Summer’s finally here — and while sunny skies mean more outdoor fun, sensible sun protection is key not just to minimizing wrinkles, but also reducing risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.  Melanoma is the most common cause of cancer in young adults – with close to 80,000 new melanomas expected to be diagnosed in 2013 (rates have been rising consistently for 30 years). About 10,000 of those are expected to die. Fortunately, mounting research points to natural, food compounds that may play a role in managing risk.

French scientists treated melanoma cancer cells from mice with okra pod extract.  Forty-eight hours later, three-dimensional microscopic inspection revealed a whopping 75% reduction in the spread of cancer. The okra extract appeared to warp the cancer cells’ membranes – which may explain why cell death increased 23 fold in 3D analysis.

Previous basic research found that  okra extract alleviated symptoms of depression and epilepsy — while other lab research suggested okra might help protect against brain injury. Such findings are very preliminary, so don’t count on a cup of okra gumbo to ward off serious disease quite yet. That said, okra is an unappreciated source of important nutrients — one cup (raw) provides 50% of your manganese needs, plus 70% of daily vitamin K, 35% of vitamin C and 20% of folate. Okra is popular in slow-cooked, stew dishes like gumbo. To minimize the somewhat sticky, gooey texture of okra, mix it with acidic ingredients like citrus, tomatoes and vinegar.

Published June 1, 2013