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Bitter melon is a fruit that is used throughout Asia, India, and South America. The name is a perfect fit for the fruit because it has a strong bitter taste. The botanical name for bitter melon is Momordica charantia. The fruit of the bitter melon has been used for hundreds of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat digestive problems, viral infections, cancer, and diabetes.
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Bitter melon is rich in vitamin C, mormordin (a glycoside), carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols. Polyphenols are known for their anti-cancer properties. The polyphenols trigger apoptosis, which causes death of the cancer cells. Polyphenols also act as antioxidants to fight against the free radicals and tissue damage that cancer can cause. Carotenoids give the color to the plant. There are many studies that show evidence that carotenoids reduce the risk of some cancers. Carotenoids also have antioxidant activity.
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There have been many in vivo studies showing the antitumor properties of the bitter melon plant. In one study, a water extract of bitter melon blocked the growth of prostrate cancer in rats. Another study shows the inhibition of mammary tumors in mice. Several in vitro tests have demonstrated the antitumor properties of bitter melon against numerous cell lines.
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Breast Cancer Research
There have been many studies that show how bitter melon kills breast cancer cells. The latest research comes from St. Louis University and concludes that an extract from bitter melon inhibits the growth of breast cancer in vitro. What this means is the extract kills cancer cells in a test tube environment. This research is exciting because it involved two different breast cancer cell lines and the bitter melon extract killed 80% of the cells within 48 hours. It also prevented the breast cancer cells from dividing and proliferating. The bitter melon extract was also put with healthy breast cells and did not cause any cell death.
The next step in the process is to perform research with bitter melon in vivo, meaning using a living system. It will most likely be performed in mice. If this research goes well, human studies could follow.
In just the United States, there are over 40,000 deaths from breast cancer each year. The fact that bitter melon could be used to treat breast cancer is significant. It may not cure cancer, but it may act as a preventative measure to slow the occurrence of the cancer.
Whether or not it becomes a cure for cancer is still to be seen, but bitter melon is an excellent source of polyphenols and carotenoids which are good for you and have proven anti-cancer activity. There are no recorded safety or efficacy concerns regarding bitter melon.
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Cancer Research, March 1, 2010
Tropical Plant Database: Bitter Melon - http://www.rain-tree.com/bitmelon.htm
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