Published January 20, 2018 The other day in class we were reviewing the 5 flavors (sweet, bitter, sour, pungent + salty), and how bitter flavors are often completely missing from the American diet! Foods and herbs with bitter compounds are absolutely necessary, because once they touch the tongue they stimulate the immune system, improve liver detoxification, increase gastric motility, and encourage the flow of digestive juices (including bile and stomach acid). We began discussing how valuable bitters are in the treatment of blood sugar dysregulation, and a classmate shared the method she used to treat her father’s type 2 diabetes. Each morning on an empty stomach, he drank 3-4 ounces of fresh bitter melon juice (which tastes just like it sounds)! Within several months of consistent use, his A1C dropped from 10+ down to the 5s, and his fasting blood glucose normalized. WHAT IS BITTER MELON? Momordica charantia, also known as Bitter Melon or Bitter Gourd is a unique ‘vegetable-fruit’ used in China and India for centuries as both a food and medicine. You can find it at your local Asian market. WHY DO BITTER FOODS HELP DIABETES? Traditional Chinese Medicine sees type 2 diabetes as a condition that arises from overeating fat and sweet foods, which injures the function of the pancreas and stomach and leads to stagnation in what they view as the ‘center burner.’ Combined with lack of exercise, this stagnation leads to a build-up of “heat”, toxins and fullness in the center of the body including the stomach, liver and gallbladder. (Think about when you’re trapped on the highway in traffic and have no way to get out – you get hot and angry!) Thus, TCM’s method of treatment is to clear heat (especially in the liver), which is exactly what the bitter flavor does. By nature, bitter herbs & foods are very cooling and help to “release and drain.” WHAT THE WESTERN SCIENCE SAYS An article in The Open Medicinal Chemistry Journal in 2011 listed multiple chemicals from bitter melon that may be responsible for its blood sugar lowering effects. The authors believed the strongest chemical was charantin, which appears to act similarly to insulin. It helps get glucose into the cells, and helps keep excess glucose in the liver. Bitter melon also contains bioactive compounds that activate the enzyme AMPK, a protein that moves glucose transporter molecules to the surface of cells. Exercise activates AMPK in muscle (which is why it’s so highly recommended for diabetes), however the four major chemical compounds in bitter melon activate AMPK in a very similar fashion! HOW TO MAKE THE JUICE: When purchasing bitter melons, choose firm ones with few or no skin blemishes. (Store them in the fridge before use where they’ll keep for 3-5 days). Wash the melon you plan to juice under cool running water, then slice it lengthwise to expose the inside. Remove the seeds by scraping them out with the tip of a spoon. Juice the entire fruit in a juicer to make a 3-4 oz. serving, then drink on an empty stomach in the morning upon waking. Continue taking the juice daily for 2-5 months, monitoring blood sugar & A1C levels closely. NOTE: The addition of lime & ginger minimizes the harshness of the juice without negating its bitter qualities. CONTRAINDICATIONS: Do not drink bitter melon juice if you are pregnant or wish to become pregnant. Do not give bitter melon juice or seeds to children. Lastly, there seems to be a risk of going TOO low if you take bitter melon along with certain diabetes medications such as insulin or metformin. Speak to your healthcare provider if you’re on these or other medicines, as bitter melon can interact with a variety of drugs and possibly lower your required dosage.