Can Bitter Melon Treat Type 2 Diabetes?

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-quackery/can-bitter-melon-treat-type-2-diabetes

What on Earth is bitter melon?

Good question. I certainly didn’t know before researching this article. Let’s start with some basics.

Momordica charantia is a fruit-bearing plant found in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. It’s also known as bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash, balsam-pear, karela, kugua or yeoju. It looks and tastes somewhat like a cucumber, and is used for cooking, beer brewing and as a medicinal ingredient for treating everything from diabetes to constipation to respiratory conditions.

Considering that, as of 2015, 3.4 million Canadians lived with diabetes, effective treatments for type 1 or 2 diabetes are highly sought after. Type 1 diabetes is treated with a variety of fast- and slow-acting insulin injections, and with the exception of injection-site reactions and allergic reactions, these are quite effective and safe, if very expensive. But treating type 2 diabetes is much more complex.

Where type 1 diabetes arises from a body’s inability to produce insulin, type 2 arises from a body developing insulin resistance, combined with an insufficient amount of insulin production from the pancreas. So, it’s not as simple as giving somebody the insulin they lack.

Instead, treatment for type 2 diabetes usually focuses heavily on proper nutrition and exercise, with some medications used as well. Metformin is commonly used to decrease liver glucose production and increase the cell’s sensitivity to insulin. Other medications can be used to increase insulin release or to decrease insulin resistance, but not all patients respond to these therapies (about 28% of those with type 2 diabetes end up requiring insulin therapy), and many have severe side effects like liver damage and heart failure.

In light of this situation, it’s easy to see why alternative treatments for type 2 diabetes are attractive to those suffering. But can bitter melon actually help, or is it just lowering your bank balance and not your blood sugar?

As with most (all) things, there isn’t an easy answer. Several studies (1,2,3) have found positive effects on some or many of the markers of type 2 diabetes, which include blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and glucose uptake rates. The first study referenced above is a review of 42 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 16 non-randomized controlled trials (NRCTs) on natural supplements for diabetes, but not all of those dealt with bitter melon, and the authors don’t specify how many did. The other two studies were performed on rats which, as we know, are not a perfect model for humans.

But for every study finding a positive result, there seems to be two with negative findings. This 2014 review of four RCTs looked at a total of 208 patients and found that bitter melon had no effect on A1C (amount of hemoglobin with attached glucose) or blood glucose levels. This 2015 study with 95 participants confirmed the hypoglycemic effects of bitter melon, but found it offered poor glycemic control compared to glibenclamide (a commonly prescribed medication for type 2 diabetes).

The most comprehensive review of the lot, done in 2012, examined four RCTs, a total of 479 patients, and found that bitter melon offer no difference in glycemic control compared to a placebo or to the medications metformin or glibenclamide.

There is some debate over the effects of the preparation and administration of the bitter melon on the results. In general, it seems that the fresher the better, with fruit smoothies and juices showing the best results, and capsules the worst. But even those best results are no better than a placebo.

There is some good news though. While its use as a diabetic treatment might be a bust, bitter melon shows some potential as an anti-HIV and AIDS drug. While preliminary studies have seemed positive, we’ll need to wait for the human trials to really evaluate these claims. The situation is much the same for bitter melon’s fate as an anti-cancer drug. Only time (and more research) will tell.

As well, throughout these studies no serious adverse effects were reported. If any side effects were experienced they were mild: fever, diarrhea, stomach aches, etc.

So bitter melon is a supplement of questionable use. Perhaps best kept in a kitchen cabinet for cooking, rather than a medicine cabinet for treatment.

Skinny Magic is a Fat Scam

Originally posted here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-and-nutrition-quackery/skinny-magic-fat-scam

Skinny Magic, Skinny Magic Zero Appetite and Skinny Magic Cleanse are herbal weight loss remedies created and sold by The Herb Shop, a subsidiary of Jade Enterprises based out of Florida. Jade Enterprises seems to have been unable to pick just one industry to become involved in, and opted instead to just dabble in all of them- they own several herbal supplement companies (including IAmHealthy.net), a photography and Photoshop company, and a window film company that specializes in ‘Toilet Tattoos’.

