Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Karela matters for diabetics: International search on to find ideal bitter gourd for good health

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: The humble karela or Indian bitter gourd is now the
centre of world research as scientists rack their brains to find out
the ideal variety that could beat diabetes.

International teams from India, Tanzania and Thailand are busy
unraveling the chemical mystery of the Indian bitter gourd to find out
whether grandma was right in her belief that karela fights diabetes.
The karela has since lost much of its anti-diabetes properties thanks
to commercial hybrids, which have brought down the bitterness and
pungency of the vegetable. The present search is for the ideal karela
that was part of the grandma’s original Indian recipe.

As many as 10 hybrids of the Indian bitter gourd are being studied for
their germplasm and chemical constituents particularly momordicin in
Hyderabad, Bangkok, and Arusha in Tanzania. The higher the content of
momordicin, the higher is the anti-diabetes effect.  Hyderabad has
been selected for the project bitter gourd as it has emerged as the
diabetes capital of the country. India has the highest rate of
diabetes in the world. The teams are also finding out whether the
anti-diabetes compounds present in bitter gourd could be increased to
make it more effective against the silent killer-disease. They will
suggest bitter gourd recipes that will keep the momordicin content in
tact. At the end of the study, an ideal bitter gourd variety will be
identified for recommendation to diabetics.

The research gains significance as no two bitter gourd varieties have
the same chemical constitution and anti-diabetes properties. Different
bitter gourd varieties have different levels of bioactive compounds.
Identifying the proper bitter gourd is important to keep diabetes away.

Along with the Indian hybrids, 10 hybrids from Thailand are also
included in the Project Bitter gourd sponsored by the Asian Vegetable
Research and Development Centre (AVRDC).

“We are screening germplasm and commercial lines to identify and
select suitable parents for our breeding program. We will be selecting
varieties high in antidiabetic compounds as well as those with good
horticultural traits,” a senior scientist associated with the project
told this correspondent.

Studies so far with animals and humans suggest bitter gourd (whole
fruit, juice, or extract) has a role in diets for glycemic (sugar)
control of diabetes. “There is a need for well-designed research to
assess germplasm diversity to optimise the content of anti-diabetic
compounds in bitter gourd,” said Dr Dyno Keatinge, director-general,
AVRDC. He was in the city visiting the project bitter gourd centre at

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