Dr. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu: PhD(A.M)
‘Medical Dramas’ graced our airwaves from those we consider health professionals. The public are even confused when it comes to diet. Okra or Okro is a subject of controversies: others say, eating Okra is problematic to men’s health. Others say it is the genesis of piles build up et al. But what does the Science says on the health benefit of Okra? My aim is to document academic evidence of natural remedies to bring to the public domain.
Okra has already become a well-known superfood against diabetes but few people know that it also fights at least three different types of cancer. The research on okra for cancer is still very young, but researchers have observed in lab studies that it potently inhibits highly metastatic mouse melanoma cells and kills human breast cancer cells outright, while one fascinating population study has revealed that men eating okra as part of a Southern eating pattern experienced 40% less prostate cancer.
Traditional Medicine Using Okra
Because it’s an ancient crop used for food from way back, okra was also known as a bona fide medicinal. The leaves were used for pain relief and urinary problems. Say Dr. Mercola. In the Congo, it was a remedy to help ensure a safe delivery for pregnant mothers. In Malaya, the root has been applied as a treatment for syphilis. The mucilage has even been used as a plasma replacement and topically as a moisturizer. Cooked down and added to water, it’s referred to as “supreme” for people suffering weakness or depression.
It’s still used to treat lung inflammation and sore throat and to add bulk to stools as a laxative, as well as to rid the body of liver toxins, according to Holistic Online(Holistic Online 1998-2007)
The same site noted okra’s effectiveness for acid reflux, atherosclerosis, cataracts, colorectal cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Okra kills 72% of human breast cancer cells in vitro
Hope for women at last? A newly discovered lectin in common okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) was shown to kill up to 72% of human breast cancer cells (MCF7) in vitro, mostly by inducing programmed cell death (apoptosis). The okra lectin was also shown to slow the growth of the breast cancer cells by 63%. Note that the lectin is found in okra seeds, and researchers in this study obtained their lectin by water extraction from okra seed meal. This anti-cancer lectin was only discovered in 2012, and interestingly, also possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (pain relieving) properties which makes it a very interesting compound for future research. The researchers in this study noted that the lectin compound is a “potential therapeutic to combat human breast cancer.” But don’t scrape out the seeds and throw away the rest of the pod, because another component of okra also has demonstrated anti-cancer properties, namely the pectin.
Okra pectin inhibits 75% of highly metastatic melanoma cells in vitro
Okra pectin is found just under the skin of the pods, and scientists have discovered it contains very unique compounds (highly branched rhamnogalacturonans) which have never before been observed in other pectins. Perhaps it is the newly discovered compounds that are responsible for the effectiveness of the pectin against melanoma. In a recent study conducted by French and Dutch researchers, the pectin inhibited the proliferation of highly metastatic mouse melanoma cells (B16F10) by 75% after 48 hours of treatment and also increased the rate of programmed cell death (apoptosis) by nearly 23-fold. The researchers also discovered that the pectin triggered apoptosis by interacting with Galectin-3. This is a similar mechanism to what is observed with the well-known compound Modified Citrus Pectin, and it is very interesting that okra pectin does not have to be modified in any way to have this effect.
Men who eat okra (Southern diet) have 40% less prostate cancer
The two studies above show clearly that two different components of okra (pectin and lectin) have potent anticancer properties, therefore as usual; we are probably better off consuming the entire edible portion of okra if we want to maximize its anti-cancer benefits. Have any actual benefits been observed in human populations? Yes. A recent cohort study carried out in the United States found that men eating a Southern dietary pattern (characterized by eating okra, grits, cornbread, beans, rice and sweet potatoes) experienced 40% less prostate cancer than those not eating such a diet. Although the result bordered on statistical significance, this was a fair-sized study which followed nearly 3,800 men for ten years. What is truly fascinating about this study is that, apart from okra, beans and sweet potatoes, the Southern eating pattern was actually not a very healthy diet, and contained high portions of red meat and bacon which are both known to increase cancer risk. Moreover, the Southern eating pattern protected men from prostate cancer much more than a vegetable and fruit rich diet did, even though it contained 24% less fruit and vegetables (29 servings weekly on the Southern diet vs. 38 servings weekly on the fruit & vegetable rich diet).
Was okra the key anti-cancer factor in the Southern eating pattern? Only future research will tell. In the meantime, okra is a healthy food which is already widely consumed around the world.
Okra’s and Blood Sugar studies:
For diabetic individuals, animal studies suggest okra pods may help alleviate diabetic affects, due to its myricetin content. Myricetin is a flavonoid also found in blueberries, garbanzo beans, turnips and chia seeds, among other foods. The myricetin in okra was isolated and dispensed to rats, which responded with increased sugar absorption in their muscles, consequently lowering their blood sugar. A 2012 Food Science and Human Wellness review listed several other animals included in similar studies with similar results; however, not all research worked on humans (Medical News Today June 8, 2016)
Still, the study indicates that myricetin may prove to be an important breakthrough in the fight against diabetes. In fact, ISRN Pharmaceutics published a study in 2012, explained in Medical News Today:
“Researchers fed rat’s liquid sugar as well as purified okra through a feeding tube. Rats who consumed the okra experienced a reduction in blood sugar spikes after feeding. The study’s authors think this is because the okra blocked the absorption of sugar in the intestines.”
