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 .
Okra Nutrition Facts
Okra is also rich in vitamins, including :
- Flavonol derivatives
- Hydroxycinnamic derivatives
- Quercetin and derivatives
- Pectic rhamnogalacturonan I structure
Mechanisms of Action
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) .
- 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
1) Okra Helps Kidney Disease
In a study (RCT) 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 .
2) Okra May Help with Diabetes
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) .
Okra supplements reduced sugar absorption in the gut of diabetic rats .
3) Okra May Combat Cancer
3) Okra May Protect the Liver
- 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) Okra May Improve Cholesterol
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 (reduced production of PPARɣ) .
5) Okra May Reduce Fatigue
The okra seed, but not the pod, improved markers of endurance in mice (swimming time) .
In mice, okra seeds increased energy storage and cell protection in the liver (increased glycogen and malondialdehyde, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase) .
6) Okra 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) .
7) Okra May Help Reduce Jaw Pain
A similar study in rats found that it reduced nerve-related inflammation and pain (temporomandibular joint) .
8) Okra 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 .
9) Okra May Reduce Sun Damage
10) Okra Has Antioxidant Activity
- 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) Okra May Fight H. pylori
Okra blocked H. pylori from attaching to stomach cells .
However, it reduced sexual function in animal studies and resulted in increased body weight.
- Reduced testicle weight and function
- Reduced sperm count and movement
Men who are looking to have children should avoid okra.
Limitations and Caveats
Research on okra in humans has been limited to ornamental okra, and may not extend to other varieties.
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 .
Okra is eaten in typical food amounts.
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.