Drinking bitter leaf water on empty stomach: Benefits and side effects

Drinking bitter leaf juice is considered to be healthy and sometimes medicinal. However, there may be certain benefits and side effects to drinking bitter leaf water on an empty stomach. Here's what you need to know. 

Image of a person carrying a glass of a plant juice extract

Key takeaways

  • Bitter leaf water or juice is a liquid extract gotten from the famous bitter leaf plant (Vernonia amygdalina).
  • Bitter leaf water has various antioxidative, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in the treatment and management of various ailments and health conditions.
  • The benefits of drinking bitter leaf water on an empty stomach include relieving stomach discomfort, regulating blood sugar levels, and treating inflammatory reactions.  
  • But despite its benefits, bitter leaf water, especially when you drink it in excess, can also cause side effects like nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Bitter leaf water, also known as bitter leaf juice, is a greenish liquid extract from the bitter leaf plant (Vernonia amygdalina). It is a common plant grown by various households in several West African, Sub-Saharan African, and Asian countries. 

Seeing as bitter leaf may possess various antioxidative, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties, people believe that the juice obtained from the plant contains a significant amount of substances that have these vital properties. 

It is best to consume bitter leaf in small doses or quantities to provide nutritional value as well as treat certain types of mild ailments like mild infections, metabolic issues, and inflammation problems with a reduced risk of causing side effects. 

Can I drink bitter leaf water on an empty stomach? Is it safe?

Taking bitter leaf water on an empty stomach may be safe for some people—but it may not be for others. Although drinking bitter leaf water has been said to be beneficial to health, it's important that you are aware of how and when you can take bitter leaf juice, especially if you have a medical condition like diabetes.

Some people with diabetes are already taking medications to lower their blood glucose, and taking only bitter leaf water—which may have antidiabetic effects—on an empty stomach may further lower their blood sugar. When blood sugar is too low, it can lead to a condition known as hypoglycemia, which causes symptoms like dizziness, loss of concentration, and trembling.

Thanks to the abundant amount of nutrients contained in bitter leaf juice, taking a glass of bitter leaf juice some days—in the morning or at night before bed—shouldn't be a problem. But to be on the safe side, especially if you have a medical condition, always eat a healthy meal before or right after drinking your bitter leaf water. 

Bitter leaf water may be used as a home remedy for certain types of mild illnesses like fever, hiccups, and stomach discomfort, but it's still important that you seek your doctor's approval and opinion before taking it. 

Your doctor would be in the best position to tell you the right amount of bitter leaf juice that is safe for you to take and when to take it. This is to avoid any cytotoxic (harmful to living cells) effects that could occur due to the excessive consumption of bitter leaf juice.

What does bitter leaf water do to the body?

Besides the bitter and unpleasant taste you may get from taking a sip of bitter leaf water, the juice is a pure natural supplement. It contains high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and protein, as well as phytochemicals that provide anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidative effects. 

Possible benefits of drinking bitter leaf water on an empty stomach

Similar to the benefits of bitter leaf, bitter leaf water also helps provide the body with several health benefits, which include: 

1. Anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects

Bitter leaf water contains high amounts of phytochemicals such as; saponins and alkaloids, terpenes, steroids, coumarins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids, to mention but a few. These phytochemicals provide the anti-inflammatory and other biological effects needed to heal and inhibit certain internal inflammations, as well as chemoprevention.

2. Relieves stomach discomfort

According to a 2017 scientific study conducted on wister rats, the anti-inflammatory effects seen in bitter leaf juice were shown to provide relief to rats with gastric ulcers.

Although there isn't enough research evidence to prove its gastric effect in humans, with the results gotten from the study shown above, we can deduce that bitter leaf water may be used as a home remedy for ailments like gastric ulcers and other mild gut related issues like acid reflux, stomach aches, diarrhea, and indigestion.

3.  Blood sugar reduction

Bitter leaf water, similar to the leaf, is considered to have components with anti-diabetic effects. Studies carried out on Type 2 diabetic rats showed that bitter leaf contained a C5 component that induced hypoglycemic effects.

Patients with hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar) or diabetes can use bitter leaf juice as a natural inducer of hypoglycemia (reduced blood sugar). Although bitter leaf juice reduces blood sugar, it can provide just enough glucose for your muscles, thereby achieving a stable balance.

Studies have shown that bitter leaf juice can be used as an ingredient or food supplement for the treatment and management of type 2 diabetes (T2DM).

However, be sure to seek your doctor's opinion about managing diabetes or hyperglycemia with bitter leaf water alone.  Most times you may need medications and other foods to manage your blood sugar.

4. Provides vitamins and minerals

Bitter leaf water can be considered a healthy drink or beverage. The juice is rich in various vitamins, such as vitamins A, C, E, B1, and B2. These vitamins help improve eyesight, brain function and possess anti-oxidative effects. 

Bitter leaf water also contains certain minerals like sodium, manganese, iron, potassium, zinc, and calcium, as well as high levels of protein, fat, and crude fibers.

5. Treatment of hypertension

Bitter leaf water contains vitamins E and C, which are very important in blood pressure regulation. Both Vitamin E and vitamin C have antioxidative effects, that help improve arterial stiffness and endothelial function. They also help stabilize and decrease blood pressure in hypertensive patients.

