Bitter Melon, Prickly Pear, Diabetes


HeConnection-Vitamins-Minerals-Supplements-Bitter Melon, Prickly Pear, DiabetesBitter Melon, Prickly Pear, Diabetes. The Indians, among other Asians, and Latin Americans have been planting and nourishing themselves of natural insulin vegetables and glucose regulating food for a long time. Your diabetes medication is ready for pick-up at a Mexican store near you.

Bitter Melon

Bitter gourd, Karela, Karolla, Momordica charantia, balsam pear, whichever floats your boat. They all pertain to the same green long rough textured fruit that is bitter in taste, crawling in the tropical regions of the world. Who would have thought that a dirt-cheap (less than 5 USD per pound) vegetable would be able to regulate sugar levels?

In 1999, a Bangladeshi clinical trial was conducted to examine the effect of Momordica charantia on 100 patients with Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM) or Type 2 Diabetes. The researchers recorded the patients’ sugar levels both without food intake for 12-24 hours and after taking 75g of glucose. They then administered a bitter melon pulp suspension to diabetic patients and 86 out of the 100 responded to the vegetable intake, showing a significant 14% reduction in fasting and post-meal serum glucose levels.

A recent 2004 study at the Devi Ahilya University in India proved to have the same positive effects, where 15 men and women with Type 2 Diabetes between the ages of 52 and 65 took 200mg extracted constituents of bitter melon together with half doses of either Metformin or Glibenclamide or a combination of both. The result was a blood glucose level lower (hypoglycemia) than what patients may acquire from taking full doses of Metformin or Glibenclamide. It was likewise concluded that the vegetable may enhance the hypoglycemic effect of the drugs should they continue to use these prescription drugs. Several rat and hamster trials taking Momordica charantia alone also yielded good results in regulating glucose levels although animal studies may not always hold true in humans.

How Bitter Melon works

There are a myriad of phytochemicals present in bitter melon and at least three different groups of extracted components have been reported to regulate and lower blood glucose levels. These involve glucoside, a steroidal saponin-like substance called charantin; alkaloids called momordicine that supress neural response to sweet taste stimuli; and peptides mimicking the action of animal insulin.

As of July 2006, Liva Harinantenaina and a group of Japanese researchers confirmed that the major pure cucurbutanoid compounds of bitter melon possess hypoglycemic effects on blood glucose levels. There is still a lingering obscurity on which of these is most effective, if not all working synergistically. All these may be a perfect addition to your diet much like the next vegetable, or cactus?

Prickly Pear Cactus

If you haven’t looked intently at the Mexican flag, a prickly pear cactus with its red-orange grandiose blossoms is where the eagle at the center is proudly perched. For centuries, indigenous groups of South America and the southern part of the United States depended on this plant for nourishment. Also called nopal, nopalitos, and nopales, this cactus, of genus Opuntia, is consumed by the Aztec tribe and other locals in various forms to control or even potentially cure Type 2 Diabetes as long ago as the 15th and 16th centuries. Ask your Latin friend, he or she might have stories of the plant’s wonders.

Prickly Pear Mystery

There still lies a big question mark in a pharmacological point of view surrounding the plant’s mechanism on how it plays a role in glucose metabolism. Unlike the chemical constituents found in bitter melon, whichever constituent found in the cactus that affects the glucose remains unclear.

Alberto Frati-Munari, one of the prickly pear research pioneers, concluded in one of his team’s studies that the number of cactus stems consumed are relevant to having long-term hypoglycemic effects in diabetic patients. He also suggested that the effect of the cactus on insulin might be independent from glucose levels since no changes in C-peptide levels were observed.

In 2002, the University of Vienna researchers led by Roswitha Wolfram teamed up with various local research groups in Austria to publish the effect of prickly pear on glucose metabolism in hyperlipidemics (abnormally high lipid levels in the bloodstream).

