4 Surprising Health Benefits of Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

When people think about cactus, dangerous flesh piercing spikes often comes to mind. However, not many people are aware of the fact that cactus is edible. In fact, cactus is good is for you! The prickly pear is capable of producing fruits for up to three years without rainfall—which made it an abundance source of food for desert habitants.

Cactus fruit is good for your health
 Courtesy of Tomas Castelazo from WikiMedia Commons

Evidence from archeological studies indicates that the Mesa Grande Indians were some of the first groups of people to eat cactus fruit. The Spaniards called this fruit “the fig of the Indians.” The cactus fruit is used for various culinary purposes. However, it also has many health benefits such as regulating blood sugar levels, decreasing risks of cancer, reducing bad cholesterol, helping alleviate alcoholic hangovers, and it is also has antiviral properties.

█ Regulates Blood Sugar Levels:

Diabetes is a chronic illness that is characterized by unusually high levels of glucose in the blood. Because of its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, patients who suffer from diabetes might benefit from the cactus fruit. Various studies have been done on animals and humans to determine the efficacy of the cactus fruit in regulating blood sugar levels. The results from the studies generally indicate that the cactus fruit has hypoglycemic properties.  Although further research is needed for a definite conclusion, the results show that the prickly pear does have the ability to regulate blood glucose levels.

█ Helps Prevents Cancer

Research has proven that people whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables generally have lower cancer rates. This is because a lot fruits contain antioxidants—which are substances that help prevent cancer by protecting the cells from unstable molecules known as free radicals. A study published by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition shows that a daily consumption of 500 grams of cactus pear fruit pulp for two weeks causes a considerable increase in antioxidant activity. Other studies show similar results. Like other antioxidant-rich fruits, it is possible that the cactus fruit can help prevent cancer.

█ Reduces Bad Cholesterol

High cholesterol is a major problem that often leads to heart disease. Fortunately, research has shown that the cactus fruit is a possible remedy for high cholesterol. This is because the cactus fruit has an abundance of pectin. However, the cactus fruit’s pectin is particularly strong—even stronger than many other sources of pectin. This makes the cactus fruit an ideal food to lower cholesterol levels.

█ Alleviates Alcoholic Hangovers

A hangover is malaise or a feeling of discomfort after the excessive consumption of alcohol. Hangovers are often characterized by symptoms of nausea, headache, tiredness, etc. Interestingly, studies have shown that the cactus fruit is able to reduce the severity of hangover symptoms.

█ Final Thoughts

More research needs to be done to substantiate the benefits of the cactus fruit. However the fact that numerous studies show positive results, it is reasonable to believe that the cactus fruit is beneficial for your health. Before consuming the cactus fruit, consult your doctor first. Consulting your doctor will help you prevent hazardous reactions between the cactus fruit and other medications you are currently taking.

█ Is This a "Super Fruit?

While the cactus fruit has innumerable health benefits, it should not be considered a "super fruit." This term is an exaggeration. Many fruits are good for your health. The cactus fruit is just another healthy fruit you can try to supplement your diet.


National Institutes of Health: “Cactus pear: a natural product in cancer chemoprevention.” Accessed November 17, 2011.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Absorption, excretion, and distribution of dietary antioxidant betalains in LDLs: potential health effects of betalains in humans." Accessed November 17, 2011.

National Institutes of Health: “Effect of Opuntia ficus indica on symptoms of the alcohol hangover.” Accessed November 17, 2011.

El Paso Community College: “Cactus: It's Good for You!” Accessed November 17, 2011.

National Cancer Institute: “Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet.” Accessed November 20, 2011.

Ran Knishinsky: Prickly Pear Cactus Medicine: Treatments for Diabetes, Cholesterol, and the Immune System. Accessed November 20, 2011.

 Franciso M. Gooylea and Adriana C├írdenas: "Pectins from Opuntia spp.: A Short Review" Accessed November 20, 2011.