Bitter Gourd (Karela): Benefits, Remedies, Research, Side Effects

Bitter gourd or Bitter melon, botanically, Momordica charantia is a well known Indian vegetable, useful for the treatment of diabetes, intestinal worms, sin disease, wounds and acts as blood purifier. 

Latin Name- Momordica charantia Linn.
Family- Cucurbitaceae

Bitter melon: Names in different languages:
Hindi name- Karela
English name- Bitter gourd, Balsam pear, Bitter melon
Bengali Name- Karla, Uchhe
Gujarati Name- Kareli
Kannada Name- Hagalakai
Marathi Name- Karle
Malayalam Name- Kaippakka
Tamil Name- Pavaikkari
Telugu name- Kakar
bitter gourd leaves flower fruitSanskrit Synonyms of karela:
Kathillam, Sushavi, Kandira, Kandakatuka, Sukanda, Ugrakanda, Katilla,
Karavellaka is a climber growing in the temperate region of India. It is cultivated for its vegetable use. The flowers are yellow in color and the fruit has triangular ridges in the outer side and grows up to 15-20 cm in length. The fruit is bitter in taste.

Momordica charantia – Medicinal properties:
Rasa (Taste) – Tikta (Bitter), Katu (Pungent)
Guna (Qualities) – Laghu (Light), Ruksha (Dry)
Vipaka- Katu (Undergoes Pungent taste after digestion)
Veerya (Potency) – Ushna (Hot)
Karma (Action) – Kapha pitta hara (reduces vitiated kapha and pitta dosha), Deepana (induce appetite)
bitter lemon juicePart used- Leaf, Fruit
Dosage- Fresh juice 10-20 ml.

Bitter gourd –  Chemical constituents:
The fruit contains 5-hydroxytryptamine, charantin, diosgenin, lanosterol and betasitosterol. It also contains bitter principles cucurbitacin glycosides. The fruits and seeds yields polypeptide insulin called as p- insulin, alpha and beta glycoproteins. The seed also contains hypoglycemic constituent vicine. Another protein called as MRK-29 is found in the smaller variety of bitter guard.

Medicinal uses of Bitter melon:

  • The juice of the fresh fruit of karavellaka is given in a dose of 20-25 ml to reduce the sugar level in blood.
  • The paste of the leaf of Momordia charantia is applied over the area affected with skin diseases like eczema. The paste is also applied to treat wounds and external pile mass.
  • The fresh juice of the fruit is given in a dose of 15-20 ml to treat intestinal worms, anorexia and liver disorders.
  • The fruit is cut into small pieces and given to treat cases of fever.
  • The juice of the fruit and leaves of karavellaka is given to treat conditions of amenorrhea and to purify the breast milk (as sthanya shodhana).
  • The juice of the fruit is consumed daily in a dose of 20-25 ml to detox the blood and act like a blood purifier.
  • The fruit is used as a vegetable and is found in many cuisines all over the world.

bittergourd-benefitsAyurvedic uses of Karela: 
karela leaves –
Pathya – can be taken as part of food
Pittala – Increases Pitta Dosha
Krumihara – useful in worm infestation, infected wounds

Bitter melon Fruit  –
Deepana – improves digestion strength
Bhedana – causes mild laxative effect
Avrushya – Un-aphrodisiac

Indicted in –
Arochaka – anorexia
Pittasra – Raktapitta –Bleeding disorders such as nasal bleeding, heavy periods, etc
Pandu – anemia
Vrana – Ulcers, wounds
Krumi – worm infestation
Shwasa – asthma and chronic respiratory disorders
Kasa – cough, cold
Prameha – Urinary tract disorders, diabetes
Asra – blood disorders such as abscess, skin disorders, bleeding disorders such as menorrhagia, nasal bleeding etc.
Kotha – allergic skin disorder
Kushta – skin diseases
Jwara – fever

How to consume bitter lemon?
Fruits are made into slices, put into mixer to extract juice. Juice is readily consumed in 10 – 30 ml, by many diabetic patients. This is a very bitter remedy.
Boiled fruits are consumed.
It is used as similar to any vegetable.

