Okra plants could help to prevent stomach ulcers.

Okra plants could help to prevent stomach ulcers.

With its gelatinous consistency, okra may not be everybody’s idea of a mealtime delicacy. However, the plant is popular in India and Africa and is commonly used in Asian medicine to help treat stomach disorders, despite there being little scientific justification for this. Now a team of Swiss and German researchers has found that okra juice may in fact help to prevent Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that can cause stomach ulcers and cancer, from sticking to the stomach wall.

In in vitro tests on samples of stomach tissue and fluorescent-labelled H. pylori bacteria, the researchers found that pre-treating H. pylori with fresh okra juice, a mixture of carbohydrates and protein, stopped the bacteria from sticking to the stomach wall. A crude polysaccharide mixture isolated from the fresh juice also had strong inhibitory effects.

The researchers, from the University of Applied Sciences, W&0x00E4;denswil, Switzerland, and the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, suspect that the glycoprotein content of the okra is probably what prevents the bacteria from sticking. They suggest that the glycoproteins combine with highly acidic sugar compounds to form a complex 3D structure which is only fully developed in the fresh juice of the fruit and which blocks H. pylori receptors.

Although the standard therapy of antibiotics in combination with a proton pump inhibitor is a safe way to eradicate H. pylori infections, resistant strains are growing in number. The researchers predict that anti-adhesive carbohydrate-containing preparations such as okra juice could function as non-toxic food additives to help prevent stomach ulcers. They acknowledge that the okra extract would be unlikely to eliminate an existing H. pylori infection, but predict that it could be used to prevent further bacterial colonisation.

Commenting on the research, Mark Thursz, a researcher in hepatology at Imperial College London, said ’I think we are a long way from hailing this compound as an ulcer cure but this work provides an interesting start.’ He told Chemistry World that although gastric adhesion is frequently observed with H. pylori, it may not be essential for successful colonisation because other Helicobacter species do not adhere directly to gastric mucosa.

Emma Davies