Okra has recently been gaining popularity as a possible cure for diabetes. A quick web search will show that many sources believe this to be true, and tout the positive health effects of okra. This appealed to me as okra is one of my favorite vegetables.
I decided to perform a literature search to see if there is any validity to these statements. Upon first glance of a PubMed search, it seemed there may be some truth to these claims of the positive effect on blood sugar.
Okra seeds have been used for diabetes treatment in the country of Turkey for many years. Most of the studies of the anti-diabetic effects of okra (scientific name, Abelmoschus esculentus) have been performed on rats. These rats were made to have diabetes in a lab.
Most of these studies focus on the ability of okra to inhibit absorption of glucose in the intestines by blocking alpha-glucosidase. Alpha-glucosidase is an enzyme that is found in the small intestine that helps in carbohydrate digestion. By blocking carbohydrate digestion, the absorption of glucose can be inhibited. There is actually a class of drugs in humans called “Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitors,” which perform this function. These are called acarbose (Precose) and miglitol (Glyset). Therefore, okra has been shown to be a natural inhibitor of alpha-glucosidase in studies with diabetic rats. In one study, it was also found to inhibit absorption of metformin as well, which is another oral agent used for the treatment of diabetes in humans.
Another study reported that okra was able to reduce lipid levels, and may be an effective treatment for both diabetes and hyperlipidemia in diabetic rats. A study using obese mice found that okra “lowered body weight and glucose levels, improved glucose tolerance, and decreased serum total cholesterol levels.” Yet another study in diabetic rats showed that okra may have antioxidant properties.
One study involving humans in Africa showed that consuming okra as part of a Mediterranean diet, as well as beans, turnips, and bananas, may reduce the risk of blindness in type 2 diabetics.
A very important point to notice is that none of these articles claimed that okra can cure diabetes. Okra cannot cure diabetes, but may be able to improve blood sugar and lipid levels, and may do so by acting as a “natural” alpha-glucosidase inhibitor. It is also important to notice that these studies were done in rats and mice, and not humans.
These are some exciting benefits of eating okra! It may make me feel a little bit better when I eat it breaded and fried.
“Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitor.” Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitor. Family Practice Notebook, http://www.fpnotebook.com/endo/pharm/AlphGlcsdsInhbtr.htm. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
Benalla, Wafaa, Said Bellahcen, and Mohamed Bnouham. “Antidiabetic Medicinal Plants as a Source of Alpha Glucosidase Inhibitors.” Current Diabetes Reviews 6.4 (2010): 247-54. Print.
Fan, Shengjie, Lu Guo, Yu Zhang, Qinhu Sun, Baican Yang, and Cheng Huang. “Okra Polysaccharide Improves Metabolic Disorders in High-fat Diet-induced Obese C57BL/6 Mice.” Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 57.11 (2013): 2075-078. Print
Khatun, Hajera, Ajijur Rahman, Mohitosh Biswas, and Anwar Ul Islam. “Water-soluble Fraction of Abelmoschus Esculentus L Interacts with Glucose and Metformin Hydrochloride and Alters Their Absorption Kinetics after Coadministration in Rats.” ISRN Pharmaceutics 2011 (2011): 1-5. Print.
Moise, M. M., L. M. Benjamin, T. M. Doris, K. N. Dalida, and N. O. Augustin. “Role of Mediterranean Diet, Tropical Vegetables Rich in Antioxidants, and Sunlight Exposure in Blindness, Cataract and Glaucoma among African Type 2 Diabetics.” International Journal of Ophthalmology 5.2 (2012): 231-37. PubMed. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.
Panneerselvam, K., S. Ramachandran, V. Sabitha, and Kr Naveen. “Antidiabetic and Antihyperlipidemic Potential of Abelmoschus Esculentus (L.) Moench. in Streptozotocin-induced Diabetic Rats.” Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences 3.3 (2011): 397. Print.
Ramachandran, Subramaniam, Vijayakumar Sabitha, Koikaramparambilrobert Naveen, and Kaliyamoorthy Panneerselvam. “Investigation of in Vivo Antioxidant Property of Abelmoschus Esculentus (L) Moench. Fruit Seed and Peel Powders in Streptozotocin-induced Diabetic Rats.” Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine 3.4 (2012): 188. Print.
Thanakosai, W., and P. Phuwapraisirisan. “First Identification of α-glucosidase Inhibitors from Okra (Abelmoschus Esculentus) Seeds.” Natural Produce Communications 8.8 (2013): 1085-088. PubMed. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.