Adverse effects of Bitter gourd:
Reported side effects include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, hypoglycemia, urinary incontinence, and chest pain. Symptoms were generally mild, did not require treatment, and resolved with rest. 

Ayurvedic medicines containing Karela as ingredient:
Brihat Sarwa Jwarahara Lauh: This is an ayurvedic medicine in tablet form and is given to treat all types of fever. This formulation contains metals in its powder form.
Aragwadadi kashaya: This is an ayurvedic medicine in decoction form used for the treatment of various skin diseases, wounds and kaphaja jwara.
Diabac tablet: It is a proprietary ayurvedic medicine used to treat diabetes and complications arising out of the disease.
Glukostat capsule: Glukostat Capsule is a pancreatic stimulant and insulin sensitizer and is used in diabetic condition.

Diabegon capsule: Diabegon Capsule is a proprietary Ayurvedic medicine, manufactured by Dindayal Industries Ltd, Gwalior.  It is used in the treatment of diabetes.
Choles capsule: It is a proprietary ayurvedic medicine used to treat hyper lipidemia.
Nidd forte tablets: It is a proprietary ayurvedic medicine used to treat non- insulin dependent diabetes.
Limit capsules: It is a proprietary ayurvedic medicine used to treat non- insulin dependent diabetes.

Research articles on Karavellaka:
Anti- diabetic effect: It has been estimated that up to one-third of patients with diabetes mellitus use some form of complementary and alternative medicine. Abundant pre-clinical studies have documented in the anti-diabetic and hypoglycemic effects of M. charantia through various postulated mechanisms. However, clinical trial data with human subjects are limited and flawed by poor study design and low statistical power. The present review is an attempt to highlight the anti- diabetic activity as well as phytochemical and pharmacological reports on M. charantia.

Anti- malarial benefit: This experiment investigated the effects of M.charantia L. and M.jalapa L. on malaria in a 4-day suppressive test. Animals received 50, 100, or 200 mg/kg of methanolic extracts orally. M.charantia and M. jalapa methanolic extracts had intrinsic antimalarial properties that were dose-dependent. The result showed that M.charantia was effective in suppressing malaria at the highest dose tested (200 mg/kg) while M. jalapa gave the highest chemo suppression of parasitemia at the lowest tested dose of 50 mg/kg body weight of mice.

To control obesity: Momordica charantia (bitter melon, BM) is a traditional Chinese food and well known for its function of reducing body weight gain and insulin resistance. In this study, C57BL/6 mice were fed high fat diet (HFD) with or without BM for 12 weeks. BM-contained diets ameliorated HFD-induced obesity and insulin resistance. Histological and real-time PCR analysis demonstrated BM not only reduced macrophage infiltration into epididymal adipose tissues (EAT) and brown adipose tissues (BAT). Flow cytometry show that BM could modify the M1/M2 phenotype ratio of macrophages in EAT.

Hepato-protective action: The aim of this study was to investigate the anti- hyperglycemic activity of Momordica charantia fruit on alloxan induced diabetic mice and its antitoxic effect on liver. Mice were alloxanized (alloxan monohydrate 150 mg/kg body weight administered intraperitoneally) and aqueous extract of Momordica charantia at the rate of 100 mg/kg body weight was administered for 21 days to evaluate its anti- hyperglycemic activity. There serum glucose levels as well as the Liver Function Tests (LFT) – SGPT, SGOT and total bilirubin levels were analyzed statistically using ANOVA and Dunnett’s tests

Classical categorization:
Charaka samhita- Tikta skanda – bitter group of herbs
Sushruta samhita- Aragwadadi gana
Vagbhata- Aragwadadi gana
Bhavaprakasha- Shaka varga
Kaiyyadeva Nighantu- Oushadhi varga
Shodala Nighantu- Guduchyadi varga

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Momordica
Species: M. charantia

Dr.B.K.Prashanth M.D (Ayu), Ph.D
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  1. Mahesh rada says:

    Great posts. I have read many posts of doctor Webber for example ashwagandha. People should use ayurveda with knowledge. Otherwise it also has side dosage and duration is always important while using ayurveda herbs.

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