Prickly pear cactus benefit, side effects and review of clinical trials, benefit of oral intake of a supplement pills and extract products
January 1 2018 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Prickly pear cactus, a thorny, flat-leave cactus that has been a Mexican food staple since Aztec times. Prickly pear is the fruit of a cactus that grows widely in desert or semi-desert regions. The fruit is delicious (one of my favorite fruits) and has many health benefits. Prickly pear (also known as Opuntia or Nopal) contains many flavonoids, including quercetin.

Benefits of Prickly Pear or Cactus Pear
Prickly pear extract contains powerful antioxidants, may be helpful in gastic ulcer prevention, has blood lipid and cholesterol lowering potential, and may even ease hangover symptoms.
   Consumption of cactus pear fruit  decreases oxidative damage to lipids, and improves antioxidant status in healthy humans. Supplementation with vitamin C at a comparable dosage enhances overall antioxidant defense but does not significantly affect body oxidative stress. Components of cactus pear fruit other than antioxidant vitamins may play a role in the observed effects.

One of many active anti-inflammatory substances identified in this plant is beta-sitosterol.

Diabetes and blood sugar
Dr Oz, in his December 2010 show, said that prickly pear cactus comes from the Grand Canyon in Arizona and is full of tons of fiber. There is also a fruit that grows on the cactus. Bryce Wylde said that it can treat diabetes, which maybe surprising since it also has sugar in it, but the fiber is both soluble and insoluble fiber, so the insoluble fiber slows down how long it takes the sugar to be released into your blood stream and system.

Hypoglycemic activity of two polysaccharides isolated from Opuntia ficus-indica and O. streptacantha.
Proc West Pharmacolology Soc. 2003.

Food Nutr Research 2013. Intake of dehydrated Opuntia ficus indica improves bone mineral density and calciuria in adult Mexican women. The intake of dehydrated prickly pear at a high stage of maturity along with high calcium content could improve bone mineral density and calciuria and thus prevent osteoporosis.

Ulcer treatment or prevention
Antiulcer activity of Opuntia ficus indica.
J Ethnopharmacology 2001.
In Sicily folk medicine, prickly pears are used for the treatment of gastric ulcer. We studied the effect of administration of lyophilized prickly pear cladodes on experimental ethanol-induced ulcer in rat. In this paper, we report the ultrastructural observations of gastric mucosa. The ultrastructural changes were observed by trasmission electronic microscopy (TEM) confirming the protective effect exercised by administration of lyophilized cladodes. Pre-treatment test in rats revealed a protective action against ethanol-induced ulcer. Probably, the mucilage of prickly pear cactus is involved.

Weight loss
Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013. A natural fiber complex reduces body weight in the overweight and obese: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Practice for General Medicine, Berlin, Germany. A proprietary natural fiber complex (Litramine IQP G-002AS) derived from Opuntia ficus-indica, and standardized on lipophilic activity.

Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014. A Review of the Efficacy and Safety of Litramine IQP-G-002AS, an Opuntia ficus-indica Derived Fiber for Weight Management. In a 12-week study, significant greater weight loss was observed in overweight and obese subjects treated with Litramine IQP-G-002AS as compared to placebo. No relevant gastrointestinal side effects have been reported for Litramine IQP-G-002AS at the dosages studied.

Other forms
Many things can be made from the prickly pear plant. You can find juice, margarita, syrup and jam.

The stems and fruits of prickly pear cactus contain flavonoids such as kaempferol, quercetin, narcissin, (taxifolin, eriodictyol , and terpenoids. Many of these flavonoids have potent antioxidant activity and can help protect tissues, including brain tissue, from oxidative damage. The phenolic profile of the Opuntia ficus-indica seeds display a high complexity, with more than 20 compounds detected. Among them, three isomers of feruloyl-sucrose are identified and another is a sinapoyl-diglycoside.

Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2013. The optimization of phenolic compounds extraction from cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) skin in a reflux system using response surface methodology. To extract, quantify, and evaluate the phenolic content in Opuntia ficus-indica skin for their antioxidant capacity with three different methods (ABTS, DPPH, and lipid oxidation) and to optimize the extraction conditions (time, temperature and ethanol concentration) in a reflux system. It can be concluded the by-products of Opuntia ficus-indica represent a good source of natural antioxidants with possible applications in food, cosmetics or drugs industries.

