Momordica Charantia

COMMON NAMES: Karela, balsam apple, paoka, madian apple, mexicaine, caprika, achochilla, cerasse,

TRADITIONAL USES: Abortifacient, anthelmintic, aphrodisiac, burn, catarrh, constipation, digestion, demulcent, dermatosis, diabetes, diarrhea, dyspepsia, eczema, emetic, emmenagogue, emollient, fever, febrifuge, hemorrhoids, hepatitis, hypoglycemic, inflammation (liver), leprosy, leucorrhoea, leukemia, malaria, menstrual colic, pain, pruritus, purgative, rheumatism, scabies, skin, tumor, wound, vaginitis, vermifuge, cancer (breast), food, glucosuria, halitosis, hematuria, polyuria, refrigerant, bite (snake), anemia, colitis, kidney (stone), sterility (female), dysentery, gonorrhea, appetite stimulant, insecticide, laxative, rage, rhinitis, contraceptive, dysmenorrhea, fat loss, galactagogue, gout, hydrophobia, piles, pneumonia, psoriasis, sore, asthma, headache, scald, sprue, stomachache, cold, cough, hypertension, tonic gallbladder, contusions, lung, measles, suppurative, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Bitter melon (Momordica chrantia L.) also known as bitter gourd, African or wild cucumber, is known in Hindi as karela, as ampalaya in the Philippines, in the West African country of Togo as guingbe, and in the Caribbean as cerasse/cerasee. Cerasee is native to Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean area. It was introduced to Brazil by African slaves and from there it spread to the rest of Latin America and the West Indies. Today it reaches as far north as Texas and Florida, where it grows wild. Bitter melon fruit and leaves also have a time-honored use as a medicine throughout India, Asia, Africa and South America. Cerasee also grows wild in Asia where it is used medicinally, and as a vegetable. The fruits, leaves, seeds and roots have also been used for a range of conditions. Bitter melon is used to treat diabetes, intestinal colic, peptic ulcers, worms, malaria, constipation, dysmenorrhea, eczema, gout, jaundice, kidney stone, leprosy, leucorrhoea, piles, pneumonia, psoriasis, rheumatism, chickenpox, measles and scabies. Externally, bitter melon is used for the rapid healing of wounds.

A tea made of the vine is used for diabetes, hypertension, worms, dysentery, malaria and as a general tonic and blood purifier. It is also very effective to relieve constipation and colds and fevers in children. Women in Latin American and the West Indies use the leaf for menstrual problems to promote discharge after childbirth. The tea is taken for 9 days after giving birth to clean out and tone up all the organs involved in the delivery. Bitter melon is also used as a natural method of birth control, by taking two cups each day after intercourse, for three days. It is said that women who drink cerasee daily will not conceive during that time. As a wash, the tea is used externally for sores, rashes, skin ulcers and all skin problems. A cerasee bath is good for arthritis, rheumatism, gout and other similar ailments. In Brazil, cerasse tea is used as a tonic and remedy for colds, fever and pains due to arthritis and rheumatism. In Curacao and Aruba, the tea is used to lower blood pressure. In the Philippines, bitter melon is cultivated as a vegetable and cooked like other leafy vegetables. In Cuba, cerasee tea is used as a remedy for colitis, liver complaints, fever and as a skin lotion. A tea of the root is used to expel kidney stones. In India, the green, unripe fruits are soaked in water and cooked in curry and other dishes. The juice of the ripe fruit, which contains valuable enzymes and minerals, is taken for diabetes.

Active constituents in bitter melon include glycosides, saponins, alkaloids, fixed oils, triterpenes, proteins and steroids. The hypoglycemic constituents are a mixture of steroidal saponins known as charantins, insulin-like peptides and alkaloids. These constituents are concentrated in the fruits which have also been shown to have the most pronounced hypoglycemic activity compared to other plant parts. Several other phytochemicals including momorcharins, momordenol, momordicins, cucurbitins, cucurbitacins have been isolated from the bitter melon. It also contains HIV inhibitory proteins code named MRK29 as well as trypsin, elastase and gyanylate cyclase inhibitors and lectins.

However, toxicity and even death in laboratory animals has been reported when extracts are injected intravenously or intraperitoneally (with the fruit and seed demonstrating greater toxicity than the leaf or aerial parts of the plant). Other studies have shown ethanol and water extracts of the fruit and leaf (ingested orally) to be safe during pregnancy. The seeds, however, have demonstrated the ability to induce abortions in rats and mice, and the root has been documented with a uterine stimulant effect in animals. The fruit and leaf of bitter melon has demonstrated an in vivo antifertility effect in female animals; in male animals, it was reported to affect the production of sperm negatively. Bitter melon traditionally has been used as an abortive and has been documented with weak uterine stimulant activity; therefore, it is contraindicated during pregnancy. This plant has been documented to reduce fertility in both males and females and should therefore not be used by those undergoing fertility treatment or seeking pregnancy. The active chemicals in bitter melon have shown in animal studies to be transferred through breast milk; therefore, it is contraindicated in women who are breast feeding.

