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 Bitter gourd key to breast cancer cure

‘Karela’ Destroys Killer Cells

The humble Indian “karela” has now been found to be a giant slayer of breast cancer cells.   
Scientists from Saint Louis University have for the first time found that an extract from bitter melon or bitter gourd (karela) not only killed human breast cancer cells but also prevented them from multiplying.

Karela has been known to be rich in all essential minerals and vitamins, including vitamin A, B1, B2 and C, besides iron. Till now, the bitter vegetable was known to be highly beneficial against diabetes, high blood pressure, heartburn, cholesterol levels and ulcers.

Ratna Ray, professor in the department of pathology and lead researcher, said she was surprised that the extract from karela she stir fries inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells. “Our result is encouraging. We have shown that bitter melon extract significantly induced death in breast cancer cells and decreased their growth and spread,” Ray, who has published her finding in the latest issue of the medical journal “Cancer Research”, said.

Ray conducted her research using human breast cancer cells in vitro or in a controlled lab setting. The next step, she says, is to test the extract in an animal model to see if it plays a role in delaying the growth or killing of breast cancer cells. If those results are positive, human trials could follow.

The finding comes as a special interest for Indian women. While breast cancer cases have started to surge in the country, the karela is a commonly available vegetable that does not cost much. An analysis of cancer cases in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore between 1982 and 2005 by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) found that the incidence of breast cancer had doubled.

Rajesh Agarwal, professor in the department of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Colorado, Denver School of Pharmacy, said this study is only a step towards establishing the cancer preventive efficacy of bitter melon against breast cancer. Additional studies are needed to further understand the molecular targets of bitter melon extract in cancer cells, as well as for establishing its in vivo efficacy.