Vegetables are a great way to add helpful nutrients when pregnant. While bitter melon or bitter gourd contains essential vitamins, should you eat it?
Bitter melon can be unsafe for pregnant and lactating women. This is because it has been shown to have teratogenic properties, may induce uterine contractions and abortion, and may cause antifertility and sperm suppression.
In this article, we discuss the various studies stating these findings, if all parts of the bitter melon are safe, what its myriad of benefits are, and what you can do if you’re craving it. Read on!
Is Bitter Melon Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Bitter melon, also called bitter gourd, balsam pear, karela, and Momordica charantia, became a household name for its anti-diabetic properties.
Although it may contain nutrients that are beneficial for pregnant mothers, it could be unsafe for consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
A study conducted on pregnant rats showed the teratogenic (birth-defect causing) effect of bitter melon. The extract of an unripe bitter melon including its seeds were extracted and used for the experiment.
Results showed that the mean birth weight of the litter was lower. The same was true for their organs except for the heart. Among the experimental group, 16 of the pups were malformed while 5 had several congenital malformations.
This study concluded that the teratogenic effect of it depends on the gestational period when the extract was given. Moreover, the most malformation is in the reproductive organs of the pups. (source: African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines)
Another study was conducted on zebrafish embryos by utilizing two bitter melon extracts: one from the fruit and the other from the seed.
Results showed that the seed extract resulted in several anomalies in the zebrafish embryos, while the fruit extract caused severe cardiac hypertrophy (source: NIH). It can also induce miscarriage or abortion which is discussed in the next section.
Although these were animal studies, the results warrant caution for humans, too.
Can Bitter Melon Cause a Miscarriage?
Traditionally, bitter melon is used as a treatment for a variety of conditions such as diabetes, cancer, infections, and many more.
It is most notable for its reported effects on lowering blood sugar (hypoglycemic activity). In fact, some clinical studies support this benefit for individuals with diabetes.
But, despite its myriad of medicinal properties, it can potentially induce miscarriage and abortion, and should be avoided when pregnant.
The α-momorcharin protein in bitter melon seeds and fruit can terminate early pregnancy (source: NIH).
According to a study, an extract from the fruit and leaf of it added with ethanol administered orally in the experiment showed to be safe during pregnancy.
Extracts from leaf and other aerial parts such as stem and bark exhibited less toxicity compared to those made from the fruit and seeds. The root extract prompted uterine contractions while the seed extract caused abortions in mice and rats. Extract from the fruit and seed showed antifertility results in female animals and sperm suppression in males.
Vicine is also present in the seeds. This can cause favism, a genetic condition constituted by a deficiency in glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G-6-PD) which is the enzyme needed by red blood cells.
Favism causes headaches, abdominal pains, and even coma.
The study then concluded that some research revealed that all parts of the bitter melon exhibit low toxicity if ingested orally. Common or traditional use of it shows no risk (source: International Journal of Studies in Nursing).
With this said, experts still recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women are cautious about eating it until human research is available.
Are There Benefits of Bitter Melon for Pregnancy?
Bitter melon is also suggested to help:
- Reduce the blood sugar levels in diabetes
- Encourage appetite and is used in the treatment of anorexia
- Boost immunity in people with cancer
- Treat skin infections such as scabies and psoriasis
- Strengthen the liver and prevent jaundice
- Promote good overall digestion
- Eliminate fat from the body
- Reduce gum bleeding
- Combat flatulence
- End hangover
- Treat piles
However, even if you tick off a few here, these benefits may not prove applicable to pregnant women and the risks probably outweigh the benefits.
If you are craving or want to consume bitter melon whether cooked or uncooked, go to your ob/gyn, family physician, or other health experts for recommendations.
For the general population, it seems to have many benefits. For pregnant women, unfortunately, more research is needed.
While bitter melon sounds great, it would be best for pregnant women to talk to go to their physician or healthcare provider for advice on eating it. We hope this article helped explain the safety of bitter melon for pregnancy.