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Karela (Bitter Gourd): Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

By Dr Anuja Bodhare +2 more

Introduction:

Karela, also known as Momordica charantia L., belongs to the family Cucurbitaceae. It is commonly known as balsam pear, bitter gourd, bitter melon, karela, or kugua. Its fruit has been used as a vegetable for thousands of years. It is widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. It is called ‘bitter melon’ or ‘bitter gourd’ as the entire plant, including the fruit, tastes very bitter. Karela is widely cultivated in countries like India, China, Japan, Malaya, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Colombia, Brazil, Amazon, Cuba, East Africa, Haiti, Ghana, Mexico, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Panama, Middle East, Central and South America.1

The vernacular names of Karela are Karavelli in Sanskrit; Karelo in Gujrati; Karli in Marathi; Baramasiya in Bengali; Kaypa in Malayalam; Karali in Kannada; Kakara in Telugu; Pakar in Tamil.2

bitter gourd benefits

Nutritional Value of Karela:

Karela has the following nutritional value:3

NutrientAmount per 100 g
Water94 g
Carbohydrate3.7 g
Protein1 g
Fat0.17 g
Energy17 kcal
Fibre2.8 g
Calcium19 mg
Magnesium17 mg
Iron0.43 mg
Sodium5 mg
Potassium296 mg
Copper0.034 mg
Zinc0.8 mg
Selenium0.2  µg
Manganese0.089 mg
Vitamin A24  µg
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)0.04 mg
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)0.04 mg
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)0.4 mg
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)0.212 mg
Vitamin B60.043 mg
Vitamin B9 (Folate)72  µg
Vitamin C84 mg
Table showing the nutritional value of karela3

Also Read: Karela Juice: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

Properties of Karela:

The properties of karela include:

  • It might be an antioxidant
  • It might have hypoglycaemic (lowers the blood sugar level) activity
  • It might have anti-bacterial (kills bacteria) property
  • It might have anti-viral (kills viruses) activity
  • It might have an anti-cancer potential2
  • It might have anti-diarrhoeal effects4

Also Read: Dhania (Cilantro): Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

Potential uses of Karela:

Potential uses of Karela for diabetes:

The Karela extract is traditionally used as vegetable insulin as it might have antioxidant and antidiabetic properties. Its antidiabetic effect is tested in both animals and humans. When tested in an animal model, the entire plant, including fruit pulp and seed, showed potential antidiabetic property. Its fruit was found to have more potential effects on diabetes. It might either control the release of insulin or may change the metabolism of glucose.5

Karela contains a few chemicals, including glycoside, charantin, vicine, karavilosides, and polypeptide-p (plant insulin). These chemicals might improve blood sugar levels by raising the glucose uptake and synthesis of glycogen in the liver, fat, and muscles cells.6 Kindly consult a doctor for the proper diagnosis and treatment of serious conditions such as diabetes. Please do not sefl-medicate.

Potential uses of Karela for antioxidant properties:

The phenolic compounds in karela are a potentially excellent natural source of food antioxidants. Phenolic compounds might have the ability to lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and the incidence of heart-related diseases and cancer.5 However, more research is required.

Potential uses of Karela for cancer:

The karela extract might help modify the signalling pathways involved in breast cancer. It might block the growth of breast cancer cells and may be used as a dietary supplement to help against breast cancer. The fruits, green leaves, stems, and seeds of karela have several active proteins and steroids. These proteins might have potential anticancer activity.5 However, serious conditions such as cancer should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor. Therefore, consult a doctor and do not self-medicate.

Potential uses of Karela for malaria:

Asians, Colombians, and Panamanians have traditionally known karela as a helpful plant against malaria. Various studies have confirmed that several species of karela might have antimalarial properties.6

Potential uses of Karela for healing wounds:

A series of abnormalities linked with diabetes and delayed wound healing are lowered immune response, reduced formation of new blood vessels, deficiency of growth factors, and reduced production of collagen. When karela fruit ointment was applied to the rat (diabetic rat), it showed a potential to improve wound closure and may help enhance a gene that helps in cell growth. Therefore, it might be beneficial for the healing of the wound.1 However, more research is required to prove such effects on humans.

Though there are studies that show the Potential uses of karela in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of karela on human health. 

Also Read: Wheatgrass Juice: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

How to Use Karela?

It is mostly used as:

  • Vegetable
  • Karela juice4
  • Karela leaf tea6
  • Fried karela chips
  • Dehydrated karela rings
  • Karela pickle2

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.  

Side Effects of Karela:

  • When taken orally by some people, karela might upset the stomach, but there is not much information related to the side effects associated with its long-term use.
  • Karela might cause a rash when applied to the skin.7
  • Some people may experience headaches with oral consumption of karela.
  • Karela may also lower the blood sugar level (consult a doctor before use in case you are taking medicines for diabetes).4

If you experience any of these side effects, you must consult your doctor immediately.

