Prickly pear cactus, also called nopal, is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Research also suggests that prickly pear cactus extract may lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
It's too early to call prickly pear cactus a superfood, but it can be part of a healthy diet. Indeed, prickly pear cactus is popular in many areas of the world, particularly Latin America, because it's high in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids.
The edible parts are the leaves, flowers, stems and fruit. Prickly pear cactus is eaten whole (boiled or grilled). It is also made into juice and jams.
If you'd like to try prickly pear cactus, consider easing into it. Side effects for some people include mild diarrhea, nausea, increased stool volume, increased stool frequency and abdominal fullness.
Oct. 16, 2015
- Prickly pear cactus. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Oct. 5, 2015.
- El-Mostafa K, et al. Nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a source of bioactive compounds for nutrition, health and disease. Molecules. 2014;19:14879.
- Onakpoya IJ, et al. The effect of cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition. 2015;31:640.