Bitter Melon, Diabetes

Bitter melon

I spent the last three weeks writing about low-carb eating. But at least one fruit, called bitter melon, seems to be a powerful treatment for diabetes, even if you do eat a lot of carbs.


In reply to my column on reversing Type 2 diabetes, Debbie commented,

My husband was diagnosed with Type 2 four months ago… he had a blood glucose reading of 370. [The] doctor put him on metformin — 1,000 mg a day, which brought his blood glucose down to the low 200’s. So the doctor upped his meds to 2,000 mg a day.

Then someone told her about bitter melon tea, and she bought some at a local Asian grocery. He started drinking one cup of tea in the morning and one in the evening. The very next day, his fasting glucose dropped to around 80. He stopped his metformin and his fasting glucose levels have been under 100 ever since.

His A1C dropped from 13.5 to 6.3. Since he has only been on the tea for a few weeks, his A1C will probably drop further at the next test. This is a man who is heavy, eats lots of pasta and rice, and whose exercise is “walking the dog twice a week.” Nothing else in his lifestyle has changed.

Debbie is sure it’s the bitter melon tea that’s controlling the blood glucose. But one person’s experience is not enough. It’s “anecdotal evidence.” Is there any scientific backup for his story? Not much, but some.

A study by researchers in Australia, China, and Germany found that four compounds in bitter melon that “activate an enzyme that is responsible for… transporting glucose from the blood into the cells.” The enzyme is called AMPK, the same one activated by exercise.

According to the article, published in March 2008 in the journal Chemistry & Biology, AMPK moves glucose transporter molecules to the surface of cells. There they help bring glucose from the blood into the cells. Science Daily reported, “This is a major reason that exercise is recommended as part of the normal treatment program for someone with Type 2 diabetes.”

Nearly all scientific work on bitter melon comes from China, Japan, India, and other Asian countries, and most studies have been in rats and mice. You can see a list here.

But when it comes to research on people, one review done in Malaysia found only two good studies, and the results were inconclusive. “More research is needed,” the authors conclude.

What is bitter melon?
According to Wikipedia, bitter melon is a fruit, but not one you are likely to eat raw. It looks like a pockmarked cucumber, and the taste is described as “chalky” and “unpleasant” on various Web sites like this Chinese cooking site.

Bitter melon’s scientific name is Momordica charantia. In English, it is called bitter melon, bitter gourd, or bitter squash. It has long been used in Chinese recipes, often in soups. But the effort in cooking and not-so-great taste has kept many people from eating it regularly.

In the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, studies of bitter melon in Asia found a chemical called charantin, which reduced blood glucose in rabbits. According to, other “insulin-like compounds” in bitter melon include vicine and polypeptide-P.

So it may be that bitter melon reduces insulin resistance, or it may be that bitter melon acts as a substitute for insulin, at least when it comes to getting glucose into cells.

In a 2007 study, the Philippine Department of Health determined that 100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of bitter melon each day reduces glucose as much as 2.5 mg/kg of glyburide, a sulfonylurea drug, taken twice per day. Tablets of bitter melon extract are now sold in the Philippines as a food supplement and exported to many countries.

Side effects and costs
According to Livestrong, there is a risk of hypoglycemia if you take too much bitter melon, especially if you are taking insulin or a sulfonylurea or thiazolidinedione drug. Drinking bitter melon juice is sometimes associated with stomach pain or diarrhea.

But according to users, bitter melon tea is a whole different story. Most say it tastes good, “better than green tea,” one commented. It’s also easy to prepare and easy to buy, either at an Asian grocery or online. A month’s supply costs about $5 at a store, maybe $12 online. Bitter melon capsules are more expensive.

Some people will probably not see the same astounding benefits as Debbie’s husband. In addition to normalizing glucose, his triglyceride levels have returned to normal or near-normal after years of being dangerously high.