Prickly Pear Cactus study
Explore (NY). 2013 Nov-Dec. Clinical improvement of recalcitrant cutaneous sarcoidosis with regular nutritional supplementation with extract of the prickly pear cactus.

Supplementation with cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit decreases oxidative stress in healthy humans: a comparative study with vitamin C.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2004.
Cactus pear ( prickly pear ) fruit contains vitamin C and characteristic betalain pigments, the radical-scavenging properties and antioxidant activities of which have been shown in vitro. We investigated the effects of short-term supplementation with prickly pear cactus  fruit compared with vitamin C alone on total-body oxidative status in healthy humans. In a randomized, crossover, double-treatment study, 18 healthy volunteers received either 250 g fresh prickly pear pulp or 75 mg vitamin C twice daily for 2 wk, with a 6-wk washout period between the treatments. Both treatments caused comparable increases compared with baseline in plasma concentrations of vitamin E and vitamin C. Consumption of cactus prickly pear fruit positively affects the body's redox balance, decreases oxidative damage to lipids, and improves antioxidant status in healthy humans.

Effect of raw and cooked nopal ingestion on growth and profile of total cholesterol, lipoproteins, and blood glucose in rats]
Arch Latinoam Nutr. 1998.
Two different concentrations (approx. 6 and 12%) and two presentations (raw and cooked) of dehydrated prickly pear cactus were fed to laboratory rats and growth and serum total cholesterol, lipoprotein profile and glucose determined. Samples of raw and cooked nopal prickly pear were chemically characterized for moisture, protein, ash, crude fiber, ether extract, total dietary fiber, reducing sugars, amino acids, minerals and gross energy. Cooking slightly affected some of the nutrients analyzed. After one month feeding, blood was withdrawn via intracardiac puncture and serum glucose, total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and VLDL were determined. Rats fed 12% nopal had lower weight gains (P < 0.05) when compared with counterparts fed 6% nopal or the control diet. Consumption of nopal did not affect glucose, total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels. However, rats fed raw nopal at the 12% concentration level had a 34% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels; thus, it was concluded that raw nopal prickly pear had a potentially beneficial effect for hypercholesterolemic individuals.

Studies on the pharmacological action of prickly pear cactus: identification of its anti-inflammatory effect.
Arch Pharm Res. 1998.
The ethanol extracts of prickly pear cactus fruit and prickly pear cactus stem were prepared and used to evaluate the pharmacological effects of cactus. Both the extracts inhibited the writhing syndrome induced by acetic acid, indicating that they contains analgesic effect. The oral administrations of prickly pear extracts suppressed carrageenan-induced rat paw edema and also showed potent inhibition in the leukocyte migration of CMC-pouch model in rats. Moreover, the extracts suppressed the release of beta-glucuronidase, a lysosomal enzyme in rat neutrophils. It was also noted that the prickly pear extracts showed the protective effect on gastric mucosal layers. From the results it is suggested that the cactus extracts contain anti-inflammatory action having protective effect against gastric lesions.

Cactus Pads Research
Oxalate reduces calcium availability in the pads of the prickly pear cactus through formation of calcium oxalate crystals.
USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
J Agric Food Chem. 2004.
The pads (nopales) of the prickly pear cactus are considered to be a good source of minerals and other nutrients on the basis of compositional analysis. In this study, this analysis is taken a step further by assessing the availability of selected minerals in nopales using an in vitro digestion and dialysis method. The results obtained suggest that although nopales are enriched in a number of minerals, their tissue calcium is not freely available. Microscopic analysis, energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis, and oxalate measurements suggest that this reduction in available calcium is a result of its sequestration in the form of calcium oxalate crystals. The issue of mineral availability in plant foods is important when the dependence of many populations around the world on plant foods as their main source of minerals and other nutrients is considered.

The production of prickly pear cactus is increasing as it wins a reputation as a natural remedy for maladies ranging from diabetes to hangovers.

Thought to have originated in central Mexico, the prickly pear cactus, or nopal as it is known locally, survives in searing deserts and freezing mountaintops and can be found in different forms across the Americas and parts of Europe.

Just 50 years ago it was an almost forgotten remnant of Mexico's Aztec past, grown by poor indigenous families in their backyards as an insurance against food shortages.

But revived interest in the tangy tasting plant as an ingredient in Mexican cooking led to a farming boom centered in Milpa Alta on the edge of Mexico City, where rolling hills are carpeted with rows of the dark green cactus.

