Common in Southern and Creole cooking, okra is a tasty delicacy found in many dishes. It is often fried, boiled, steamed, or added to soups, making it quite a versatile vegetable. However, not only does it make a tasty addition to meals, okra may help with diabetes, high cholesterol, fatigue, and even liver issues. Read on to find out more information about the health benefits of okra and some of its side effects.
What Is Okra?
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus, Abelmoschus manihot) is a tropical plant from the mallow (Malvaceae) family. This is the same family of plants as marshmallow, cotton, and hibiscus. It is also known as lady’s finger, bhindi, and gumbo [1, 2].
Traditional uses include treatment of stomach ulcers, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation. Okra is also used as a remedy for infections, fever, and arthritis. Others use it as a treatment for skin wounds, pimples, and itchiness .
Okra Nutrition Facts
Okra seeds contain many nutrients, including [4, 5]:
- 31% carbohydrate
- 14% protein
- 8% fiber (soluble)
- 2% fat (linolenic, linoleic acid, oleic acid)
Okra’s minerals include the following [6, 7]:
The amount of minerals absorbed from okra is high, due to its low content in antinutrients (such as phytate, oxalate, and tannins) .
Okra is also rich in vitamins, including :
- Vitamin C
Okra contains many other active beneficial compounds, including [9, 10]:
- Flavonol derivatives
- Hydroxycinnamic derivatives
- Quercetin and derivatives
- Pectic rhamnogalacturonan I structure
How It Works
Okra may achieve its health benefits through numerous mechanisms of action, including:
- Increasing the breakdown of glucose and fat (by reducing levels of a receptor called PPARγ) .
- Reducing fasting insulin and blood glucose (by increasing glycogen and glucose entry into muscle tissue) [12, 13].
- Causing programmed cell death of tumor cells (through the increase of genes called caspase-3, caspase-9, and p21) .
- Increasing tumor cell destruction by reducing inflammatory signals (such as inducible nitric oxide protein, tumor necrosis factor, and NF-κB) [15, 14].
- Protecting the liver (by causing an increase in superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione) .
- Reducing signs of liver damage (by reducing levels of enzymes called SGPT and total bilirubin) [16, 17].
- Increasing albumin, a beneficial blood protein made in the liver [18, 16].
- Reducing the absorption of cholesterol from the gut .
- Increasing blood antioxidants (such as malondialdehyde, superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and catalase) [13, 20].
- Blocking H. pylori from sticking to healthy stomach cells [21, 22].
- Reducing sun damage (through a pathway called Nrf2-ARE) .
- Decreasing harmful substances in nerves (reactive oxygen species and hydrogen peroxide) .
- Reducing the activation of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease (called tau phosphorylation) .
- Reducing kidney damage. Okra decreases proteinuria and oxidative markers (beta 2-microglobulin, N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminidase, lipid peroxide, superoxide anion) in the kidneys [25, 26].
Health Benefits of Okra
Possibly Effective for:
In a study of 417 patients with kidney disease, ornamental okra reduced high protein levels in the urine, which is a marker of kidney damage .
In 35 patients with kidney disease related to diabetes, ornamental okra acted as an antioxidant, reduced high protein levels in the urine, and increased kidney function. A systematic review of 7 trials and over 500 people concluded that okra may be used as an add-on therapy in people with kidney damage from diabetes [26, 27].
Okra and its active compounds also improved kidney damage in diabetic mice and rats by reducing inflammation and oxidative damage [28, 29, 30].
All in all, promising but limited evidence suggests that okra may help with kidney disease. You may discuss with your doctor if including okra in your diet or taking supplements could be helpful in your case.
Animal and Cell Research (Lack of Evidence):
No clinical evidence supports the benefits of okra for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
In pregnant rats with diabetes, okra reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin. It also reduced HbA1C (a marker of diabetes), and liver carbohydrate stores .
In multiple studies on obese and diabetic mice and rats, okra extract reduced blood sugar (reduced production of PPAR-ɣ) [11, 16, 32, 33].
Two complex carbohydrates (rhamnogalacturonan and ‘OP’) and a hormone (abscisic acid) from okra have been shown to lower blood sugar levels [34, 35, 36].
