Type 2 Diabetes has been known to respond well to a vegetable that is used in traditional Chinese medicine–bitter melon. Bitter melon is bitter in taste, non-toxic, and thought to expel evil heat and relieve fatigue…according to the famous Compendium of Materia Medican, by Li Shizhen (1518-1593).
Researchers from the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica wanted to understand, at a molecular level, why bitter melon works as a treatment for diabetes. They began by isolating the compounds believed to be therapeutic so they could be observed as they worked in human cells.
Because type 2 diabetes patients are impaired in their ability to convert sugar, in the blood, into energy for the muscles a problem arises in that that they do not produce enough insulin and partly because their fat and muscle cells do not use insulin effectively–a phenomenon known as ‘insulin resistance’.
Exercise is often recommended to type 2 diabetes patients because the enzyme AMPK (known to regulate fuel metabolism and enables glucose uptake) is activated in the muscle, which in turn mediates the movement of glucose transporters to the cell surface.
The 4 compounds isolated in bitter melon perform a similar action to that of AMPK that is activated during exercise. While there is already a well known diabetes medication on the market, researchers suggest the advantage of bitter melon is that there are no known side effects.