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Being a habitual eater of okra (also known as Ladies Fingers), I found myself shocked today to find that its consumption can allegedly cause male infertility:

  • July 2017 article from Premium Times, Nigeria:

    Okra, though very nutritious, can lead to infertility in men of reproductive age, Dr Ochuko Erikainure, a Senior Research Officer at the Federal Institute of Industrial Research (FIIRO), Oshodi, Lagos, has warned. [...] According to him, too much consumption of okra, especially its seeds can lead to infertility in men of reproductive age.

However, this article says eating Okra is safe for men.

  • May 2014 article from The Nation, Nigeria:

    Iwu, a pharmacologist and Chairman, Bioresources Development Group said once the base of the okra is removed, it could be taken by men. Many men shy away from taking okra because of the belief that it weakens their libido and makes sperm watery.

Does eating okra affect male infertility?

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Current insights are contradictory, sparse and most results either way are not in exactly well respected journals or from highest quality studies. Seemingly alarming evidence for dangers in terms of fertility is, if true and relevant, mainly seen in rodents. The seemingly better quality and more re-assuring data lead to the opposite conclusion: it is inferred that okra is a 'safe food' that might even improve human fertility.

Concrete and direct, high quality evidence for either benefit or harm in humans is lacking.

That okra influences fertility is 'a' long hold belief. One belief that is either re-affirming its fertility enhancing qualities, or as well as the competing belief that it decreases fertility.

Scientific investigation so far mirrors these beliefs closely, linking okra components or extracts to severe damages to the reproductive organs (in rats both male and female), even a possible route for contraception — as well as identifying possible components that for their steroids and other nutrition profile link them to enhanced twinning (women giving birth to more than one human), improved fertility and even working possibly against erectile dysfunction.

Studies linking okra to reproductive damage

Possible male infertility in rats:

Results: Results from the test groups showed a significant (p≤0.05) reduction in the testicular weight and a significant (p≤0.05) increase in the body weight of the rats when compared with the control group. There was also a significant (p≤0.05) decrease in sperm count and sperm motility with a corresponding increase in the percentage number of abnormal sperm cells The histology of the testes showed degenerating testicular tissues. From the result, we therefore conclude consistent consumption of okro may be destructive to the testes and as such, could impair male fertility.

— Nwoke Uchenna Kyrian et al.: "Effects of the Methanolic Extract of Abeloschus esculentus (L) Moench (Okro) Fruit on the testes and sperm characteristics of Male Albino Wistar Rats", International Journal of Advanced Biological and Biomedical Research, 2014. doi

Chronic consumption is apparently quite toxic to testes of male white Wistar rats:

In this study, the effect of the oral chronic consumption of 500mg/kg of Abelmoschus esculentus and 20mg/kg of piper guineense on the Testes of wistar rats was assessed. Twenty adult wistar male rats weighing (123-207g), divided into four groups 1, II, III &1V, group 1 as control and groups II, III &IV as experimental groups. The rats in the control group were administered with distilled water, while rats in group II and III were administered with 500mg/kg of Abelmoschus esculentus and 20mg/kg of piper guineense respectively. Group IV received a combination of the two extracts. After 28days of administration of extracts, animals were sacrificed Testes was extracted and processed to paraffin section, cut at 5micron, stained, and observed histopathologically under light microscope. Result showed numerous atrophied and damaged seminiferous tubules, degenerated myoid cells, spermatogenic lining cells, spermatogonia, spermatocytes, spermatids, spermatozoa and lumen filled with semen, degenerated interstitial cells of leydig and interstitial fibrosis against the background of connective tissues with marked area of necrosis in group II and III and IV as compared to the control group 1. Statistical value in the weight of the body and testes showed significant value (p<0.05) compared to control. In conclusion, Abelmoschus esculentus and Piper guineense has severe toxicity effect on the testes of albino wistar rats.

— Idorenyin Umoh: "Chronic Consumption of Abelmoschus Esculentus and Piper Guineense Induce Testicular-Toxicity in Wistar Rats, Histopathological Finding", Advances in Life Science and Technology, Vol 14, 2013. link

— Kyrian Uchenna Nwoke et al.: "Methanolic Extracts of the Fruit of Abelmoschus Esculentus (Okro) Causes Increase in the Serum Concentration of some Reproductive Hormones and Decreases Total Sperm Count in Male Albino Wistar Rats", European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research ejpmr, 2015,2(5), 57-66. researchgate

Damage to Leydig cells (primary source of testosterone or androgens in males), in the testes of mice:

The number of necrosed Leydig cells significantly differed between the treatments, except T1 It was concluded that the Abelmoschus esculentus ethanolic extract can reduced the number of Leydig cells in the testis.