Bitter leaf juice also contains potassium, which is physiologically used to eliminate excess sodium from the body and ease tension in the walls of the blood vessels.

6. May aid weight loss

For individuals who want to or have started their weight loss journey, bitter leaf juice can also help. The juice can be used as a dinner substitute or as an appetizer, while you wait to take your breakfast later in the morning. 

7. May reduce renal toxicity

Due to our daily known or unknown exposures to crude materials such as petroleum, kerosene, and fuels, our kidneys may be at risk of renal toxicity. However, an animal study conducted in 2018, showed a remarkable decrease in renal toxicity in rats that were fed petroleum contaminants and treated with bitter leaf. 

Although researchers have yet to carry out any investigations on humans, the animal study indicates that bitter leaf water may be used as a home remedy to neutralize the renal toxic effects of small amounts of ingested crude materials.

Side effects of drinking bitter leaf water on an empty stomach

Taking bitter leaf water on an empty stomach may cause certain side effects, such as:

1. Bitter aftertaste

Drinking bitter leaf juice wouldn't be considered a pleasurable experience for most people because of its bitter aftertaste.

2. Nausea and vomiting

Some people may not be used to or feel comfortable swallowing bitter leaf juice. Such people who can't handle its taste may vomit as a reflex action. 

What does it mean when you have alternating diarrhea and constipation and what causes this? Read here:

Can you diarrhea and constipation at the same time?

3. Loss of appetite

Depending on how the bitter leaf juice is prepared, some may be thick and contain small remnants or residues of the bitter leaf, while others may be watery with little or no remnants. The former may make you feel full after taking it, especially if it is prepared with other ingredients. 

For certain people, drinking bitter-leaf water on an empty stomach can cause a reduced appetite for food. Thus leading to a temporary loss of appetite. 

4. Hypoglycemia

Bitter leaf juice can cause a decrease in blood sugar levels. This may be good for individuals with diabetes or an increased blood sugar level.

However, it may pose a problem for some people on certain types of diabetic medications or for people with really low blood sugar levels. They may experience recurring hunger pangs and hunger-induced lightheadedness, which are symptoms of hypoglycemia, especially when they drink bitter leaf water in excess. 

5. Cytotoxicity

Bitter leaf water, as well as bitter leaf may have cytotoxic (harmful to living cells) effects when taken in unnaturally large quantities or high doses.

6. Diarrhea

Certain people may not be able to consume bitter leaf or bitter leaf juices because of a possible allergic reaction to some of its contents, or a lack of specific digestive enzymes needed to digest the juice properly. Their bodies would tend to get rid the juice and other contents found in the gut through the anus, resulting in diarrhea. 

Can a pregnant person drink bitter leaf water?

Bitter leaf water may also be good for pregnant people, as it contains high amounts of nutritional and health value that will be beneficial to both a mother and her unborn child. 

Research shows that bitter leaf juice was used in traditional medicine in parts of Africa and Asia as a common pregnancy care aid given to pregnant women. Bitter leaf and its juice were used in traditional medicine to promote easy labor progressions, strengthen or tone the uterine muscle, and prevent certain childbirth complications, such as pain, bleeding, and abortion.

However, if you are pregnant, ensure you seek your doctor’s opinion on certain foods, including bitter-leaf water. This helps ensure your safety and that of your baby. 

Other healthy ways to consume bitter leaf

There are a number of ways that you can safely consume bitter leaf. They include; 

• Eating the leaves raw after squeezing

It's normally safe for you to consume bitter leaf in its raw form. Simply pluck the leaves from their branches, wash them properly with salt and clean water, and then squeeze, chew, and swallow. 

• Combining the water with that from other vegetables

You could combine bitter leaf juice with juices gotten from other vegetables, like fluted pumpkin or scent leaf. This would help improve its taste, making it easier to consume.

• Culinary uses

Bitter leaf can be used as an ingredient in several native meals and is also used in the preparation of bitter leaf soup commonly consumed in Nigeria, Ghana, and some other West African countries. Bitter leaf soup is also a healthy Nigerian soups for people with diabetes.

Wrap Up

Bitter leaf juice, as well as bitter leaf, have been known to be very beneficial both health-wise and nutrition-wise. Although bitter leaf juice is a processed form of bitter leaf, it is still just as effective and beneficial.

However, if you intend to begin consuming bitter leaf juice on an empty stomach early in the morning or as home therapy for any ailment, be sure to seek your doctor's opinion, as that will ensure that you are on the right track to staying healthy.


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  2. Farombi, E. O., & Owoeye, O. (2011). Antioxidative and chemopreventive properties of Vernonia amygdalina and Garcinia biflavonoid.
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  6. Ochuko L Erukainure et al. (2019). Histochemistry, phenolic content, antioxidant, and anti-diabetic activities of Vernonia amygdalina leaf extract.
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  8. Plantinga et al. (2007). Supplementation with Vitamins C and E Improves Arterial Stiffness and Endothelial Function in Essential Hypertensive Patients.
  9. Whigham, L. D. et al. (2012). Increased Vegetable and Fruit Consumption During Weight Loss Effort Correlates With Increased Weight and Fat Loss.
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