Bitter melon juice, long used in Asian folk medicines to treat diabetes, can prevent pancreatic cancer and may even be used to treat the disease, according to new research involving mice.
The study, by University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers, found a natural component in the juice restricts the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to process glucose, effectively shutting tumor cells' energy source down and eventually killing them.
Bitter melon — also known as bitter gourd or “karela” — has been used for centuries against diabetes in India and China.
"Three years ago researchers showed the effect of bitter melon extract on breast cancer cells only in a Petri dish. This study goes much, much farther,” said Rajesh Agarwal, a program leader of Cancer Prevention and Control at the CU Cancer Center who helped conduct the study, published in the journal Carcinogenesis.
“We used the juice — people especially in Asian countries are already consuming it in quantity. We show that it affects the glucose metabolism pathway to restrict energy and kill pancreatic cancer cells."
Agarwal noted diabetes can lead to pancreatic cancer and bitter melon has been shown to combat diabetes. So the research decided to test whether bitter melon could combat pancreatic cancer.
The results showed mice fed bitter melon juice were 60 percent less likely to develop the disease than untreated rodents.
"It's a very exciting finding," Agarwal said. "Many researchers are engineering new drugs to target cancer cells' ability to supply themselves with energy, and here we have a naturally-occurring compound that may do just that."
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