An extract from bitter melon, a vegetable common in India and known as 'karela' in Hindi, helps trigger a chain of events that kills breast cancer cells and prevents them from multiplying, claims an Indian-origin researcher at Saint Louis University.
Ratna Ray, Ph.D., professor in the department of pathology at Saint Louis University and lead researcher, said she was surprised that the extract from the bitter melon she cooks in stir fries inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells.
"To our knowledge, this is the first report describing the effect of bitter melon extract on cancer cells," Ray said. "Our result was encouraging. We have shown that bitter melon extract significantly induced death in breast cancer cells and decreased their growth and spread."
The expert decided to study the bitter melon extract's impact on breast cancer cells because research by others have shown the substance lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Ray conducted her research using human breast cancer cells in vitro - or in a controlled lab setting.
"There have been significant advances in breast cancer treatment, which have improved patient survival and quality of life. However women continue to die of the disease and new treatment strategies are essential," Ray said.
"Cancer 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," Ray said.
She cautioned against seeing bitter melon extract as a miracle cure for breast cancer.
"Bitter melon is common in China and India, and women there still get breast cancer," Ray said.