NEW YORK Many Westerners trying it for the first time cringe the moment it enters their mouths, and its taste is so strong that some brewers in China even use it as a substitute for hops, but a new study indicates that the bitter melon also may ward off breast cancer.
The study, published online on Feb. 23 and scheduled to appear in the March 1 issue of the journal Cancer Research, found that an extract of bitter melon was able to slow the growth of and in some cases kill breast cancer cells while leaving healthy breast cells untouched when applied directly do them.
The bitter melon, whose name is a direct translation from its Chinese name, kugua, is common in many Asian cuisines and used in traditional Chinese medicine, though it’s rarely found outside Asian food markets in the United States. The bright green fruit resembles a cucumber with the skin of a toad.
Researchers conducting the study quoted in published reports said that bitter melon extract, which is widely available in the United States, was unlikely to cure cancer, but might have preventive properties.
According to the National Bitter Melon Council, bitter melons contain twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, twice the beta carotene of broccoli and are rich in dietary fiber, phosphorus and vitamins A, B1, B3 and C.