Karela is an Indian fruit popularly known as bitter gourd or bitter melon. While its bitter taste can be off-putting for some people, this superfood is extremely beneficial for your health. In fact, research suggests that karela helps prevent cancer.
Karela helps prevent the growth of cancer
Ratna Ray, a professor of pathology at Saint Louis University in Missouri, has been studying karela’s anti-cancer properties for years. Her recent findings indicate that karela can prevent cancer from growing and spreading.
“All animal model studies that we’ve conducted are giving us similar results, an approximately 50 percent reduction in tumor growth,” she shared.
Ray grew up eating karela as a child in Calcutta and began studying the fruit to determine whether it could prevent cancer. Over the years, she found that karela extract inhibits the spread of breast, prostate as well as head and neck cancer. Additionally, she discovered that the extract also reduces the incidence of tongue cancer in mice.
For the present study, Ray and her colleagues wanted to determine how karela fights cancers of the mouth and tongue. To that end, the researchers treated cancer cells with karela extract to learn more about karela’s anti-cancer mechanisms.
They found that karela extract interacted with molecules that allow glucose and fat to travel around the body, in some cases “feeding” cancer cells and causing them to thrive. By interfering with the pathways involving those molecules, karela extract prevented cancer cells from growing. It even led to the death of some of the cells.
While the anti-cancer effects of karela have yet to be examined on humans, the study showed that this Indian fruit possesses properties that prevent and potentially treat cancer. Ray herself eats karela three to four times a week for health.
“Some people take an apple a day, and I’d eat a bitter melon a day,” she said.
The pathologist compares karela’s taste to the bitterness of beer. While karela is very pungent, she says that she happens to like the taste and finds various ways to enjoy the fruit even more, such as steaming, mashing with green chilies, stir-frying with other vegetables and making a smoothie.
The health benefits of karela
Karela has seeds like a fruit but is cooked like a vegetable. Besides helping prevent cancer, it also helps lower blood sugar, fends off harmful microorganisms in the body and boosts digestion.
The fresh juice of karela is widely used in Ayurveda to treat diabetes, get rid of intestinal worms, detox the blood, and treat anorexia and liver disorders. Meanwhile, the fruit’s leaves are commonly used for treating eczema, wounds and other skin ailments.
Karela is also chock-full of antioxidants which scavenge harmful free radicals in the body. Excess free radicals cause oxidative stress, which can cause chronic inflammation and increase your risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer.
On top of the cancer types mentioned above, karela also helps prevent cancer in the pancreas. This is according to researchers from the University of Colorado, who found that karela juice inhibits the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to metabolize glucose in mice. This, in turn, eliminates the cells’ energy source and causes cell death in the process.
Overall, the researchers found that mice injected with pancreatic cancer cells that were fed karela juice were 60 percent less likely to develop the disease compared to unfed mice.
Karela recipe for cancer prevention
Try this vegetarian stir-fried karela recipe to improve your health and prevent cancer. Besides karela, this recipe also incorporates an antioxidant-rich superfood in black beans. Also, it’s quick and easy to cook, requiring just a total of 15 minutes of cooking time.
Ingredients for 4 servings:
- 2 medium bitter melons
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 dried chili pepper, chopped into 2 to 3 pieces
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari for a gluten-free alternative)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Remove and throw away the ends of the bitter melons. Halve lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and pith with a metal spoon and discard. Slice crosswise into a 1/4 inch half-moon pieces.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil and then add the karela slices. Let cook for 30 seconds, or until half-cooked. Drain the slices with a colander and set aside.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the dried chili pepper, garlic and fermented black beans, stirring occasionally until fragrant.
- Add the karela slices and stir for 1 minute or so. Add the soy sauce and sugar, then stir for another 1 minute, or until the karela slices are tender.
- Taste the karela. If it’s too bitter for your taste, sprinkle more salt and stir again.
- Once done, transfer everything to a plate and serve the dish hot as a side.
Karela is an antioxidant-rich superfood that helps prevent cancer. Eat more of this bitter fruit as part of a balanced diet to stay cancer-free.