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 treat diabetes, cholesterol, fatigue, cancer, and may also help with 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 in 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 [3].

Okra Nutrition Facts

Okra seeds contain many nutrients, including [4, 5]:

  • 14% protein
  • 31% carbohydrate
  • 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 (low phytate, oxalate, and tannins) [6].

Okra is also rich in vitamins, including [8]:

Okra contains many other active beneficial compounds, including [9, 10]:

How It Works

Okra achieves its health benefits through numerous mechanisms of action, including:

  • Increasing the breakdown of glucose and fat (by reducing levels of a receptor called PPARγ) [11].
  • 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) [14].
  • 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) [11].
  • 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 [19].
  • 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) [23].
  • Decreasing harmful substances in nerves (reactive oxygen species and hydrogen peroxide) [24].
  • Reducing the activation of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease (called tau phosphorylation) [24].
  • 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

1) Helps Kidney Disease

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 [25].

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 [26].

2) May Help with Diabetes

In pregnant rats with diabetes, okra reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin. It also reduced HbA1C (a marker of diabetes), and liver carbohydrate stores [13].

In obese and diabetic mice, okra extract reduced blood sugar (reduced production of PPAR-ɣ). It also increased body weight. This can happen when blood sugar levels improve after periods of high blood sugar [11, 16].

Okra enhanced sugar use by the muscles in diabetic rats (increased muscle glycogen) [12].

Okra supplements reduced sugar absorption in the gut of diabetic rats [27].

3) May Combat Cancer

Okra reduced growth and killed breast cancer cells in a cell study (increased apoptosis, caspase-3, caspase-9, and p21 genes) [14].

Okra extract reduced liver tumor growth and increased tumor cell destruction in cell study (increased inducible nitric oxide protein, TNF-α, and NF-κB) [28].

It reduced the growth and increased programmed cell death in melanoma cells (apoptosis by reduced N-cadherin and alpha5 integrin and increased Galectin-3) [15].

3) May Protect the Liver

In mice, okra extract improved liver health by [11, 16, R, R, 16]:

  • 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

4) May Improve Cholesterol

Okra reduced blood levels of cholesterol in diabetic rats by reducing the absorption of cholesterol from the gut [19].

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 (reduced production of PPAR-ɣ) [11].

5) May Reduce Fatigue

The okra seed, but not the pod, improved markers of endurance in mice (swimming time) [20].

Okra seed reduced harmful compounds that decrease the energy production in mice (reduced blood lactic acid and blood urea nitrogen) [20].

In mice, okra seeds increased energy storage and cell protection in the liver (increased glycogen and malondialdehyde, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase) [20].

6) May Protect the Stomach

In mice, okra reduced the damage and toxic effects of alcohol on the liver (protected lining by reducing oxidative stress and improved hemoglobin blood levels) [29].

Okra reduced bacterial binding to human stomach cells in a cell study (blocked H. pylori surface receptors) [21, 22].

7) May Help Reduce Jaw Pain

Okra reduced jaw pain and inflammation markers in the blood in rats (reduced TNF-α and IL-1β in the trigeminal ganglion) [30].

A similar study in rats found that it reduced nerve-related inflammation and pain (temporomandibular joint) [31].

8) May Help Improve Memory

Some genes increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (hemochromatosis gene). In a cell study, okra increased beneficial antioxidants in cells with this gene (decreased reactive oxygen species (ROS) and tau phosphorylation), which may protect against disease [24].

9) May Reduce Sun Damage

In a human cellular study, okra reduced sun damage (reduced UV-B-induced cell death and breakdown) [23].

10) Has Antioxidant Activity

Extract of okra improved antioxidant activity in mice and rats, by [11, 32, 33, 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))

11) May Fight H. pylori

Okra blocked H. pylori from attaching to stomach cells [34].

Limitations and Caveats

Research on okra in humans has been limited to ornamental okra, and may not extend to other varieties.

Side Effects & Precautions

Okra is safe in typical food amounts and at high doses in animals [35, 16].

However, it reduced sexual function in animal studies and resulted in increased body weight.

In male rats, okra increased hormones (testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone), and reduced male fertility [36].

Effects on sexual function in male animals included [R, R, 36]:

  • Reduced testicle weight and function
  • Reduced sperm count and movement

Men who are looking to have children should avoid okra.

Okra may cause an allergic reaction during harvest (contact dermatitis) [37, 38].

Drug Interactions

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 the metformin [27].

Using Okra

Dosage

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, 3 times per day of ornamental okra were standard [25].

Okra is eaten in typical food amounts.

User Experiences

Users taking supplemental okra claim that it helps coat their stomach and improve digestion.

People also give it to their pets for digestive health.

Some people dislike the slimy texture of okra; cooking it quickly or incorporating into soups seems to reduce the undesirable texture.

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