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Bitter gourd ( Karela)

Momordica charantia, called bitter melon or bitter gourd, is a tropical and subtropical vine belongs to the genus Momordica and family Cucurbitaceae. It is widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. There are many varieties that differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit. This is a plant of the tropics, but its original native range is unknown.

Listing Details

Botanical Names
Momordica charantia
Indian Names
Hindi : Karela Marathi : Karale Malayalam : Pavayka, Kayppayka Tamil : Paakharkaai Bengali : Korola
Chemical Constituents
The Momordica charantia plant contains several biologically active compounds, chiefly momordicin I and II, and cucurbitacin B. The plant contains several bioactive glycosides including momordin, charantin, charantosides, goyaglycosides, momordicosides and other terpenoid compounds including momordicin-28, momordicinin, momordicilin, momordenol, and momordol. It also contains cytotoxic ribosome-inactivating proteins such as momorcharin and momordin (1). Seeds of Momordica charantia plant contain few compounds. These compounds were elucidated as vacine, mycose, 3-O-(beta-D-glucopyranosyl)-24 beta-ethyl-5 alpha-cholesta-7, trans-22E, 25 (27)-trien-3 beta-ol, momorcharaside A and momorcharaside B respectively. Dry root of Momordica sp. contains triterpenes and steroidal compounds. These compounds are alpha-spinasterol octadecanonate, alpha-spinasterol-3-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside, 3-O-beta-D-glucuronopyranosyl gypsogenin, 3-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl gypsogenin and 3-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl hederagenin.
Pesticide Limits
A limit for pesticide is one of the major issues in standardization of medicinal plants and products in view of the worldwide widespread use of pesticides in cultivated plants. The presence of pesticides in extracts increase the health risk by many folds. The pesticides can be extremely irritant on skin as well as in the internal organs, it is essential to monitor its concentration as a part of GMP. Various analytical methods for the quantitative determination of pesticides by gas chromatography coupled with mass-spectrophotometer are in use. Konark Research Foundation (KRF), a NABL certified lab is well equipped with the latest technology and instruments and monitors the pesticide limit as part of its GMP.
Chromatographic Profile
From the pharmacopoeial perspective, a better quality control of raw material can be achieved by specifying quantitative test procedure for the determination of the range or a minimum content of the active ingredient or marker substances. A chromatographic finger profile represents qualitative/ quantitative determination of various components present in a complex plant extract, irrespective whether or not their exact identity is known. Thin layer chromatographic technique is the simplest and least expensive method that provides plenty of information on the composition of raw herbs and its preparation. For quantitative analysis of active ingredients or marker substances with simultaneous separation and detection High Pressure liquid chromatography is the best technique. We use the latest model of HPLC for all its analysis.
Limits of Impurities
A test requirement for foreign organic matter would ensure the extent of contamination of extraneous matters such as filth and other parts of botanicals not covered by the definition of the herbal drug. Since sand and soil are predictable contaminants of botanicals, test requirements for ‘total ash’, water soluble ash’, ‘acid soluble ash’, residue on ignition and sulphated ash would be expected to limit such contaminants. Test requirement for heavy metals in botanical raw material are probably more relevant for parts of plants growing under ground than for the aerial parts of the plant. The presence of high levels of minerals interacts with the final product there by affecting its keeping quality.
Microbial Limits
If the raw herbs are to be used directly without boiling in water prior to consumption, restrictive limits on microbial contaminants are required for pathogens such as Salmonella sp. Enterobacter and E. coli which are causative agent for various gastrointestinal diseases. A lower level of yeasts and molds and a limit on total aerobes are considered appropriate in plant material for topical use. The presence of aflatoxins detected by chemical means is generally independent of the number of viable molds that are detected using microbiological methods. Aflatoxins in microgram quantity are capable of giving serious hypersensitivity reactions which can be extremely harmful to human health.