It might be that Asian people will tend to improve more on bitter melon tea than non-Asian people. It might also take longer than the one day Debbie’s husband needed to see results. She wrote that a friend with diabetes didn’t see results for two weeks, but then his glucose levels came down to the normal range and stayed there.

But we won’t know until we try. A good dose would probably be one cup of bitter melon tea with breakfast and one with dinner. If you eat carbs at lunch, perhaps drink another cup then. I wouldn’t take it without eating, to avoid lows. It should probably be avoided if you are pregnant, and should not be given to children because of lows.

You can certainly also try cooked bitter melon or bitter melon capsules, but if the tea works for you, that seems easiest and tastiest, and cheaper than the capsules.

I hope some readers will try bitter melon and let us know your results. Or maybe you have already tried it. We’d like to know. Although it probably won’t work for everyone, bitter melon might be a good or better than vinegar or prescription medicines for many people. Of course, healthy eating and some physical activity are still important.

  • Cs Prakash

    A week ago there was a scientific paper from USA claiming that pancreatic cancer cells were killed by bitter melon extracts. There is surely something happening from the use of this plant. But as the name says, it is darned too bitter for me.

  • emedoutlet

    It seems that this Melon Tea is a magic. Someone, some big herbal company or manufacturer should research on this melon tea. It can be a huge benefit to the society.

  • Dorothy Shanstrom

    Do you drink a cup of tea before or after meals with carbs?

  • David Spero RN

    Hi Dorothy,

    The timing of the tea isn’t well explored. Most people I’ve talked to drink it after meals. I think different times might work better for different people.

  • Jackie

    I am fascinated by the news of this tea! As a type 2 diabetic whose blood sugars are higher than I’d like them to be, I’d like to try the tea. I had a kidney transplant 3 years ago, does anyone know of possible side affects to kidneys with this tea?

  • David Spero RN

    The only reported side effect is low blood sugars. Of course, it hasn’t been widely studied.

  • Joe

    This is interesting. I’m always willing to investigate alternative medicines. I’ve tried working with herbals and supplements like cinnamon, chromium and magnesium with limited success. No matter what I do, exercise seems to have the greatest affect. Since this seems simple and cheap, I’d like to give it a try. If it helps, I’ll be sure to let you all know.

  • Mike

    I prepared bitter melon once. It required quite an effort.

  • Tommy

    WOW! WOW! WOW! I read your blog yesterday, did some more reading about it and though, what the heck? I went and brought the tea and had a cup last night around 7, while eating dinner. I had some gin afterwards and ate a sandwich before bed. I checked my sugar this morning and it was 98! I ate breakfast, drank another cup of the tea and I didn’t take my normal medication. AND just to check to see if it was a fluke, I drank a soda, not diet, and checked my sugar 10 mins later and it was 193. I checked 3 hours later and its 94! This tea works!!! I am going to monitor it for the next 7 days before I tell my friend who’s also has diabetes. David, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • Onoosh

    Has anyone with Type 1 or LADA tried this? If so, what were the results?

  • David Spero RN

    Onoosh, I haven’t found any references on the Web to people with Type 1 or LADA using bitter melon. It is thought, though, that the melon contains insulin-like compounds, which perhaps take the place of insulin. So it certainly seems worth a try. Let us know how it goes.

  • Kobe’s Mom

    I tried the bitter melon capsules and it did work for about 2 weeks with tremendous results. Brought down my sugars in the 200’s to 110 and sometimes lower. Then, seems like it stopped working as well as in the beginning, should I drink the tea instead of the capsules? Has anyone had this kind of results?

  • David S.

    My severely insulin dependent mother has been asking me to look for bitter melon in the supermarket. I keep asking why. Now I know. I am on the hunt for this now – either in tea or fruit form.
    Where are people finding this?


  • David Spero RN

    Kobe’s Mom,

    I hadn’t heard of bitter melon’s benefits wearing off as they seem to for you. Has anything else changed in your health, diet, medicines, stress or anything that could account for it? Tea is worth a try. I also wonder if you got a bad batch of capsules.

