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By Marrecca Fiore
A vegetable used in Chinese and Indian medicine to treat diabetes may also destroy breast cancer cells, according to a study published in the March 1 issue of УCancer Research,Ф a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Lead researcher Ratna Ray, Ph.D., a professor in the department of pathology at Saint Louis University, uses bitter melon in her stir fries but was surprised to find the vegetableТs extract also appears to УkillФ breast cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.
УTo our knowledge, this is the first report describing the effect of bitter melon extract on cancer cells,Ф Ray said in a statement. УOur result was encouraging. We have shown that bitter melon extract significantly induced death in breast cancer cells and decreased their growth and spread.Ф
Bitter melon gets its name because it's among the most bitter of all vegetables, although it's also called African cucumber, balsam pear and bitter gourd. It is widely grown and used in India, Southeast Asia, China, Africa, and the Caribbean. It resembles a shriveled cucumber or gourd and the texture of the vegetable is described as being similar to both a cucumber and bell pepper. It's high in fiber and vitamin C. It also contains the B vitamins, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and B6, as well as magnesium, potassium and zinc.
In the East, bitter melon is often used in stir fries, soups, and stews, as well as for pickling.
In the U.S., bitter melon can purchased at specialty grocery stores, especially Asian and Indian grocers. Supplements have become very popular with Americans due to the vegetable's widely touted blood sugar benefits and can be purchased in both health food and health supplement stores such as GNC, as well as in drugstores. It can also be purchased as a tea.
Because bitter melon has been used for diabetes management and to lower cholesterol, Ray decided to test its ability to fight breast cancer.
She used human breast cancer cells in a controlled laboratory setting to conduct her experiments. She said the next step would be to test the extract in animals.
УCancer prevention by the use of naturally occurring dietary substances is considered a practical approach to reduce the ever-increasing incidence of cancer. Studying a high-risk breast cancer population where bitter melon is taken as a dietary product will be an important area of future research,Ф Ray said.
Ray said bitter melon will probably not prove to be a miracle drug as women in places such as Asia where the vegetable is widely eaten still get breast cancer.