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Karela for diabetes?

Last updated: 11 November, 2011

DIET TIPS

Dr Rangesh Paramesh prescribes bittergourd to combat Type II diabetes

Often referred to as ‘the silent epidemic’, diabetes has become a major health concern across the world.

According to the latest report by World Health Organization (WHO), more than 80 per cent of deaths from diabetes-related complications occur in low and middle-income countries. At over 50 million, India has the highest number of diabetics in the world.

What is diabetes?
There are currently two types of diabetes — Type I and Type II. Type I (insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile diabetes) is an auto-immune disorder, in which the body is unable to produce insulin.

In Type II (non-insulin dependent adult-onset diabetes or NIDDM), the pancreas produces insulin but is insufficient for reducing the blood glucose levels to normal. Type I diabetes is not preventable and it is in no way the result of a person’s lifestyle. The onset of Type II diabetes in pre-diabetics, on the other hand, can be prevented with regular exercise, weight loss and a healthy.

Magic in vegetables
For diabetics, it is extremely important to keep better control of their blood sugar levels. Certain natural foods and herbs are helpful in this condition. Amongst them, karela or the bittergourd is reported to be extremely beneficial. Also known as bitter melon, karela is a tropical vegetable, widely available in the Indian subcontinent.

Karela is a popular vegetable in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka where it is eaten as a stir-fry with potatoes to offset the bitter flavour. Karela is linked with the activity of the pancreas (that secretes insulin) since it resembles the shape and contour of this organ of importance in diabetes.

Lately, karela is under the spotlight for its natural blood sugar-lowering properties. The vegetable has a host of chemical constituents that denote its hypoglycemic properties. The seeds contain ‘plant-insulin’ or peptides resembling insulin that also works like natural insulin secreted from the human pancreatic glands.

Charantin and momordicin, two key compounds in karela, are also credited with anti-diabetic properties. The vegetable’s antioxidant agents help in reducing diabetic related complications by scavenging free radicals.

Doctor-recommended
Diabetes management includes eating a balanced meal, exercising regularly, keeping a check on one’s weight and blood sugar levels. When it comes to eating right, doctors always recommend natural foods for diabetics, which are full of antioxidants.

As an adjuvant therapy to diabetes mellitus, doctors, over the years, have prescribed karela. Patients are recommended to include the vegetable in their diet, either as a stir-fry, juice or in capsule form.

Several studies have shown that regular intake of karela over a period of time visibly helps reduce blood sugar levels, improving the overall health.

The benefits of karela have been recorded in various ancient, Ayurvedic texts. Apart from its hypoglycemic properties, it also helps normalise the digestive tract, clears up skin conditions and is beneficial in the treatment of piles.

(The author is Head, Drug Discovery, The Himalaya Drug Company)

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