Okra also enhanced sugar use by the muscles in diabetic rats (increased muscle glycogen) .
Okra supplements reduced sugar absorption in the gut of diabetic rats .
In a cell-based study, okra extract prevented the death of the pancreatic cells that produce insulin (beta-cells) .
Okra reduced blood levels of cholesterol in diabetic rats by reducing the absorption of cholesterol from the gut .
In diabetic rats, it reduced harmful cholesterol in the blood (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and very-low-density lipoprotein compared to controls) and increased beneficial HDL cholesterol [16, 13].
Okra extract reduced blood fat levels and total cholesterol in obese mice by blocking their production and stimulating their breakdown (inhibition of PPAR and LXR signaling) [11, 39, 40].
In mice, okra extract improved liver health by [11, 16, 41]:
- Improving liver appearance and activity (improved morphology and increased superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and glutathione)
- Normalizing liver enzyme levels (SGPT and total bilirubin)
- Increasing a beneficial blood protein made in the liver (albumin) by up to 30%
- Increasing total blood protein levels
In mice and rats, okra reduced the damage and toxic effects of alcohol on the liver (protected lining by reducing oxidative stress and improved hemoglobin blood levels) [42, 43].
Okra reduced bacterial binding to human stomach cells in a cell study (blocked H. pylori surface receptors) [21, 22, 44].
Extract of okra improved antioxidant activity in mice and rats, by [11, 45, 46, 13]:
- Increasing enzymes that break down harmful compounds and protect cells from damage (Superoxide dismutase (SOD), Catalase (CAT), Glutathione peroxidase (GPx), Glutathione (GSH))
- Reducing lipid peroxidation, which can lead to heart disease
- Reducing markers of cell damage (Malondialdehyde -MDA-)
The okra seed, but not the pod, improved markers of endurance in mice (swimming time) .
Okra seeds reduced harmful compounds that decrease energy production (reduced blood lactic acid and blood urea nitrogen), while increasing energy storage, liver and blood vessel protection (increased glycogen and malondialdehyde, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase) [20, 47, 48, 49].
Okra reduced jaw pain and inflammation markers in the blood in rats (reduced TNF-α and IL-1β in the trigeminal ganglion) .
A similar study in rats found that it reduced nerve-related inflammation and pain (temporomandibular joint) .
In mice, both okra extract and its flavonoids quercetin and rutin prevented the brain damage caused by a drug (dexamethasone) and the resulting cognitive impairment .
Some genes increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (hemochromatosis gene). In a cell-based study, okra increased beneficial antioxidants in cells with this gene (decreased reactive oxygen species (ROS) and tau phosphorylation), which may protect against disease .
In a human cellular study, okra reduced sun damage (reduced UV-B-induced cell death and breakdown) .
Limitations and Caveats
Research on okra in humans has been limited to ornamental okra, and may not extend to other varieties. Most potential benefits have only been tested in animals and cells. The effects of dietary okra may not be the same in humans.
Side Effects & Precautions
Okra is safe in typical food amounts and at high doses in animals [53, 16].
However, it reduced sexual function in animal studies and resulted in increased body weight.
In male rats, okra increased some hormones (testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone), and reduced male fertility .
Effects on sexual function in male animals included [55, 54]:
- Reduced testicle weight and function
- Reduced sperm count and movement
Men trying to have children should consult taking okra with their doctors.
Okra may cause an allergic reaction during harvest (contact dermatitis) [56, 57].
Do not eat okra at the same time of day that you take metformin pills (used for treating diabetes), as it can reduce the absorption of this medication .
You may eat okra or take supplements if you and your doctor determine that it could be appropriate for your health condition. Remember that taking okra should never be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.
Because okra is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on trial and error.
Supplemental doses of 400 mg okra capsules are available. It is also sold as okra pepsin E3.
For kidney disease, doses of 2.5 g, 3x/day of ornamental okra were standard .
Okra is eaten in typical food amounts.
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of okra users, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Users taking supplemental okra claim that it helped coat their stomach and improve digestion. Some people also gave it to their pets for digestive health.
Some users disliked the slimy texture of okra; cooking it quickly or incorporating it into soups reduces the undesirable texture according to some.