Bitter gourd is a light green or dark green fruit belonging to the family of squash. Deriving its name from its bitter taste, bitter gourd may not be your favourite vegetable but it has innumerable health benefits.

Bitter gourds are vitamin-dense and contain numerous antioxidants, which help in protecting your body against oxidative stress.

Known by different names such as bitter melon, bitter gourd, karela, balsam pear, it is majorly grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Its origin lies in South Asia and it is greatly used in Indian, Chinese, and other Southeast Asian cuisines. Bitter gourd is a warm season plant, thriving in a warm and humid climate.

Apart from the edible fruit, the leaves of the bitter gourd plant are also quite useful. They have antiseptic properties and act as a blood purifier. They are used as an inoculation to treat several fevers. Extracts obtained from the leaves and stem have abilities to treat diabetes and high blood pressure. These benefits will be discussed ahead.


A soil which allows water to percolate quickly, has reasonably high clay and compost content and is fertile, proves to be suitable for cultivation of bitter gourd plant. A pH level ranging from 5.5 to 6.7 is preferable. A frost-free and moderate climate with temperatures between 25 to 35 degree Celsius is conducive to growth. Irrigation includes a thorough supply of water before dibbling the seeds and once a week thereafter. The vines usually bloom for over six months, and harvesting is done on alternate days by picking the fruit carefully, preventing damage to the vine. Not letting these fruits mature on the plant itself, they are harvested and stored for 3-4 days in a cool area. An approximate of 60 to 100 quintal is acquired from a hectare land of production.

Some basic facts about Bitter gourd

  • Scientific name: Momordica charantia
  • Family: Cucurbitaceae
  • Common name: The name by which the vegetable is known differs from region to region. There are numerous names such as bitter melon, balsam pear, balsamina in Spanish, karela in Hindi and Urdu, karli in Marathi, Pavakkai in Tamil, etc. Because of its health merits, it is consumed in almost all places in the world earning these names.
  • Sanskrit name: Kaarbelum
  • Parts used: The fruit is the only edible part of the plant. But the leaves, stem and flowers are also useful.
  • Native and geographical distribution: The origin of bitter gourd is southeast Asia, somewhere around the eastern tropical areas of India. It is reflected in Indian, Chinese, and Bangladeshi cuisines. Presently, it is grown widely in India, China, Japan, and various parts of South Asia.
  • Interesting fact: Bitter gourd gets its bitterness from the momordicin present in it and is the most bitter among all vegetables, yet the sweetest for your health!
  1. Nutrition facts of Bitter gourd
  2. Health Benefits of Bitter gourd
  3. Side effects of bitter gourd

Following is a table showing the nutritional value of bitter gourd, according to USDA:

Nutrients Value per 100g
Water 94  g
Energy 19 kcal
Protein 0.84 g
Fats 0.18 g
Carbohydrates 4.32  g
Fibre 2 g
Minerals  Value per 100 gm
Calcium 9 mg
Iron 0.38 mg
Magnesium 16 mg
Phosphorus 36 mg
Potassium 319 mg
Sodium 6 mg
Zinc 0.77 mg
Vitamin C 33 mg

Bitter gourd is truly a wonder vegetable with incredible healing properties. Evidently, its beauty doesn’t lie in its appearance but definitely lies in the way it brings an array of healthy, lip-smacking recipes, and several medicinal properties. Being widely used in traditional medicine, following are a few health benefits that our green friend offers:

Bitter gourd for weight loss

The current shift towards a high fat, low-quality diet, reduction of physical activities and sedentary professions has lead to an alarming increase in obesity. Bitter gourd has evident effects on body weight and fat deposition, which are believed to be the first signs of obesity.

It is very low in calories, fat and carbohydrates and helps in maintaining body weight even when consumed copiously. It steers weight loss by oxidizing fatty acids and also by preventing excessive accumulation of fat globules.

Bitter gourd has a lot of water content, which also helps in curbing hunger pangs by making you feel full for longer. So, bitter gourd can not only help you shed those extra kilos but also save you from the health risks of obesity.

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Bitter gourd for diabetes control

Among all the medicinal gifts that the intake of bitter gourd has, this one is considered to be the most significant. Mixtures of herbs and plant extracts have been used since ancient times to treat diabetes and bitter gourd is one such plant. It is known to be a popular treatment of diabetes in the eastern parts of the world.

Investigation of the traditional uses of this vegetable in India revealed that it is one of the most important plants for lowering blood glucose levels, and delaying the complications associated with diabetes. It is reported to accelerate the allopathic treatment given to a diabetic patient.

The bitter gourd plant has hypoglycemic properties, which help in lowering down blood sugar levels by functioning through a number of physiological and pharmacological pathways. Administration of bitter gourd extract has been evidenced to stimulate insulin secretion and helps in the protection of the pancreatic cells responsible for its secretion. These properties make for bitter gourd as a natural remedy for diabetes.

Bitter gourd for the heart

Obesity increases the risk of several chronic problems. Hypertension and valvular dysfunction (failure of any of the heart valves) are two of the major manifestations of obesity. According to a recent animal study, ingesting bitter gourd lowers blood pressure, but another study found no definitive effects. So, the role is inconclusive. However, bitter gourd surely helps in the management of obesity and avoidance of these disorders if not have a direct action.

