The Grapevine

Bitter Melon Could Offer A Ray Of Hope For Cancer Patients

Bitter melon or bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) is a nutrient-dense vegetable-fruit that is used commonly in Indian cuisine. It holds 93 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C, 44 percent of vitamin A and 8 percent of fiber. The ingredient can also be made into a juice and extract in capsule form. 

In ancient medicinal systems, bitter melon was used to treat diabetes. A new study by Indian origin scientist, Ratna Ray, who teaches pathology at  Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri, elaborated the specific ways in which bitter melon helps fight cancer. 

In the past, she performed a laboratory experiment on mice and confirmed that bitter melon reduces risk of tongue cancer. Ray, who grew up with a fascination for the vegetable-fruit, cooks it in various ways by steamining, stir-frying and blending into smoothies.

“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,” Ray said.

Bitter Melon Bitter gourds on December 19, 2009 in Varkala near Trivandrum, Kerala, South India. The vegetable-fruit can be consumed in various forms, be it as a whole fruit, pulp juice or extract, and even in capsules. EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

What The New Study Found

In her latest endeavour, bitter melon extract was considered again for cancer treatment. This time, for different types of cancer cells in mice. Particularly, breast, neck, head and prostate cancer cells were examined. The study found that cells did not proliferate and were effectively stopped in time before developing the disease. 

Researchers wanted to figure out how bitter melon extracts defeated the cancer cells. They traced its pathways when treating tongue and mouth cancer in mouse models. The paper was published in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling in October of 2019. 

Bitter melon regulates the responses of molecules that transports glucose and fat within metabolic pathways of the body, that otherwise let cancer spread and thrive. The molecules caused the death of some cancer cells by targeting them specifically. 

"All animal model studies that we've conducted are giving us similar results, an approximately 50% reduction in tumor growth," Ray added.

“Our next step is to conduct a pilot study in cancer patients to see if bitter melon has clinical benefits and is a promising additional therapy to current treatments.”

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