just too good to pass up. Whether you choose to try some recipes, add it to your juicing routine, or simply take the extract, you’ll be happy that you did.
Professor Ray considers it to be one of the healthiest foods you can eat, saying,
Some people eat an apple a day. I’d rather eat a bitter melon a day.”