    David S, best places to buy are at Asian markets or online. Not hard to find. The fruit is available at farmers’ markets and Asian stores, but you really need to know how to cook it. Capsules and teas are easier.

  • Bubbles Walsan

    In India, bitter melon is known as ‘KARELA’, and is a very popular vegetable regularly prepared in most kitchens, particularly during the warmer summer months when the price is more affordable.

    People with Diabetes have a few tablespoonsful of the fresh juice with their breakfast. This is easily made: Thoroughly wash one or two bitter melons. (the size varies from four to eight inches long), and grate it either by hand or in a mixie. Squeeze out the juice, and have it fresh! Results are best this way. Do not throw away the squeeezed fruit. Soak it in some clean drinking water and let it rest for a few hours. Squeeze it out and drink it during the rest of the day as well.

    Try this out and post the results on this site. They are guaranteed to be good.

    Bubbles Walsan

  • Kemi

    I ll be trying this bitter melon idea out tonight, I let u know.

  • Kemi

    I tried the fresh bitter melon as promised in the evening and the following morning being a type II diabetic, my fasting result was still high but the rest of the day was fine but knowing the quantity required was a task in the fresh. I got the tea and I ve started on it last night i ll keep my fingers crossed i hope it work for me too.

  • owen

    how do you make the tea? Or is it store bought?

    thanks owen

  • David Spero RN

    Owen, you can buy bitter melon tea bags on line or in an Asian food market or perhaps Whole Foods.

  • Ayesha

    I was diagnosed with diebates . I had to control with my diet and I did not want to go on medication so one day I tried the bitter melon fresh washed and put it in a pot half filled with water and let it boil for 1/2 hour and with it became cold I filled it in a bottled and put it in the fridge. I drink it every morning before breakfast. And thank Allah my sugar is normal. I do this everyday.

  • Dee

    How interesting. Do you drink the juice of one bitter melon a day? Do you need to boil it and if so why? I have a juicer and wondered whether one bitter melon juiced per day would be ok without boiling?

  • David Spero RN


    You can try juicing the melon, as Ayesha did in the comment before yours, but most people find the taste very hard to swallow. Most people try the tea or the capsules.

  • Goldie P

    My husband made a good tasting tea by boiling a bunch of leaves of bitter melon & then blended the boiled leaves, extracted the juice Iin a strainer & mixed it with the tea! Cooled in a fridge & I take 2 shots every nite before bed. It helps lower my glucose reading in the morning as I’m a Type 2 . I refused to take any medication so doing alternative medicine.

  • Boyd

    there is a Phillipine recipe (unsure of the name) but consists of finely sliced (washed) bitter melon soaked for an hour in a strong brine, then drained and fried with scrambled egg. It has a better taste than most recipes. The tea is good though (almost no taste) I prefer that to normal black tea.

  • Ave

    Does Bitter Gourd help to reduce weight? I blend half melon with water and take it first thing in the morning. Will it help???

  • David Spero RN

    Ave, there doesn’t seem much evidence on bitter melon for weight loss. It’s more for reducing blood sugars.


  • Robin

    I am going to try this. I just found out that I’m now either going to have to take insulin shots or take two different types medication. One called Glipizide and the other Metformin. I hate the idea of taking medication if I don’t have to.

    I’m going to try Bitter Mellon Tea. If that does the trick I’m going to be every so grateful. If not, I’ll go on the meds.

    I’ll repost to let you know what my results are. As it stands right now, my A1C test was 11.2 a week ago. I was hospitalized last week for other issues and that’s when they found my blood sugars completely out of control.

    So… hopefully I’ll be able to get some type help with this tea. I’m crossing my fingers. I don’t like the side effects of most medications.

    • anita

      Did the bitter gourd work?

