Karela: Uses, Benefits & Side Effects

 

Karela (also known as bitter melon) is an annual crop found in India and it is cultivated in the summer season mostly from April to July. It is a herbaceous plant belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family which grows up to six meters. The fruit is an important part of the plant which has different shapes like a spindle, ovoid and ellipsoid. The harvesting of Karela happens when the fruit is green in color but after ripening it turns into a yellow color which is less bitter and has tender skin.

We have heard a lot about the benefits of Karela from our elders, but when it comes to taste, people will have a reaction like they didn’t like it. The taste of Karela is bitter, but one must not forget about its enormous health benefits. Since most of the people do not like the taste of the raw Karela fruit, in India, it has been used to prepare several dishes. It is used as prominent natural remedies to treat patients suffering from diabetes.

Not only the fruit of Karela but also other parts like leaves, roots, and seeds of bitter melon has medicinal value. The Karela has medicinal benefits because of its unique phytochemical constituents like alkaloids, insulin-containing peptides, and charantin (a mixture of steroidal sapogenins).

Other Names For Karela

The Karela is known by different names in India as per their regional origin:

In English: bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash, and bitter apple.

  • In Hindi: Karela.
  • In Telugu: Kakara.
  • In Marathi: Karle.
  • In Kannada: Hagalakayi.
  • In Tamil: Pagarkai.
  • In Konkani: Karate.

Nutritional Facts Of Karela

About 100 g of raw karela/karela juice gives the following nutrition:

Content Amount 
Calories 34 calories
Sodium 13 mg
Potassium  602 mg
Total carbohydrates 7 g
Proteins 3.6 g
Fiber 2 g
Vitamin C 93% of RDI
Vitamin A 44% of RDI
Folate 17% of RDI
Iron  4% of RDI
Zinc 5% of RDI

* RDI: Recommended Daily Intake

Other than its excellent nutritional composition, the Karela also contains different antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds because of which they have gained more attention from the scientific community. Karela is known worldwide for its use in treating diabetes. They produce the biochemical compounds which are analogous to the p-insulin and many researchers have shown their continuous intake has substituted the insulin. The Charantin is another group of steroidal saponins present in Karela which has gained more popularity due to its anti-diabetic properties.

Uses Of Karela

The Karela has both traditional and medicinal use,

Traditional use

  • In countries like Africa, the Karela have been used as herbal medicine.
  • It is a remedy used for treating stomach complaints in Turkey.
  • In India, Karela has been used for treating diabetes, stomach aches, treating cough, ulcers, skin diseases, respiratory diseases, and gout.

Medicinal use

  • Bitter melon promotes secretion of acid and helps in the improvement of digestion and therefore, it helps in treating dyspepsia and it is also essential for the metabolism of fats.
  • The fresh juice of Karela helps to check insulin and thereby lowers the blood sugar level. The plant-based biochemical compound i.e. insulin in Karela helps patients suffering from both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.
  • The Karela juice helps to strengthen the liver and prevents jaundice.
  • The Karela fruit improves the peristaltic movement of the stomach and avoids any gastric disturbances.
  • The Karela juice is found to be useful in treating the hangover by detoxifying and improving liver conditions. 
  • The continuous intake of Karela helps in reducing the chances of heart attacks and stroke by lowering cholesterol levels. It is rich in potassium due to which it absorbs unnecessary sodium in the body and maintains the blood pressure. 
  • The application of Karela juice to the scalp can prevent excessive hair losses, decoloring of hair, avoid dandruff, and reduces the itchiness. 
  • Karela helps in weight loss. It is a low-calorie fruit-vegetable and scientific literature that shows that it helps in the dislocation of fat cells and also avoids the formation of new fat cells.
  • The regular intake of Karela can help to enhance the immune system. It is a rich source of antioxidants which has a very strong mechanism of preventing or quenching the free radical formed by the body during stress conditions. This shows the anti-cancer behavior of Karela.
  • The Karela helps in preventing Psoriasis and any fungal infection. It is also useful in treating skin problems like acne, chickenpox etc.

How can I get rid of the bitter taste of Karela?

  1. Make a thin slice of the Karela.
  2. Sprinkle salt over it and allow it to withstand for about 10 min.
  3. This will enhance the process of osmosis and help to leach out the bitter taste of Karela and thereby neutralize it.

Recommended Dosage Of Karela

The Karela is available in different product forms such as Juice, Churna, Capsules, and Tablets, and accordingly, its dosage varies.

Products Preparation Dosages/ day
Juice The Karela fruit is blended with water and it is then strained to get a clear juice.

Add the lemon juice and salt and mix.

2-3 teaspoon once
Tablet Tablets are available in ready forms so it should be taken along with water. 1-2 tablets
Churna It is recommended to take the Churna with honey or water, post-lunch or dinner. ¼ teaspoon
Capsules Capsules are available in ready forms so it should be taken along with water. 1-2 capsules

Use of the Karela Products as Remedies

  • Karela leaves are used in the treatment of malarial fever, troubles in menstrual cycles, infections, and measles. 
  • The Karela Seeds are used for the treatment of ulcers, high cholesterol levels, gas problems, and healing wounds.
  • Karela roots have been used to treat boils, septic swellings, and ulcers.
  • Karela juice only helps to reduce the Pyorrhea problems but also their capsules have been used to treat diabetes, viral infections, flu, and high cholesterol.

Precautions While Using Karela

  • The powerful medicinal property of the Karela is anti-diabetic due to which it helps lower the blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is required to be advised, in case if an individual is taking other prescription medicines which will further lower blood sugar levels. Patients should be closely monitored by their family doctors when they are taking oral medicines or insulin because in that case, dose adjustments are required.
  • Karela has shown teratogenic and weakening of uterine activity during pregnancy, therefore proper consultation is necessary. 
  • The intake of Karela should be avoided when the patient is undergoing surgery.

 Side Effects Of Karela

  • There are some side effects of Karela in children because drinking its juice can drastically reduce the blood sugar level in children and that can also lead to the coma.
  • It is very risky when the Karela juice is taken along with the insulin because their intake may synergistically reduce the blood sugar level to the risk.
  • Some individuals have shown vomiting, headache, and other intestinal issues after intake of Karela.  

FAQs

How much karela juice an individual can drink every day for diabetes?

You can drink Karela juice daily but with proper consultation. Generally, it is recommended to take one glass (100 ml of half diluted juice) of Karela juice daily. This will help to enhance the functioning of the lungs. It can also purify the blood and prevent discoloration of hairs.

Is it safe to eat karela in pregnancy?

No, it is not safe to eat Karela during pregnancy time because it may lead to the birth defect in children and sometimes it may lead to miscarriages as well.

Is karela good for blood sugar?

Yes, it is very effective for controlling blood sugar levels. The Karela contains plant-based insulin-like compounds (Polypeptide-p or p-insulin) which help to control the glucose level in the blood. But it is also important to note the recommended dosage of Karela products from the medical practitioner.

Does karela juice help in weight loss?

Yes, the Karela is low calorie and there are proper scientific studies available that show that it helps in the dislocation of fat cells and avoids the formation of new fat cells. Also, it fulfills the hunger and avoids the overeating of individuals.

Does karela lower blood pressure?

Yes,  Karela is rich in potassium due to which it absorbs unnecessary sodium in the body and maintains the blood pressure.