As noted, the study indicated the okra may have blocked sugar absorption in the intestines, but also introduced the idea that it may also obstruct the effectiveness of the diabetes drug metformin, so simultaneous ingestion is not recommended.
The Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences submitted another study pointing to a possible link between okra and decreased blood sugar levels. Scientists maintained the blood sugar level of rats for a period of 14 days, then fed them powdered okra peel extracts and seeds amounting to 2,000 milligrams per day per kilogram of body weight. At the conclusion of the study, no poisonous effects were observed. While the rats that ate the okra had lowered blood sugar levels after 28 days, the end of the study precluded discovering how long the decreased levels may have been maintained.
Other Benefits and studies on Okra
A 2013 study Published in the Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci titled Antidepressant activity of Hibiscus esculentus L by Ebrahimzadeh et al demonstrated that the antidepressant activity in okra was linked to mood improvement, which could make it helpful for people suffering from depression. Interestingly, Kantha Shelke, a food scientist at Corvus Blue LLC and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, said okra was the “preferred vegetable” among athletes at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, possibly for more reasons than its taste.
“Because of its physiological effects, it has gained some interesting names including ‘green panax’ in Japan and ‘plant viagra’ in the USA. The polysaccharides in okra are thought to open up the arteries in a similar way to Viagra(Time July 22, 2013), so good for men who considering Viagra.
According to a study published in 2005 in the Jilin Medical Journal by LIU Ke-hui titled” The clinical research of Okra in treatment of diabetic nephropathy” okra showed positive effects on nephropathy or kidney disease. Participants were split into two groups – one was treated with traditional therapy, while the other group was given traditional therapy with okra. The study, which lasted six months, saw a reduction in urine protein and uric acid in participants who took their treatment with the okra, while there were no changes in the other group.
Another study, published in the Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal titled “Okra’ Hibiscus esculentus L.: A study of its hepatoprotective activity” by S.I.Alqasoumi highlighted okra’s ability protective function against liver diseases. It was found that okra extract helped protect chemically induced liver damage because of its strong antioxidant activities. At the same time, its beneficial hepaprotective and antioxidant properties were comparable to that of silymarin or milk thistle.
Nutritional Aspects of Okra
References to the gelatinous mucilage in okra, especially when cooked, are parallel to applications noted by nutritionists who recommend it for people suffering from constipation, as it does help move food through your gut.
Okra is an excellent fiber source to maintain a healthy digestive system and also contains good amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium. It also provides 43 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of manganese and 36 percent of the RDA of infection-fighting vitamin C. One cup of raw okra (100 grams) contains 33 calories and includes a whopping 44 percent of the bone-strengthening vitamin K you need for one day, which is important as a co-factor for blood-clotting enzymes.
Nutrition and You also notes that the folate in okra imparts 22 percent of the RDA in a 1-cup serving, which is important for pregnant mothers to decrease the risk of neural tube defects in their babies. Medical News Today reveals:
“People who do not eat enough folate are at a higher risk for breast, cervical, pancreatic, lung and other cancers. Researchers are unsure of why folate intake and cancer risk are connected.
There is no evidence that taking a folate supplement lowers the risk for cancer. As a result, getting folate from food like okra is important. Getting enough folate is especially important for women who are pregnant and people who are dependent on alcohol.”
Vitamin A content in okra, important for good vision and more, includes flavonoid antioxidants, such as beta-carotenes, xanthan and lutein. Other nutrients include thiamin, vitamin B6, calcium, niacin, phosphorus and copper.
To go along with its traditional uses, the compounds in okra help maintain healthy skin and mucous membranes.
Possible Safety Risks Associated With Okra Consumption
Besides the possibility that eating okra while taking the diabetic drug metformin may lower the drug’s effect, experts note that this vegetable also elicits an allergy reaction in some people.
Additionally, okra contains oxalates, naturally occurring substances in many plant-based foods. Over-consumption may produce a kidney stone risk in certain individuals with that predilection. Okra contains high amounts of fructan, which is a carbohydrate that can induce diarrhea, cramps and bloating in some people, so people with irritable bowel syndrome are advised against ingesting foods containing this substance.
Okra kills 72% of human breast cancer cells in vitro
Okra pectin inhibits 75% of highly metastatic melanoma cells in vitro
Men who eat okra have 40% less prostate cancer
Fights colon cancer
Good for diabetics.
Everything about diet is moderation.
Dr. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu is a Research Professor of Prostate Cancer and Alternative Medicine –Da Vinci College of Holistic Medicine, Larnaca City, Cyprus. A prolific science writer, product developer and scientists at RNG Medicine Research Lab. president of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine at Tema, Com 7 Post Office. Dr. Nyarkotey is the National President of the Alternative Medical Association of Ghana (AMAG). Enquiries: 0549495100.