Investigation of the traditional uses of Momordica charantia showed that it is one of the most important medicinal plants both for ritual and ethno-medical practices. Momordica charantia possesses various beneficial medicinal properties. It possesses anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-helinthic, anti-diabetic, anti hypotensive, anti-cancer and cardio protective properties (3). Recent scientific research also state that compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection (4). Bitter Mellon Seed exerts cardio protective effects by down-regulating the NF-κB inflammatory pathway. Momordica charantia is a popular fruit used for the treatment of diabetes and related conditions amongst the indigenous populations of Asia, South America, India and East Africa. Abundant pre-clinical studies have documented the anti-diabetic and hypoglycaemic effects of M. charantia through various postulated mechanisms. Bitter melon has been found to increase insulin sensitivity. In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined that a daily dose of M. charantia comparable to the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day by the diabetic patients. Other compounds in bitter melon have been found to activate the AMPK, the protein that regulates glucose uptake (a process which is impaired in diabetics) (5). Momordica charantia also possesses anticancer properties. Two compounds extracted from bitter melon, α-eleostearic acid (from seeds) and 15,16-dihydroxy-α-eleostearic acid (from the fruit) have been found to induce apoptosis of leukemia cells in vitro. Thus it can be used in anticancer therapy as an anticancer agent .
Health Benefits
Various morphological parts such as roots, stems, leaves and fruits of Momordica charantia are used traditionally in folk medicine to manage, control and treat a plethora of human ailments, including diabetes mellitus and hypertension. It has been estimated that up to one-third of patients with diabetes mellitus use some form of Momordica charantia in complementary and alternative medicine. Momordica charantia extracts also showed high antiviral activity against Sindbis and Herpes simplex type 1 viruses and anti-helmintic activity against Caenorhabditis elegans (7). Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its non-protein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin's effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon. Momordica charantia also possesses anticancer activity. Diets containing bitter melon oil (0.006% as α-eleostearic acid) were found to prevent azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in rats. In a scientific study, chemo- preventive ability of Bitter Melon Oil on large bowel tumorigenesis was investigated in a long-term in vivo assay using a rat colon carcinogenesis model.
Research References
1. Luo L., Li Z., Zhang Y. and Huang R. Triterpenes and steroidal compounds from Momordica dioica. Yao Xue Xue Bao. 1998 33(11):839-42. 2. Zhu Z., Zhong Z. C., Luo Z. Y. and Xiao Z. Y. Studies on the active constituents of Momordica charantia L. Yao Xue Xue Bao. 1990; 25(12):898-903. 3. Basch E., Gabardi S. and Ulbricht C. Bitter melon (Momordica charantia): a review of efficacy and safety. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003 60(4):356-359. 4.J. K. Grover and S. P. Yadav Pharmacological actions and potential uses of Momordica charantia: a review Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2004 93(1):123-132 5. Shih C. C., Lin C. H., Lin W. L. and Wu J. B. Momordica charantia extract on insulin resistance and the skeletal muscle GLUT4 protein in fructose-fed rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 123(1):82-90 6. Hiroyuki K., Yumiko Y., Rikako S., Masashi H., Kazuo M. and Takuji T. DIETARY SEED OIL RICH IN CONJUGATED LINOLENIC ACID FROM BITTER MELON INHIBITS AZOXYMETHANE-INDUCED RAT COLON CARCINOGENESIS THROUGH ELEVATION OF COLONIC PPAR_ EXPRESSION AND ALTERATION OF LIPID COMPOSITION Int. J. Cancer: 2004 110:896–901 7. Nadine B., Messanvi G., Koffi A., Jim H., Komlan de S., Kossi K. and J. Thor Arnason Ethnomedicinal uses of Momordica charantia (Cucurbitaceae) in Togo and relation to its phytochemistry and biological activity Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2005 96(1-2): 49-55 8. JOHN A. O., STEPHEN O. A., GBOLA O. Hypoglycaemic and hypotensive effects of Momordica charantia Linn (Cucurbitaceae) whole-plant aqueous extract in rats CARDIOVASCULAR JOURNAL OF SOUTH AFRICA 2006 17(5):227 9. Lawrence L., Richard B., Jyoti K., Susan H. and Sharon C. Anti-diabetic and hypoglycaemic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon): a mini review British Journal of Nutrition (2009), 102:1703–1708