Q. Do you know of any studies regarding consumption of the pads (not fruit) in cooked food, or fresh pads juiced and mixed 50/50 with orange juice, as far as the benefits to health?  I read your article on prickly pear fruits.  I grow prickly pear for food, and eat of it 2-4 times a week. We use the pads mostly, as is typical in Mexico. We eat the fruits as well, but, of course, the fruits are less plentiful than the pads, and are not on the plant all year like the pads are. Do the pads carry the same benefits as the fruits?  Are there any safety concerns on eating of the pads frequently?
     A. I could only find one study regarding cactus pads. It appears that they are a good source of minerals and I would suspect the pads would have antioxidants and flavonoids. However, the calcium seems to be in a form difficult to be biologically available. My thoughts would be that cactus pads, just like many vegetables or fruits, would be healthy to eat as long as its not done in excess. I love the prickly pear fruits and August/September are the months when they are available in stores in Los Angeles. I buy 2 or 3 dozen at a time and can eat a full dozen at one sitting. Along with watermelon, figs, and mangos, I would say the prickly pear fruit is in my top 5 list of favorite fruits.

Can prickly pear supplement be taken the same day as dmae bitartrate, tongkat ali herb, ginseng, saw palmetto, or yohimbe?
   As long as the dosages are low, prickly pear can be taken the same day as the potent nutrient and herbs you mention above.

You mention on your website that you can eat a few prickly pear fruits at a time... could you please explain how you like to prepare them? Do you eat them raw? How do you deal with the spiny fuzz... peel them, or burn it off? And do you scoop out the seeds with a spoon or something?
   Prickly pears sold in a market usually have all the spines removed. I peal the skin by cutting the skin with a knife from one end to the other and then separating the skin from the flesh. The fruit is eaten raw, and the seeds are swallowed. If the spines are present, then the prickly pears are placed in a bowl with water and the spines come off, but you need thick garden gloves since there can be small spines left over.

Q. I am currently studying at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. I have been reading your research papers regarding supplements and I am impressed and intrigued by this subject. I am currently starting my research for a thesis paper on the effect of consuming "Opuntica Ficus Indica" (I haven't decided yet if I will study the fruit or the furmula - capsule) on Fibromyalgia and specifically quality of life. I am struggling to find relevant research on the subject, and so far I have only found that their may be a connection between free radicals and antioxidant (the prickly pear contains antioxidant) to pathophysiology of fibromyalgia.
   A. I have not seen such research as of 2017.

New products
New clinical study on Cacti-Nea by Bio Serae Labs on Cacti-Nea has confirmed the diuretic and weight management effect of this original prickly pear cactus fruit extract (Opuntia ficus-indica). The 28-days clinical study was conducted on 49 women with normal BMI (between 20 and 25). The aim of this clinical study was to evaluate Cacti-Nea diuretic effect at the dose of 2g/day, in women showing water retention.

Other products
Cinnamon 6 - 750 mg with Prickly Pear (Nopal)
243 Tablets - Veggie caps
Herbal Promise
Cinnamon is one of the oldest remedies used in traditional Chinese herbalism. Recent studies show cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum) may support healthy blood sugar levels when used as part of your diet, by activating insulin and glucose transport and improving glucose metabolism.

Additional herbs involved in sugar management include gymnema, prickly pear, fenugreek, and bitter melon.
Cinnamon 6 Supplement Facts:
Serving Size: 9 Tablets
Chromium picolinate - 450 mcg (375% daily value)
Cinnamon herb, Gymnema Sylvestre leaves (Gumar), Nopal (prickly pear), American ginseng, fenugreek, bitter melon.
All the herbs used in this product are either organic, wild harvested, non-fumigated, non-irradiated, pesticide free and/or non-genetically altered.

Nature's Way Opuntia buy Prickly Pear pills
Nature's Way's Opuntia capsules contain the flower portion of the medicinally useful prickly pear cactus.

Prickly pear is a large genus in the cactus family with over 300 species. Opuntia ficus-indica, native to Mexico, was taken to Europe at an early date and is now common in many warmer regions of the world. Used traditionally as an ointment, opuntia has also been taken internally and used as a folk medicine.

Buy Prickly Pear supplement

Supplement Facts
Prickly Pear ( flower ) -- 250 mg
Zinc 20 mg 133%DV
    (as Zinc amino acid chelate)
Copper -  4 mg 200%DV
    (as copper amino acid chelate) 

Recommendation: As an addition to the daily diet, take two prickly pear capsules 1 to 3  times daily with water.