ISSN No. 1606-7754                   Vol.11 No.3 December 2003

Beneficial effect and mechanism of action of Momordica charantia in the treatment of diabetes mellitus: a mini review
Celia Garau1, Cummings E2, David A. Phoenix3, Jaipaul Singh2
1Departament de Biologia Fonamental i Ciencies de la Salut, Laboratori de Fisiologia, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Balears, Spain. 2Department of Biological Science and 3Office of the Dean, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, PR1 2HE, England, UKy


Diabetes mellitus (DM) is the most common of the endocrine disorders and represents a global health problem. DM is characterized by chronic hyperglycaemia due to relative or absolute lack of insulin or the actions of insulin. Insulin is the main treatment for patients with type 1 DM and it is also important in type 2 DM when blood glucose levels cannot be controlled by diet, weight loss, exercise and oral medications alone. Prior to the availability of insulin, dietary measures, including the traditional medicines derived from plants, were the major form of treatment. A multitude of plants have been used for the treatment of diabetes throughout the world. One such plant is Momordica charantia (Linn Family: Cucurbaceae), whose fruit is known as Karela or bittergourd. For a long time, several workers have studied the effects of this plant in DM. Treatment with M. charantia fruit juice reduced blood glucose levels, improved body weight and glucose tolerance. M. charantia fruit juice can also inhibit glucose uptake by the gut and stimulate glucose uptake by skeletal muscle cells. Moreover, the juice of this plant preserves islet  cells and β cell functions, normalises the systolic blood pressure, and modulates xenobiotic metabolism and oxidative stress. M. charantia also has anti-carcinogenic properties. In conclusion, M. charantia has tremendous beneficial values in the treatment of DM.

Key words: Diabetes mellitus, Momordica charantia, hypoglycaemia, insulin, β cells, hypertension, xenobiotic metabolism, oxidative stress, anti carcinogenic, myelinated fibres, glucose transport


Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a major metabolic disorder characterized by chronic hyperglycaemia as a result of a relative or absolute lack of insulin or the actions of insulin.1 The condition affects the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, fat, water and electrolytes leading to structural changes in a range of cells especially those of the vascular system, subsequently leading to long-term complications of diabetes. Diabetes is the most common of the endocrine disorders. It is estimated that in the year 2010 more than 200 million people world wide will have DM and 300 million people will subsequently have the disease in 2025.2-4 Most of these cases will be type 2 diabetes, which is strongly associated with a sedentary lifestyle and high calorie-nutrition and obesity.5-6

On the basis of the aetiology, type 1 may be due to immunological destruction of pancreatic β cells resulting in insulin deficiency. Its pathogenesis involves environmental triggers that may activate autoimmune mechanisms in genetically susceptible individuals, leading to progressive loss of pancreatic islet β cells.7 Many of the acute affects of this disease can be controlled by insulin replacement therapy, but there are long-term adverse effects on blood vessels, nerves and other organ systems. Type 2 DM is associated with both impaired insulin secretion and insulin resistance. Type 2 DM is more prevalent form of the disease and common in individuals over 40 years of age. It is often associated with obesity and hereditary disposition.8 Despite enormous research efforts, the nature of the defect has been difficult to determine. In some patients, the insulin receptor is abnormal, in others some aspects of insulin signaling is defective, and in others no defect has been identified. Significantly, the disease is usually controlled through dietary therapy, exercise and hypoglycaemic agents.6, 9-10

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