All three products claim to do as their name suggests, with that being helping you lose weight with natural herbs and superfoods in the case of their ‘skinny’ products. The company’s main claim is that their pills will energize you, allowing you to increase your activity levels while reducing your appetite so you reduce your caloric intakes. How the ingredients in their product do this, however, is up to interpretation.

Each pill contains chromium, niacin and vitamin B6 and B12, calcium and magnesium. Sadly, the amounts of calcium and magnesium are so small that you’re likely getting more from just your daily breakfast. The pills also contain 487.6 mg of what they refer to as their ‘Proprietary Blend’- a mixture of several ‘superfoods’ like stinging nettle, apple cider vinegar, barley grass, bladderwrack and other algae. Even if there were reason to believe any of these ingredients could perform the weight loss miracles the pills claim, it’s impossible to evaluate their efficacy, as the company refuses to give the make-up of its ‘Proprietary Blend’. For all we know, the blend is 99% apple cider vinegar, and the same experience could be had drinking what’s already in your kitchen cupboard.

The recommended use of Skinny Magic is 1-3 capsules per day, 30 minutes before each meal, but not within 7 hours of bedtime, as they may impair sleep. This likely has something to do with the 100 mg of caffeine in every pill (more than a cup of coffee). At 3 pills per day, any more than 1 cup of coffee in addition to these pills would put you over the Health Canada recommended daily maximum dose of 400 mg of caffeine- and how many of us only have 1 cup of coffee a day? This caffeine content likely explains the numerous customers experiencing nervousness, the shakes, and insomnia.

Beyond duping customers into buying these pills based on their weight loss claims, The Herb Shop seems to have another trick up their sleeves to take the money out of desperate pockets. A full bottle of 60 Skinny Magic pills (a month’s supply) will run you $59.95. At almost $1/pill plus shipping, you can imagine the creators had a hard time selling their magic to the public. To combat the trepidation, they began offering trial packs- 10 pills (a week’s supply) for $12.50 plus shipping. While this price is increased per pill, it’s cheap enough to coax wary customers to try the product. But, as numerous customers report, the formula of the trial pills and the normal pills greatly differs. This difference is made possible by the company’s use of an unspecific ‘Proprietary Blend’, which, as I’ve mentioned, allows them to do as they will with the quantities of each ingredient in the blend. Even if the pills worked, there is no way to guarantee from batch to batch or size to size that you’re receiving the same pills you found effective last month.

These pills boast big claims, but as their website is quick to point out, none of them have been evaluated by the FDA or Health Canada. Their own website points out that these pills are not meant to diagnose or treat any diseases, and that you should contact a licensed health practitioner, whom I just could not see prescribing these ‘magic’ pills.

Under The Microscope: Rose Petals

Originally posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/history/under-microscope-rose-petals

Nowadays roses are mostly used for Bachelorette ceremonies and hipster lattes, but once upon a time roses, and their fruit, rose hips, were widely used as medicines.
Diarrhodon is the name given to herbal treatments containing roses, and there are lots of them, said to treat everything from liver problems to heart problems to digestion issues. Traditional Chinese medicine made use of the China rose for regulating menstruation, pain relief, thyroid problems and diarrhea.
Did any of the rose-based traditional therapies work? Well, at least one could have. As rose-hips are quite high in vitamin C, they would likely have done wonders for sailors afflicted with scurvy.
Today we mostly keep our rose-based products for use in cosmetics, and a few specialty food products like rose hip jam, rose water or syrup that is common in many Indian desserts, or rose flavouring for ice cream, liquor or hipster lattes.
Even though the petals in these photos have been dried for more than 5 years, they still retain a fair amount of pollen, seen as yellow specs on their surface.