— The number of necrosed Leydig cells significantly differed between the treatments, except T1 It was concluded that the Abelmoschus esculentus ethanolic extract can reduced the number of Leydig cells in the testis

Damage to female reproductive organs in rats:

Though Abelmoschus esculentus fruit methanol extract increased the antioxidant activities, it reduced the body weight and follicle-stimulating hormone level and caused severe inflammation and fibrosis of the ovary and uterus. Abelmoschus esculentus fruit methanol extract adversely altered the reproductive functions of female Wistar rats by disrupting the ovarian and uterine cytology and reducing hormone levels.

— Eunice Ogunwole et al.: "Reproductive effects of Abelmoschus esculentus fruit methanol extract in female Wistar rats", Current Research in Physiology, 5 (2022), pp208–215, doi.

General reduction in male testosterone levels, Sprague-Dawley rats:

— Ibiyemi Ibilola Olatunji-Bello et al: "Evaluation of the deleterious effects of aqueous fruit extract of Abelmoschus esculentus (Okro fruit) ond some male reproductive parameters in sprague dawley rats", J Phytol. 2009;1:461–8. researchgate

Olatunji-Bello's results are then the basis for:

— Ifeanyi Princewill Ogbuewu et al.: "The potentiality of medicinal plants as the source of new contraceptive principles in males", N Am J Med Sci. 2011 Jun; 3(6): 255–263. doi

— Shereen Cynthia D'Cruz et al.: "Effects of plants and plant products on the testis", Asian J Androl. 2010 Jul; 12(4): 468–479. doi

Studies linking okra to positive outcomes in reproductive health

Traditional use for improving erectile dysfunction:

— Majid Nimrouzi et al: "A panoramic view of medicinal plants traditionally applied for impotence and erectile dysfunction in Persian medicine", Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, Volume 10, Issue 1, January 2020, pp7–12. doi

Enhancing twin birth rate:

These portrayed the leaf as not just possessing bioactive phytochemicals but as a nutritionally relevant sample. The extract of the leaf inhibited the activities of radicals namely DPPH, ABTS and nitric oxide via its reducing potential. As a pilot study to further research on the fertility potency of the leaf, this study has revealed the antioxidant activity of the leaf vis a vis its nutritional and phytochemical compositions.

— Funmilayo Bosede Borokinia et al.: "Phytochemical, nutritional and antioxidant properties of Abelmoschus esculentus Moench L leaf: A pointer to its fertility potentials", Measurement: Food 6 (2022) 100034, doi

Indirect improvements to fertility:

The results of the present study revealed that Okra powder could be useful intervention for improvement of ovaian dysfunction in diabetic rat by three probable mechanisms; attenuation of glucotoxicity, down regulation of ovarian apoptosis related genes and reduction of oxidative stress.

— Naeem Erfani Majd et al.: "Effect of Abelmoschus esculentus Powder on Ovarian Histology, Expression of Apoptotic Genes and Oxidative Stress in Diabetic Rats Fed with High Fat Diet", Iran J Pharm Res. 2019; 18(1): 369–382. PMID 31089371

Traditional use for 'fertility regulation', again mainly to improve:

There is dearth of information on plants traditionally used for fertility regulation in literature. In this study an ethnobotanical survey of plants used in the management of fertility was conducted across Ago-Iwoye and Oru areas of Ijebu-North Local Government, Ogun State, Nigeria. From the survey, 30 plant species which belong to 20 families were found to be used frequently by the indigenes of the areas. Most of the plants encountered (16.7%) belonged to the family Euphorbiaceae. Phytochemical evaluation of the leaves of Abelmoschus esculentus, the most prominent in the recipes indicated the presence of cardiac glycosides, flavonoids, phenolics, saponins and tannins in high concentrations while alkaloids, anthraquinones and cardenolides were absent. Moreover, the roots of A. esculentus showed high concentration of flavonoid compounds such as phenolics and saponins which were present in low concentrations while alkaloids, anthraquinones, cardenolides, cardiac glycosides and tannins were absent.

— J. S. Ashidi: "Ethnobotanical survey of plants used in the management of fertility and preliminary phytochemical evaluation of Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench", Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytotherapy, Vol. 5(9), pp. 164-169, September, 2013. doi

Recent and general assessment of okra on health focuses on the anti-diabetic properties, but finds more:

The evaluation of interactions between biologically active compounds and other components of the food matrix can be considered as the first action in the investigation of potential benefits of this annual herb. […]
Generally evidence of the antidiabetic properties of okra and its oligosaccharides is achieved throughout several researches, even if full elucidation of the mechanism is needed in further studies. Few studies on other related components such as quercetin are present in the literature. Further studies should be addressed in the direction of developing functional foods, nutraceuticals, or drugs from okra components.

— Alessandra Durazzo et al.: "Abelmoschus esculentus (L.): Bioactive Components’ Beneficial Properties—Focused on Antidiabetic Role—For Sustainable Health Applications", Molecules. 2019 Jan; 24(1): 38. doi

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.08.008

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