By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine
It’s no secret that Americans are losing the weight game. In fact, nearly half of us are overweight, making us world leaders in terms of excess pounds.
What isn’t nearly as well known is that the fattening up of America is causing the rapid escalation of a cluster of health conditions – insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol – known as Syndrome X.
Getting a grip on Syndrome X can be tricky, but a natural supplement derived from the fruits of bitter melon may be just what the doctor ordered. Although this fruit has been used for hundreds of years in Asia and South America to treat diabetes, new research shows that it can lower insulin levels, maintain normal glucose levels, and reduce total cholesterol and triglycerides.
Sweet Results From a Bitter Pill
A few years ago, Japanese researchers found that combining bitter melon with a cholesterol-free diet decreased blood sugar levels in animals, while those fed diets enriched with cholesterol didn’t benefit from the supplement at all.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that bitter melon is worthless in the face of a high-fat diet. Another study out of the University of Hong Kong, which came to a different conclusion, discovered that bitter melon can slow weight gain and visceral fat (the fat buried deep in your gut), even with a high-fat diet. It also improved insulin resistance, raised HDL cholesterol levels and reduced both total cholesterol and triglycerides.
Pretty amazing findings! Of course, I would never advise eating a high-fat diet, even if there was a pill that could control some of the symptoms of Syndrome X. But if you are struggling to manage cholesterol levels and reign in blood sugar, bitter melon might just provide the help you need.
Beyond Syndrome X
Although more than 100 human studies show the glucose lowering effects of this phytochemical-rich fruit, the best may be yet to come. In the future, bitter melon may be used as an anti-cancer agent – at least if the results of two recent studies are any indication.
In the first, researchers found that both bitter melon and ginger extracts significantly inhibited the development of breast cancer in animals. The second study looked at bitter melon’s effect on cervical cancer patients’ natural killer (NK) cells (NK cells have the ability to destroy cancer cells). Since earlier animal research found that bitter melon could stimulate the development of NK cells, the Thai researchers wanted to determine if they could replicate those results in humans.
Ninety-five women were divided into three groups: healthy women, women who had been diagnosed with stage II cervical cancer and those suffering from stage III cancer. The women were then randomly given either bitter melon supplements or a placebo for up to 90 days. By the end of the study, those who had taken the bitter melon had an increase in NK cells, regardless of what stage the cancer was in.
Part of bitter melon’s cancer-fighting ability may come from a phytochemical that blocks the enzyme guanylate cyclase. Researchers believe that guanylate cyclase spurs cancer cells to spread. And certain proteins in the fruit have been credited with inhibiting prostate tumor growth.
If that weren’t enough, studies have shown that bitter melon has anti-viral and anti-bacterial activity. Because of these properties, bitter melon has shown promise in fighting herpes and HIV, as well as E. coli, staphylococcus, salmonella, streptobacillus, and the ulcer-causing bacteria H. pylori.
One Last Thing . . .
If you’re taking insulin or medication to lower your blood sugar, don’t take bitter melon without first talking with your doctor. And people with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) should avoid this herb because it may make the condition worse.
Bitter melon is available in tincture, capsule and juice form. Most herbalists recommend taking one teaspoon of the tincture two to three times a day; 200 to 400 mg. in capsule form two to three times a day; or three to six tablespoons of the juice daily.
This Just In . . .
Have you taken your folic acid today? If you’re a man, it may just be the best thing you can do to prevent a stroke. New evidence from Northwestern University has found that men who consume large amounts of folic acid have a significantly lower risk of the ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke.
During the 14-year-long study, the Northwestern team followed 43,732 men between the ages of 40 and 75, noting what they ate and whether they developed ischemic or hemorrhagic strokes, a relatively rare type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain. During the follow-up period, the researchers found that the men who consumed the most folic acid (more than 821 mcg. a day) had a 30 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke – significantly less than those who consumed the least amount folic acid (262 mcg. each day or less).
Good sources of folic acid include orange juice, lentils, beans, spinach, whole grains, nuts and liver. But it’s hard to get sufficient amounts through diet alone. To make sure you’re getting enough of this critical B vitamin, take at least 400 mcg. in supplemental form every day.
He K, et al. “Folate, Vitamin B-6, and B-12 Intakes in Relation to Risk of Stroke Among Men.” Stroke. 2004;35:169.
Jayasooriya AP, et al. “Effects of Momordica charantia powder on serum glucose levels and various lipid parameters in rats fed with cholesterol-free and cholesterol-enriched diets” Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2000;72:331-336.
Miura T, et al. “Hypoglycemic activity of the fruit of the Momordica charantia in type 2 diabetic mice.” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. 2001;47:340-344.
Nagasawa H, et al. “Effects of bitter melon (Momordica charantia l.) or ginger rhizome (Zingiber offifinale rosc) on spontaneous mammary tumorigenesis in SHN mice.” American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2002;30:195-205.
Pongnikorn S, et al. “Effect of bitter melon (Momordica charantia Linn) on level and function of natural killer cells in cervical cancer patients with radiotherapy.” Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. 2003;86:61-68.