"A Medicinal Potency of Momordica Charantia", D. Sathish Kumar, et al, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research, Volume 1, Issue 2, March April 2010; Article 018 

Alloxan-induced Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus can be induced in animals by partial pancreatectomy or by the administration of diabetogenic drugs such as alloxan, streptozotocin, ditizona and anti-insulin serum. These agents selectively destroy the β-cells of the Langerhans islet. Alloxan, an oxidized product of uric acid, is one of the most commonly used models of experimental diabetes.


Antihyperglycaemic activity

The antihyperglycaemic activity of bitter melon is the most studied and most significant. This activity of the fruit, seed, leaf and whole plant has been confirmed in animal studies.  A study examining the hypoglycemic effects of the thirty most popular anti-diabetic Indian herbs found Coccinia indica, Tragia involucrata, Gymnema sylvestre, Pterocarpus marsupium, Trigonella foenum- graecum (fenugreek), Moringa oleifera, Eugenia jambolana, Tinospora cordifolia, Swertia chirayita and Momordica charantia (bitter melon) to be the most potent.  A water extract  of the fruit was found to be the most effective in diabetic induced rats and similar to that of glibenclamide.


Anthelminitic, antiviral and antimicrobial activities

Extracts of various plant parts of the bitter melon, including the leaf, fruit and seeds have been investigated and found to be pharmacologically active against microbes. A leaf, and a fruit, in addition to whole plant extracts have been found to have antimicrobial and antiviral activities. Isolated constituents including alpha momorcharin have been shown to have anti-HIV activity. Ribosome-inactivating proteins have been found to be active against both herpes and polio viruses. Anthelminitic activity against Ascaridia galli worms have been demonstrated in vitro.

HEp-2 cells were infected with herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) or with poliovirus I in the presence of plant proteins which inactivate ribosomes in cell-free systems, while exerting scarce effect on whole cells. Ribosome-inactivating proteins used were gelonin, from the seeds of Gelonium multiflorum, an inhibitor from the seeds of Momordica charantia, dianthin 32, from the leaves of Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation), and PAP-S, from the seeds of Phytolacca americana (pokeweed). All proteins tested had the following effects: 1. They reduced viral yield; 2. They decreased HSV-1 plaque-forming efficiency; 3. They inhibited protein synthesis more in infected than in uninfected cells. These results strongly suggest that ribosome-inactivating proteins impair viral replication by inhibiting protein synthesis in virus-infected cells, in which presumably they enter more easily than in uninfected cells.

L. Fo-Tomasi, G. Campadelli-Fiume, L. Barbieri and F. Stirpe; Effect of ribosome-inactivating proteins on virus-infected cells. Inhibition of virus multiplication and of protein synthesis; Archives of Virology; Vol. 71:4. December 1982, pp. 323-332;

Anticancer activity

Various preliminary studies (in vitro and in vivo) with crude extracts and purified fractions have been shown to possess anticancer activity. The anti-carcinogenic effect of aqueous extract of the bitter melon fruit was studied in a two-step skin carcinogenesis model in mice. Oral administration of the fruit extract protected the mice from the development of skin tumours and increased life expectancy. The extract also reduced carcinogen-induced lipid peroxidation in liver and DNA damage in lymphocytes. The fruit extract was furthermore found to significantly activate the liver enzymes glutathione-S-transferase, glutathione-peroxidase and catalase (P < 0.001), which showed a depression following exposure to the carcinogen. The results suggest a preventive role of water-soluble constituents of bitter melon fruit during carcinogenesis, which is possibly mediated by their modulatory effect on enzymes of the biotransformation and detoxification system of the host.


Anti-ulcer activity


The traditional use of bitter melon in the treatment of ulcers is supported by research suggesting the dried-powdered fruits in filtered honey have significant and dose-dependent anti-ulcerogenic activity against ethanol-induced ulcerogenesis in rats. Antiviral activity against H. pylori would further contribute to this protective effect.


Immunomodulatory activity

Bitter melon extracts and isolated constituents have a variable effect on the immune system. It has been shown to be immune stimulating in some studies and immunosuppressive in some conditions. The clinical significance is not yet known as it likely to be highly dependent on type of extract, dosage and administration. Its immunomodulatory activity may explain its traditional use in psoriasis, which is now known to be an autoimmune disorder.

1. Rashan Abdul Hakim, Basic Herbs and Healing, 1989.

2. "Bitter Melon, Diabetics in Asia have used this tropical fruit for centuries." Allen Price Natural Health May/June 2003 

3. "Bitter Melon A Bitter Remedy for a Sweet Problem",