Eating okra is an easy way to boost your immune system

A vegetable used to enrich the taste of Indian, Middle Eastern, and Southern U.S. cuisine could also make those same meals much more healthy. Chinese researchers reported that consuming okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) could improve the efficacy of the immune system, even the ones compromised by immunosuppression.

The immune system is the natural protection of the body against harmful pathogens. The cells, tissues, and organs that comprise it work together to maintain good health. If one of these parts fails, diseases are sure to develop.

Immunosuppression is the partial or complete deactivation of the immune system. It leaves the body unable to resist diseases. One of the primary causes of immunosuppression is pharmaceutical drugs, whether it be by design or as an adverse side effect.

To increase immune function and restore the balance, immunomodulators are administered to people suffering from immunosuppression. The synthetic ones may cause side effects, which would undermine any benefit they are supposed to bring.

Okra is full of nutrients that are great for the body. It is considered to be a possible source of natural immunomodulators to strengthen the immune system. (Related: Onions are good for your immune system: Study.)

The potential of okra as an immune booster

In the experiment, the researchers collected okra pods as raw materials. They processed the vegetables using water extraction and alcohol precipitation techniques.

The extract they produced underwent purification to produce three crude okra polysaccharides (RPS). The purified fractions were labeled RPS-1, RPS-2, and RPS-3.

In turn, these fractions were subjected to diethylaminoethyl-cellulose chromatography, a process that broke down the polysaccharides into their base components. They were also evaluated for their molecular weights, the type of monosaccharides that comprise them, and the infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance spectra that they gave off.

RAW264.7 cells were cultivated to create an in-vitro cell model. The mice-derived cells were treated with either the extract or one of the crude okra polysaccharides. The immunomodulatory activity for each treatment was measured.

The RPS-2 fraction was put through further in-vitro testing. It was administered to both normal mice and immunosuppressed animals that have been injected with cyclophosphamide. The animals were sacrificed so that their spleen and blood could be analyzed for immunomodulating effect.

Monosaccharides in okra are key to its immunomodulatory activity

The three fractions of the crude okra polysaccharide were established to have different molecular weights. RPS-1 weighted 600 kilodaltons (kDa), RPS-2 was 990 kDa, and RPS-3 was the heaviest at a whopping 1,300 kDa.

The monosaccharides that made up RPS-1 and RPS-2 were galactose, galacturonic acid, glucuronic acid, and rhamnose. In addition to those four, RPS-3 also contained glucose.

The infrared and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging showed that all three RPS follow the rhamnogalacturonan I model. This is a fairly low-abundant polysaccharide with a strange structure that gives it great versatility.

The okra polysaccharide extract and its purified fractions were able to increase the growth of RAW264.7 cells. They raised the production of nitric oxide, which is attributed to the way they improved the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase.

The extracts and fractions also increased the amount of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interferon-gamma, and interleukin-10. These are cytokines associated with immune response.

Treatment with purified RPS-2 was able to raise the spleen index of both healthy and immunosuppressed mice. It increased the number of splenocyte white blood cells in the spleen and splenic tissue. Last but not least, it spurred the secretion of cytokines that fight infection.

Based on these findings, the polysaccharides in okra should be investigated for future use as natural immunomodulators.

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