  • gary

    I went to the doctor and found out my reading was 270 .but I had cereal that morning before I reach the doctor .she put me on 500mg metformin two times a day. I was afraid to take it.I cut out the sugar and lower my carbs morning after fasting my reading was 153.after 2 hrs of eating breakfast it was 180. Then later that evening I tried the bitter.after fasting next morning was 130.2 hrs after eating with the bitter melon it was 134.I had the bitter melon with dinner.7pm.but did not text until was 121.still have not taken my meds yet.(metformin).seems to only concern ,can it be taken safely for along period of time.

    • Walt Tjong

      I only started taking melon raw yesterday and don’t know yet what’s my level now. Look like you have similar numbers that I had before. My doctor also gave me metformin 500mg but had problem with diarrhea as side effect. I normally bring it down by heavy exercise before I know this melon. I think this melon is okay since my mother and grandmother used to cook dishes from it. It’s just another kind of melon and should be safe if you take it for a long time.

  • gary

    I just check my after fasting sugar level after this morning using the bitter melon with 7pm came back at 121 .looks like it works.

  • tom

    Bittermelon is a staple veggie in the phils.
    If you’re interested in cooking it as a dish, sautee some minced onions, garlic, tomato slices, add half a cup of water, then the 1/2″ slices of bittermelon. Season with salt, oyster sauce, and pepper. Let simmer. Then add a freshly cracked egg.

  • Tonya

    I used the tea about 1 1/2 yrs ago. I found out I had a mass on my adrenal gland that was thought to be a pheochromocytoma. I have strong family history of cancer so this was very concerning. I started using the tea 2 times a day for about 2 months. When I went for my recheck the mass was gone and my tumor marker level had decreased by half. It has been about a year and a half and still not sign of the mass. I recommend it to anyone with cancer.

  • Patricia

    I’ve been experimenting with bitter melon and have found it is an acquired taste that you come to crave. My favorite way to eat it is raw and cold. Slice it down the middle, scoop out the seeds and filling. Cut it like pieces of celery. Now salt it to release some fluid that I drink. Try some vinegar and lemon on it. I have also added onion and tomato. It’s a great salad!

  • sridhar

    Why take the trouble of tea, juice and other process?
    Just wash teh melon., cut a few slices and have them. i am finding extrremely encouraging. further it adds to fibre also. please do not take trouble of juicing., making tea etc. you are not reaping full benefits of the gourd. regards.

  • Kas

    I have pre diabetes – A1C around 6.3.

    Tried a small amount of bitter melon – boiled it to make it less bitter- then cut it into small slices and added it to my baked chicken and vegetables. Only ate a few of my small strips, and blood sugar went from 6.3 to 4.9 and then later, after a large lunch, down to 4.6. No exercise during the past few weeks due to sciatica. I am going to continue with a small amount of this vegetable twice a day and see if this trend continues. If it does, well, it will be bitter melon for me for life! Sure beats pharmaceuticals and, it is also used to prevent cancers in the Asian countries. What have we all got to lose?!

    • Walt Tjong

      How long it took to bring down to 4.9 from 6.3? I had been told as a child that it is also good to prevent allergic reactions and improve skin conditions.

  • reddy

    A simple Indian dish with karela.

    6 medium size bitter gourds are needed for this recepie.
    Non stick pan is recommended for those who are trying Indian dishes.

    Add 2 table spoons of oil.Add peanuts(optional), onion pieces, minced ginger, minced garlic. Saute for 1-2 min on medium flame. Now add bittergourd pieces (thinly sliced or small cubes). Add some salt, turmeric(optional) and mix. Close the lid. Cook on medium. For every 5 min mix in between. Cook for 15min. Reduce the flame to low and cook for 10-15 min.The pieces become soft and the color changes a bit. Now add salt upto your taste, add chilli powder, grafted coconut (fresh or dry), coriander powder (optional). Mix all the ingredients once, and cook for 1-2 min on low. Put flame of ( add 1 tea spoon sugar or jaggary which is optional along with salt, this reduces bitter taste)

    If any one wants to try the recipes try karela curry, karela fry, karela Indian recipes on google.

