You are likely to be familiar with okra, a popular vegetable served with many local dishes. Along with being tasty, experts say okra offers a wide array of health benefits, including protection from cancer, reports Sade Oguntola.
Don't be put off by okra's somewhat slimy texture. Scientists have found okra a powerful ally in fighting off at least three different cancers- colon, melanoma and breast.
In a new study published in Biotechnology Letters, researchers have discovered that Lectin, which is a newly discovered ingredient in the seeds of okra, selectively kills human breast cancer cells under laboratory conditions.
This anti-cancer lectin was only discovered in 2012, and interestingly, also possesses anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties which makes it a very interesting compound for future research.
Given that okra slows the growth rate of breast cancer cells by 63 per cent, thus inducing their death, the researchers reason that okra may represent a potential therapeutic to combat human breast cancer.
But expert's assessment of okra have also found it could be helpful against skin cancer. It contains pectin a substance found just under the skin of the pods. Pectin, the researchers found to be active against highly metastatic melanoma cells, reducing their proliferation by 75% after 48 hours of treatment.
By causing a reduction in their growth, the researchers stated in the 2012 edition of the journal, Phototherapy research, that it increased the rate the cells will die by nearly 23-fold, and by so doing programming them for death (apoptosis).
However, eating the entire edible part of okra is important in maximising the anticancer benefits of okra. What is fascinating moreover is a recent cohort study carried out in the United States and published in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, which found that men eating a Southern dietary pattern (characterized by eating okra, grits, cornbread, beans, rice and sweet potatoes) experienced 40 per cent less prostate cancer than those not eating such a diet.
Similarly, okra is full of dietary fibre, which is essential for colon health and digestive health as a whole. The fibre Okra provides helps to clean out the gastrointestinal system, allowing the colon to work at greater levels of efficiency. Additionally, the vitamin A contributes to healthy mucous membranes, helping the digestive tract to operate appropriately.
The antioxidant compounds found in okra, including a rich amount of vitamin A, beta carotene and lutein, can also be a major player in cancer prevention. Okra is also high in vitamins C and K, several B vitamins, and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese, and contains a fair amount of protein and heart-healthy potassium.
Another important benefit of okra is its high fibre content, which benefits the digestive system and helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Okra pods are a great source of mucilage, a type of fiber that greatly helps the digestive system to break down food, and can soothe digestive disturbances such as constipation.
This delicious green veggie, also offers a wide array of health benefits as a potential source of treatment to normalise blood sugar level. The fibre in okra helps to stabilise blood sugar by regulating the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract.
According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bio-allied Science, researchers corroborated that okra was a potential alternative source to treat diabetes because it lowers blood sugar level significantly in tested animals under laboratory conditions.
It also holds promise to treats stomach ulcer. In a 2004 study entitled “Glycosylated compounds from okra inhibit adhesion of Helicobacter pylori to human gastric mucosa”, extracts from okra was found to prevent Helicobacter pylori, the germ that causes stomach ulcer, adhering to the walls of the stomach, thus preventing peptic ulcer.
The researchers assumed in this study, which was documented in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that the anti adhesive qualities of okra was due to a combination of glycoproteins and highly acidic sugar compounds, a complex three-dimensional structure that is fully developed only in the fresh juice of the okra fruit.
Okra is a rich source of Vitamin C. For example, 100 grammes of raw okra pods contains about 21 milligrammes of vitamin C according to “The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the body develop immunity against infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect the body from harmful free radicals.