The bitter gourd plant is native to Asia and Africa. In India it is called karela; in China, it is known as tsaoko; and in Japan, komatsuna. Its scientific name is Momordica charantia L., and it belongs to the cucurbit family. This vegetable is used extensively in Chinese medicine.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, bitter gourd contains vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, potassium, fiber, protein, and carbohydrates. It is rich in antioxidants like beta carotene, lutein, lycopene, alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin, and phytonutrients such as quercetin, kaempferol, rhamnetin, gallic acid, and ellagic acid.
In addition to being eaten raw, bitter gourd can be cooked into soups, stir-fries, curries, salads, and pickles. It is often added to dishes containing meat, poultry, fish, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, eggs, and rice.
There are many ways to prepare bitter gourd. For example, you can peel off the skin, cut up the flesh, and cook it in water, broth, or stock. You can add salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, onion, cilantro, scallions, hot peppers, chilies, curry powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, honey, or chili paste. Or you can use it as part of a salad mix.
Side Effects of Bitter Gourd
You can eat bitter gourd raw or cooked. However, there are some side effects you should know about.
1. May Affect The Liver
The bitter gourd plant contains a chemical compound known as monorcharin A, which is used in some pharmaceutical drugs. However, there are not enough studies proving whether or not it is safe to consume over long periods of time.
In fact, one study found that consuming large quantities of bitter gourd caused elevated levels of liver enzymes and led to the hardening of the blood vessels.
2. May Cause Irregular Heart Rhythm
A regular heartbeat is important for keeping blood circulating properly throughout the body. When there are problems with the rhythm of the heart, it can lead to a stroke, heart attack, or even death. Bitter gourd juice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which can cause an irregular heartbeat in some people. If you drink too much bitter gourd juice, you could experience an irregular heartbeat.
3. May Cause Vomiting And Diarrhea
Bitter gourd toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Bitter gourd contains oxalic acid, which can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Oxalic acid is found naturally in plants such as rhubarb, spinach, beet greens, parsley, sorrel, and chard. Other foods containing oxalic acid include figs, apricots, beans, nuts, and seeds. Some people are sensitive to oxalic acid and experience symptoms including stomach pain, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Avoid eating too much bitter gurad or drinking too much of it’s juice. People who react negatively to oxalic acid often report feeling nauseous, dizzy, or lightheaded after consuming large amounts of the vegetable.
Do not eat too many bitter gourds or drink too many of its juices. Oxalic acid can irritate the digestive tract. Large doses of oxalic acid can increase the risk of kidney stones
4. May Cause Hypoglycemic Coma
The FDA says it cannot confirm whether or not there are side effects associated with ingesting bitter gourd. However, the agency does warn people against taking bitter gourd if they are diabetic because it could cause hypoglycemia.
This occurs when someone has too little sugar in his/her bloodstream. Symptoms include shaking, shivering, cold sweats, rapid pulse, feeling weak, lightheaded, faint, sweaty palms, trembling hands, and trouble speaking.
If you experience any of those symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
5. May Cause Kidney Problems
The bitter gourd, also known as karela, is one of India’s most popular vegetables. But it could cause serious health problems if you consume too much of it. A study published in the journal Food Chemistry found that people who consumed high amounts of vegetable had elevated levels of oxalate in their urine. Oxalic acid is naturally produced by plants, but it can build up in the body if there are excess dietary sources. This can lead to kidney stones, kidney failure, or even death.
A recent case report described a woman who developed acute renal failure after eating large quantities of bitter gourds. She experienced nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and diarrhea over several days before her kidneys failed. Her doctors suspected she had eaten some sort of toxin, but tests did not reveal anything unusual. They eventually discovered that she had been consuming about three pounds of bitter gourds per day for six months prior to her illness.
Experts warn against consuming large quantities of bitter gours because it can lead to kidney damage. You can avoid this problem by choosing fruits like apples, oranges, pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, cherries, apricots, nectarines, and grapes. These foods contain less oxalate than bitter gourds. However, they do contain vitamin K, which helps keep calcium in bones. So while they won’t hurt you, they might not provide enough nutrition to offset the effects of oxalate.
6. Can Induce Miscarriage
Excessive intake of bitter gourds may trigger uterine contractions and increase the risk of miscarriages.
As per Ayurveda, bitter gourd has hot potency and overconsumption may increase menstrual flow.
Consult your doctor before eating bitter gourd during pregnancy, and ensure there is no risk involved.
Nursing mothers should follow the same precaution, and have a word with their doctor before adding bitter gourd to their diet.
The bitter gourd plant contains chemicals called glycoalkaloids, which are toxic to humans in large doses. These alkaloids can induce miscarriages.
They are found in many plants including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, and beans. However, eating bitter gourd during early stages of pregnancy does not affect the baby. In fact, it even helps prevent preterm birth.
7. Glucose-6-phosphate Dehydrogenase (G6PD) Deficiency
People who eat bitter gourds have a higher risk of developing favism. Bitter melon contains a substance called trigonelline. A person who eats bitter gourd seed develops hemoglobinuria because trigonelline causes red blood cells to rupture. This is called “favism”.
8. Interaction With Diabetes Medication
Combining bitter gourd with diabetes medication could cause dangerously low blood sugar levels. Individuals with diabetes should consult their doctor before taking bitter gourd. People with diabetes should take caution if combining bitter gourd with other medications.
9. Can Cause Abdominal Pain, Vomiting, And Diarrhea In Some Children
The covering ( red arils) on the bitter gourd seeds could be toxic to some people (especially children) and may cause allergic reactions such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Avoid bitter gourds if you are allergic to them.
10. Can Trigger Stomach Disorders Like Abdominal Pain, Diarrhea Etc.
Dietary fibers in bitter gourd are natural laxatives that improve bowel movement, relieve constipation and provide relief from gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and flatulence, etc.
However, too many dietary fibers may cause poor absorption of nutrients, and increase the risk of diarrhea, intestinal gas, intestinal blockage, etc.
Bharat Sharma is a Delhi-based writer who loves reading and writing research-based topics revolving around health, fitness, and nutrition. His love for writing started during his teenage and continues till date. After his graduation, he worked for GE Money, and IBM, but later found his true love i.e. blogging.