MeanGlucose-Insulin-ChartThe chart shows the comparison of the mean values for phase I and II of total insulin, and blood glucose separated for patients with isolated high blood cholesterol or hypercholesterolemia (group A) and combined hyperlipidemia (group B). Phase I ran for 8 weeks with a total of 7,506 calorie diet, 625 calories of which were replaced by prickly pear pulp during phase II (8 weeks). A significant decrease in both groups between the mean values of phase I and II was registered in total blood glucose by 11%. Insulin-levels were significantly lowered in group A, while group B showed no significant changes in insulin levels. (n.s. = not significant)

This reinforces the results from previous studies that all the described positive effects exist in diabetics and non-diabetics alike. The preparation of the cactus also seems vital in achieving a hypoglycemic effect. It was significantly noted as well, that the hypoglycemic effect may not only be attributed to the fiber content of the cactus. As duely acknowledged in nutritional science, fiber intake delays glucose absorption. However, the hypoglycemic effect on patients simply cannot be explained by the dietary fiber the cactus contains, since a lower blood glucose was also observed even without any carbohydrate intake. “As C-peptide levels are unchanged it is clear that the hypoglycemic effect is not due to an increase in insulin secretion. Whatever the hypoglycemic mechanisms of action of prickly pear are, they seem to promote a faster and better glucose entry into the cell, in diabetics as well as in non-diabetics, a process which requires the presence of insulin, but is not mediated by it,” the researchers said.

Bitter Melon supplements, teas and more

The best forms of the above mentioned vegetables, without a doubt, are taken in ample amounts as foods. Bitter melon leaves may be used for enchiladas, the fruit itself is served well with meat or as raw with onions and vinaigrette. The cactus must be broiled first and make sure it’s free of spines before consuming. Mexican/Latin stores sell these in bags already spineless and ready to eat.

These are good ideas to prepare for the week if you have enough time, but in any progressive region, convenience has become a necessity. Working with two jobs, even three, people have every reason to just pop pills or carry a thermos filled with tea as supplementation.

In addition to these veggies, taking Chromium GTF has also shown significant reduction in blood glucose levels. Through various research, intermittent fasting also increases glucose tolerance which is a good thing for both healthy and diabetic individuals.

Again, these must be regarded as FOOD not medicines, per se. Hispanics and Asians have these as part of their diet. After all they are vegetables.

Health-e-Solutions comment

Bitter melon is a great vegetable to use when you need to bring down high blood sugars. This is how we have used it. We do not have experience using it regularly, but we have heard that it can lose its effectiveness when consumed frequently because the body may build up a tolerance to its effect..

There is scant research on nopal, but it may help lower blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes when it is cooked or taken as a dietary supplement. From the research I have found, the raw stems do not lower blood glucose. Nopal contains fiber and pectin, which may decrease carbohydrate absorption. The most common side effect of nopal is mild gastrointestinal upset.

HeS-Natural-Remedies-Bitter Melon, Prickly Pear, DiabetesThe core of the Health-e-Solutions lifestyle uses food as natural means by which to master diabetes in the healthiest way possible.  With the understanding that there is much more to be explored, we delve into a number of natural treatments we have researched and found to be sufficiently safe and effective.

In this downloadable, printable e-publication called More Natural Remedies, we stay “close to home,” as it were, as we discuss additional treatment topics primarily having to do with food as medicine. They offer practical, innovative, natural remedies to improve health and diabetes control.


  1. Harinantenaina L., et al. 2006 Jul. Momordica charantia constituents and antidiabetic screening of the isolated major compounds. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 54:1017-21. PMID: 16819222
  2. Tongia A, et al. 2004. Phytochemical determination and extraction of Momordica charantia fruit and its hypoglycemic potentiation of oral hypoglycemic drugs in diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 48:241-4. PMID 15521566
  3. Wolfram, R. et al 2002. Effect of prickly pear (Opuntia robusta) on glucose- and lipid-metabolism in non-diabetics with hyperlipidemia – A pilot study.
  4. Ahmad, N. et al. 1999. Effect of Momordica charantia (Karolla) extracts on fasting and postprandial serum glucose levels in NIDDM patients. Bangladesh Med Res Counc Bull. 25:11-3.
  5. Frati-Munari AC et. al. 1991. Influence of nopal intake upon fasting glycemia in type-II diabetics and healthy subjects. Arch Invest Med 22:51–56