Review outlines benefits and future health care opportunities with bitter apple extract

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Jeff Kingma
Getty | Jeff Kingma

Related tags Herbal medicine botanical extracts anti-cancer Inflammation extracts Medicine

The scope for protective metabolic potential of the medicine plant bitter apple, aka Citrullus colocynthis, has been explored in a new review published in ‘BMC Food Production, Processing and Nutrition’.

The paper by authors from Banaras Hindu University, India, focuses on the ingredient’s phyto-chemicals, bioactive compounds, and their mode of action for the treatment of various diseases such as cancer, inflammation, diarrhea, to name a few.

They argue that while the benefits are well illustrated, the lack of universal acknowledgement means the importance of the dietary supplement capabilities of bitter apple could be being underutilised

“Increasing awareness among consumers across the world about this unique fruit’s properties may provide huge opportunities for the supplier of herbal products as well as their use in the food industry. It has significant applications in the field of food technology,” they assert.

Nutritional Composition

It is suggested that with varying agricultural origins and conditions of cultivating C. colocynthis, components of attributes differ in percentage. Approximately: 23 - 25% oil, 70% unsaturated fatty acids as well as 51% polysaturated fatty acids.

When ripe, the fruit is made up of more than 90% water content and is high in amino acids: glutamic acid and arginine primarily.

Notably high in minerals are the seeds, which are high in potassium (569 mg/100 g ) and calcium (465 mg/100 g), as well as magnesium and phosphorus.

Conventional medical uses

The report summarises the diverse history of uses for C. colocynthis in the treatment of diseases, addressing various parts of the plant’s properties as being anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous.

The pulp of the fruit has been used to treat diseases such as diabetes, liver diseases, digestive problems, intestine blockage, and even paralysis. The plant extract is used to reduce pain and improve nerve and muscular damage​, as well generally improving health quality of those suffering from diabetic neuropathy. It also is used widely to address stomach and bowel problems.

The fruit’s saponins were found to hold anti-inflammatory properties​  and is therefore useful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory pain, and the study suggests C. colocynthis is of valuable interest for the development of new anti-carcinogenic drugs, due to it’s high cucurbitacin composition.

Potential medical uses

The review suggests bitter apple is beneficial for those suffering gut abnormalities such as indigestion, gastroenteritis, bowel problems, and colic pain (Dhakad, P. K., 2017), and with further research required it could be suggested that it might be a safer acting anti-inflammatory than other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs​) due to reduced risk of gastric ulcer triggers. Some studies have also indicated​ effectiveness in treatment of hyperglycaemia, however as addressed in the review, research remains sparce in bitter apple’s value against cardiovascular conditions. 

Other Uses

The authors note that C. colocynthis has other valuable uses within the food and agricultural sector. With increased consumer demand for more organic methods of food preservation, the review suggests a call for the inclusion of bitter apple as a flavour enhancer.

Volatile compounds such as aldehydes, terpenes, and sulfur that are widely used for a wide range of food applications make the case for an inclusion of C. colocynthis in industry, as volatile compounds can be extracted from the pulp by steam and / or solvent distillation. Findings also suggest that due to antibiotic properties (Kamran et al., 2021​), the fruit can be used as supplementary animal feed.

Future research

The review concludes that bitter apple’s extracts and compounds have been shown to have a wide range of beneficial health actions, and can act as a substantial source of protein and minerals but it remains an under researched source with numerous possibilities.

“Extracts and pure compounds have indeed been discovered to have a wide range of biological actions, particularly anti-diabetic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, fungicidal, and antimicrobial properties. Intriguingly, the plant was shown to have great nutritive content as a high source of protein, appetizing quality of seed oil, as well as some essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which are recognized to have therapeutic benefits…

“Further research is necessary to highlight the functionality of these tropical fruits as nutritional supplements that can have a positive effect.”

Source: 'BMC Food, Production, Processing and Nutrition'

"Citrullus colocynthis (bitter apple): bioactive compounds, nutritional profile, nutraceutical properties and potential food applications: a review" 

Authors: Rao, V., and Poonia, A.,

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