  • joanne

    can you take bittermelon if your not diabetic, and a little bit hypoglycemic

    • Sam Lin


    • Walt Tjong

      It is our traditional dish from hakka (in China) mixed with pork or beef and eat regularly. No harm done if you don’t have high sugar level in the blood. It’s not poisonous and it is just a different kind of mellon that’s all.



  • Alice

    Joanne – If you are hypoglycemic and not diabetic, I strongly recommend against bitter melon. It sounds like it would make it worse.

  • Casey Rogers

    This sounds interesting, but I personally find tea from beneficial to me. I’ve been using it for about a month now and my Blood sugar levels are stabler than I can ever remember.

  • Marisol

    Can I take bitter melon and metformin together, also how much extract do I have to consume?

    • sidney

      yes,I am taking metformin1/2 tabs and bitter melon tea and my blood suger is normal now.

  • cece

    I bought bitter gourd tea (same thing) with a picture of bitter melons on the front. It tadtes like regular black tea. I drink one bag at night, so since I like two or more cups in the evening, I add a green tea bag or another black tea bag. Tastes good.

  • Julie

    There are many interesting bitter melon recepies on internet, for example, google “bitter melon and beef” you will find many entries, such as this one

  • rich21

    I just started Eating bitter melon today. I am not jucing buut eating it. Does anyone know if this is just as effective?

    • Sam Lin

      yes it does…

    • Walt Tjong

      My grandmother used to cook it (without seeds) with pork meat and had never had allergy problems. It’s also good to cure swollen skin from insect bites better than synthetic drugs.

  • Glynis

    Hello, I did not see an answer if you can take the bitter melon and metformin together?

    • dan

      well, blood sugar seems to be reduced after taking either bitter melon or metformin. so, taking a combination of these two is probably redundant. but, you need to ask your doctor for confirmation..

    • sidney

      yes I am drinking bitter melon tea and taking 1/2 tablet of metformin ,so my blood suger is normal.

    • Lorie Therese Locara

      I took bitter melon capsules, metformin, and glibenclamide (a sulfonylurea) all together. I didn’t really notice if I had sugar lows. Maybe it was because I was eating too much. xD Just monitor your blood sugar, then. 😀

  • Rhonda

    I have been taking Bitter Melon Capsules for approx. 1 year and I find it works really well. I have type 2 diabetes and I am also on Diabex medication – 1 tablet a day. When my vision blurs, I take a Bitter Melon capsule and it clears, my liver was “slightly inflamed” and the bitter melon has improved it to where the Doc said it is now normal.

  • dan

    I used to take bitter melon tablets (manufactured by Himalayas USA (or something like that)), it worked for a while (a few months. thank god). then it stopped working, in fact, it increased my blood sugar. then i stopped taking them.

    after that, not wanting to give up on bitter melon, i bought raw bitter melons, cut off the ends, sliced it in half, removed the seeds, sliced it into smaller bits, and ate it raw. it seemed to work and has been working ever since. thank god again. but i don’t know how long it will keep working. 😀

    • Lorie Therese Locara

      Hmm. Maybe the manufacturers replaced the active ingredient with just starch/fillers?

  • sharon

    Am from the island of Trinidad and Tobago and we have this fruit but we called it Kariali not sure if I spelt it correctly… But anyhow it’s something that most off us has growing in our yard! We eat it raw! We drink d water as a body detox, but most of all we fry it nd eat it with our meals! We also use different leaves to take a

  • Adeto

    hi, please i would really like to know if the capsule form is also effective. thanks

    • David Spero RN

      The capsules are also supposed to work well. There’s not much data, but you could certainly try them safely. Please let us know your results. David

  • humphries

    I too use better melon. it is a great way to control diabetics. this plant is a part of a normal diet for Asian and African people. that why diabetics is getting worse in America. Don’t eat any preservatives or bleach starch. Stay out of the center of the grocery store only get the food on the edges. bread. meats , fruits and some spices.