Bitter gourd for constipation and piles relief

Constipation, a very common health issue is caused due to unhealthy eating habits and imbalanced diets. One of the most effective remedies to overcome constipation is by drinking bitter gourd juice. It helps in improving the peristaltic movements of the gastrointestinal tract and assisting absorption processes in the intestines. This not only provides relief from constipation but also helps in combating the disorder. Due to these properties, bitter gourd is used as a constipation reliever is several parts of India and even worldwide.

Further, long-standing constipation is a risk factor for the development of haemorrhoids or piles. Haemorrhoids are a painful condition which cause swelling of the vein around the rectum. By treating constipating, bitter gourd juice also helps in preventing the risk of piles.

Bitter gourd as an antioxidant

There are convincing antioxidant activities in both the fruit and leaves of the bitter gourd plant as reported by in vivo (inside an organism) and in vitro (outside an organism/test tube) investigations. Aqueous extracts of bitter gourd leaves significantly eliminate the DPPH free radicals which are unstable compounds that reduce the functioning of cells by incurring damage. Similarly, fruits extracts scavenge hydroxyl radicals and showed an increased total antioxidant capacity. This may be attributed to high amounts of phenolics and flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants.

Bitter gourd for the liver

The liver is immensely exposed to the challenges of a poor diet and faces the consequences of obesity. Immoderate intake of fats leads to fatty acid-mediated inflammation and oxidative stress in the liver. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between oxygen-containing molecules or free radicals and antioxidants in the body.

Bitter gourd extracts have antioxidant properties, which helps in reducing oxidative damage to the liver. Scavenging of free radicals also helps in reducing inflammation caused due to the noxious stimuli. By aiding in the regulation of liver enzymes, bitter gourd extract help in reducing fat accumulation in the liver, thereby preventing fatty liver. It also possesses capabilities to reduce inflammation in the liver. Also drinking one glass of bitter gourd juice daily helps in healing liver problems.

Bitter gourd for the blood

Blood impurities can have a negative impact on a number of processes in our body as blood circulates throughout. These impurities are quickly manifested  on the skin in the form of acne  outbreaks and boils. Due to its tonic properties, bitter gourd is successful in healing acne, boils and related concerns. Topical application of bitter gourd can help to get rid of acne.

Bitter gourd for cancer cure

Several in vitro studies stipulate that the extracts of bitter gourd seed and fruit inhibit the development of certain types of cancer. It has a particular activity against prostate adenocarcinoma, human colon cancer, and highly metastatic (quickly spreading to other organs) breast cancer.

It was reported that fractions of bitter gourd were enriched with different types of phenolic compounds that act as antimutagenic (prevents cellular changes responsible for cancer) and antitumor compounds along with possessing strong antioxidant activity. Certain in vivo studies have shown that the bitter gourd plant has an inhibitory effect on cancerous cells. It functions by inhibiting the enzymes responsible for the progress of the cancerous activity, like in case of leukaemia.

Bitter gourd and HIV

One of the most dreaded fatal diseases is the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It damages the immune system of the body making it prone and irrecoverable from various infections. α and β momorcharin, lecithin, and MAP30, are found in extracts of bitter gourd. These have significant antiviral properties against the HIV virus. In fact, the alpha and beta momorcharin can completely eradicate the viral antigen in infected cells, according to a recent study. It is believed that Momordica charantia or bitter gourd extracts inhibit HIV replication by preventing their replication and infection. However, it is difficult to say if the oral intake of bitter melon will enable the deceleration in the symptoms of HIV infected people.

  • Potential allergies: Intake of bitter gourd should be avoided if you have a pre-recognised allergy from vegetable and fruits of the Cucurbitaceae family (gourds and melons). Bitter gourd can induce skin rashes, itching, and shortness of breath in some.
  • Blood sugar level: As bitter gourd is used as a treatment for diabetes, it has the potential to decrease the blood sugar levels. When this happens, one can experience headache, confusion, nausea and even lack of consciousness.
  • Deficiency of glucose-6- phosphate: In this deficiency, the individual is unable to break down and digest an element present in gourd seeds. They should avoid its consumption to prevent adverse effects like  headache, fever, stomach pain, etc.
  • During and post pregnancy: Consumption of bitter gourd is not recommended for pregnant women as it may result in uterine bleeding, unwanted contractions, and even lead to a spontaneous abortion. It can also lead to birth defects.
  • Diarrhea: Since bitter gourd is used to treat constipation, a high dosage may cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Medicines / Products that contain Bitter gourd


  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11025, Balsam-pear (bitter gourd). National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  2. Baby Joseph, D Jini. Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency . Asian Pac J Trop Dis. 2013 Apr; 3(2): 93–102. PMCID: PMC4027280
  3. Md Ashraful Alam et al. Beneficial Role of Bitter Melon Supplementation in Obesity and Related Complications in Metabolic Syndrome . J Lipids. 2015; 2015: 496169. PMID: 25650336
  4. TusarK. Behera et al. Bitter Gourd: Botany, Horticulture, Breeding. Horticultural Reviews, Volume 37
  5. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Bitter Melon
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