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Fruit, juice, and powdered bitter melon preparations are often prescribed in Asian traditional medicine to lower blood sugar levels. Cell and animal studies suggest bitter melon can lower blood sugar, but the remedy is not well studied in humans. To fill in the knowledge gap, researchers invited people with newly diagnosed, type 2 diabetes to participate in a study comparing the blood sugar lowering effects of bitter melon with those of metformin.
The study authors randomly selected 129 patients to receive bitter melon in three different amounts, or a recommended dose of metformin. Blood levels of fructosamine were measured at the beginning and the end of the four-week study. (Fructoseamine, an indicator of long-term blood sugar control, gives a better picture of how well diabetes is being managed than a single blood sugar reading.) Fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels and oral glucose tolerance-test (OGTT) results were collected as well.
After four weeks of treatment, the researchers found that the average fructosamine blood levels were significantly reduced in the metformin and 2,000 mg bitter melon (the highest amount given) groups; the metformin group experienced the largest fructosamine decrease. Metformin, but not bitter melon, significantly reduced average fasting blood glucose levels and improved OGTT results.
This study suggests that 2,000 mg of bitter melon taken daily may improve blood glucose control in people with newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Lower doses do not appear to be effective. However, metformin was the most effective at controlling blood sugar.
If you have diabetes and are considering natural remedies, it may be possible to incorporate bitter melon or other natural medicine into your diabetes care plan, but always talk to your doctor first. Natural products that are used to lower blood sugar may interfere with your other medications, or even cause dangerously low blood sugar levels when used in combination with blood sugar-lowering medications.
And don’t forget about the tried and true natural diabetes fighters: regular exercise, a healthy diet, and weight loss if you’re overweight.
(J Ethnopharmacol 2010; doi:10.1016/j.jep.2010.12.045)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.