Also Read: Lemongrass: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

Precautions to Take with Karela:

  • Surgery: Stop using karela at least two weeks before any surgery. Karela might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery.
  • Pregnancy: Karela is unsafe during pregnancy as it contains certain chemicals that might be harmful to pregnancy.
  • Breastfeeding: It’s safer to avoid its use during breastfeeding as there is insufficient data on its safe use during breastfeeding. Consult your doctor before consuming karela.
  • Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency: Karela seeds might cause severe anaemia in people with G6PD deficiency. Therefore, it is better to avoid using karela if you have G6PD deficiency.7
  • Allergy: Avoid karela if you have a known allergy to karela or any member of the family Cucurbitaceae, including honeydew, casaba, Persian melon, cantaloupe, and muskmelon. Signs of allergy are itching, shortness of breath, or rash.4
  • Do not self-medicate yourself using any herb.

Interactions With Other Drugs:

Since karela lowers the blood sugar level, taking karela along with diabetes medicines might lower the blood sugar level too much. Therefore, monitor your blood sugar level carefully while taking karela. Discuss your ongoing treatments and medications with your doctor before taking karela for its benefits.

Also Read: Babool: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is karela good for diabetes?

Karela might be good for diabetes. In a study, its fruit was found to have potential effects on diabetes. It might either control the release of insulin or may change the metabolism of glucose.5 Karela contains a few chemicals that might improve blood sugar levels by raising the glucose uptake and synthesis of glycogen in the liver, fat, and muscle cells.6 Kindly consider a doctor for proper treatment of diabetes. Do not self-medicate.

Can we eat karela in pregnancy?

No, please do not consume karela during pregnancy. It is unsafe during pregnancy as it contains certain chemicals that might be harmful to pregnancy.7

Is karela good for the kidney?

Karela may be good for the kidneys. Traditionally, karela has been used in China, Cuba, and India for kidney problems and kidney stones.4 However, more research is required.

Are there any side effects of karela?

Yes, there are some side effects of karela. In some people, karela might upset the stomach. Karela might cause a rash when applied to the skin.7 Some people may get headaches. Karela may also lower the blood sugar level.4 Visit your doctor if you experience any side effects.

Can karela cure malaria?

Karela might be helpful against malaria. It has been traditionally known by Asians, Colombians, and Panamanians as a helpful plant against malaria.6 However, a study on the antimalarial effect of karela in humans is required.

Is karela good for health?

Yes, karela may be good for health and may be helpful for diabetes mellitus, anorexia (lack of appetite for food), blood impurities, diarrhoea, hangover, piles, pyorrhoea, skin infections, and respiratory problems4. It also has antimicrobial, anticancer, wound healing, and antimalarial properties1,2,5,6.

How to use karela?

Karela can be used as a vegetable, karela juice, karela leaf tea, fried karela chips, dehydrated karela rings, and karela pickle.2,4,6

Can karela be used during breastfeeding?

It is advised not to use karela during breastfeeding. Consult your doctor before using karela during breastfeeding.2

Does karela cause allergy?

Yes, karela can cause allergy, and the signs of an allergy are itching, shortness of breath, or rash. Avoid karela if you have a known allergy to karela or any member of the family Cucurbitaceae, including honeydew, casaba, Persian melon, cantaloupe, and muskmelon.4

References:

1. Jia S, Shen M, Zhang F, Xie J. Recent advances in momordica charantia: Functional components and biological activities. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(12). Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29182587/

2. Thakur M, Sharma RK. BITTER GOURD: HEALTH PROPERTIES AND VALUE ADDITION AT FARM SCALE a. 2016;1(2):2016. Available from: www.marumegh.com. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312580416_BITTER_GOURD_HEALTH_PROPERTIES_AND_VALUE_ADDITION_AT_FARM_SCALE_a

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central Search Results (Edamame, frozen, prepared). 2019;1–3. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168411/nutrients

4. Kumar KPS, Bhowmik D. Traditional medicinal uses and therapeutic benefits of Momordica charantia Linn. Int J Pharm Sci Rev Res. 2010;4(3):23–8. Available at: https://globalresearchonline.net/journalcontents/volume4issue3/Article%20004.pdf

5. Upadhyay A, Agrahari P, Singh DK. A review on salient pharmacological features of momordica charantia. Int J Pharmacol. 2015;11(5):405–13. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281431310_A_Review_on_Salient_Pharmacological_Features_of_Momordica_charantia

6. Gupta M, Sharma S, Gautam AK, Bhadauria R. Momordica charantia linn. (Karela): Nature’s silent healer. Int J Pharm Sci Rev Res. 2011;11(1):32–7. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285966662_Momordica_charantia_linn_Karela_Nature’s_silent_healer

7. Medlineplus. Bitter melon [Internet]. medlinePlus National Library of Medicine. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/795.html

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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