  • Walt Tjong

    I am also type 2 and I am just wondering about this tea. Where to get some of this tea? And do they come in pills also? Thanks for the advise in advance.

    • David Spero RN

      As the article said, you can buy at Asian groceries or online. Capsules work fine and are available online. I don’t know if it comes in tablets.

      • trish Ypoo

        It does come in tablets

  • zenfan

    How many mg.’s are the caps you take?

  • Adams Nate

    So are you still on insulin?

  • Adams Nate

    I have been diabetic for 10 years, and it sounds as if some of you are posting this cucumber like it is a miracle cure; no offense intended, I just don’t embrace false hopes.

    • trish Ypoo

      It works. I use it for type 2 and not only reduces bg, but also has helped me lose weight

    • dee

      I Use to think the same now after trying it I think different,n believe me my bs used to be over 400 n 500 now it don’t go no more the. 200,n I been a diabetic for 11yrs ,u should take a try

  • dee

    I highly recommend this product,I’m diabetic type 1 and I’m currently taking the capsules and they have show alot improvement in my glucose,I used to have my blood sugar over 400s n some times 500 daily and now my sugar doesn’t go no more then 200,I’m highly satisfied with this product I’m so glad that I chose to try it ,now that I’m using this product idont use insulin as much I used to before ,now I only used it once or twice a day when before I use to used four times a day and sometimes even more due to I used to have very high blood sugar.

  • nabil latreche

    It is okay to add sweetness?

  • cornelius

    My dad is type 2 and really wanna try this stuff any body ow where I can get the pills

    • shanjes

      I know you can find it at some health food stores. I called one looking for Jerusalem Artichoke but they didn’t have that and recommended Bitter Melon which they did carry in capsule form.

  • Unamed Unamed

    My husband is diabetic and takes this.He buys the bitter melon itself ,cuts it in small pieces put it in water and drinks it.His blood sugar is normal and he takes no medication.

    • Paul Hoffman

      never tried it that way . Kinda like lemon water but with the bitter melon . Will try it !

  • ismail mete

    hi darlene . im type 2 and around 3oo every day coud you please send me brand youre using and where to get it thx.

  • Paul Hoffman

    My wife prepares Bitter melon for me about 3 times a week . Keeps my BG in check

  • Arleen

    My dad is a type 2. My mom started having him drink half a cup of fresh bitter melon juice 3x/day. His blood sugar has been normal. I am a type 2 myself. I will start tonight. I was told it is very bitter but drinking water soon after takes away the taste completely.

  • Charli

    My mother was recently diagnosed with diabetes (runs in the family on her side) and has been eating bitter melon with great results. You can probably pick up some bitter melons at a Chinese grocery store. There are some nice recipes, like cooking it with pork and Chinese black bean sauce. Growing up, it was actually one of my dad’s favorite veggie dishes, so we had it often for dinner. It is quite bitter, so some people don’t like it, but once you aquire a taste for it, it’s nice. It also pairs well with caramelized onions, or you can slice it really thin and have it raw on a salad in place of arugula or another bitter green.

  • Lorie Therese Locara

    Hey, thank you for this post. :) I’ve been getting kidney pains from dehydration+metformin use lately, and I’ve been considering switching to fresh bitter melon completely. xD Your blog confirmed the direction I was going to take with my self-management. xD Though now I’m just wishing I did this last year yet. xD

    Thanks much! 😀

  • Maria Lucio

    Hi everyone! I started drinking bitter melon tea last Friday. And I have seen results in my blood sugars. I used to get 175-299 on a daily basis. But with the bitter melon I am now between 106-156. Mind you it has been less than a week. So I am very happy with this product. I have been struggling with my diabetes for a long time. So I would recommend you try it and see for yourself.