Prickly Pear Fruit

Last Updated: September 28 2022

Pricky Pear is a pear from the cactus family, and the fruit has been used traditionally in South American and Mexico for treating high cholesterol and diabetes; limited studies at this moment in time suggest it may have therapeutic, but not preventative, potential.

Prickly Pear Fruit is most often used for

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Sources and Composition

The cactus pear fruit is a member of the Cactaceae family and is a common vegetation in Mexico, the Mediterranean, and much of Southern America. They come in a variety of colors ranging from red to yellow to white, which is due to varying combinations of the red-purple pigment betalain and the yellow-orange pigment indicaxanthin.[1]

Cactus Pear Fruit contains:

  • Vitamin C

  • The betalains 'betanin' and 'indicaxanthin'[1]

  • The soluble fiber 'pectin'[2]

Yellow cactus pear is much higher in betanin pigments, whereas red fruits are higher in indicaxanthin. The former can reach ratios of 1:8 Betanin:Indicaxanthin whereas the latter can reach 2:1 ratios.[1][3] White fruits tend to have the greatest anti-oxidant fighting capabilities.[1]


Effects on heart health


Interactions with blood glucose

Cactus pear fruit (specifically, the species Opuntia Ficus Indica), in the dose of 500g of the fruit, appears to be able to reduce post-prandial (after meal) blood sugar levels.[4] The compound(s) causative of the benefit appear to not be affected by varying preparation methods and seem to be heat stable up to 60°C and is the Cactus Fruit more commonly used in meal preparation.[4]

The less palatable species Opuntia streptacantha has a well established role as being protective against diet-induced diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels.[5][6]|published=1989 Apr-Jun|authors=Frati-Munari AC, Del Valle-Martínez LM, Ariza-Andraca CR, Islas-Andrade S, Chávez-Negrete A|journal=Arch Invest Med (Mex)][7][8] However, these beneficial effects may not occur in healthy persons[9][10] and supplemental forms typically underdose.[11]|published=1992 Jul-Aug|authors=Frati Munari AC, Vera Lastra O, Ariza Andraca CR|journal=Gac Med Mex]


Interactions with serum lipids

Cactus pear appears to be able to reverse suppression of the LDL receptors in the liver that are commonly expressed in cases of high cholesterol.[2] It does not affect cholesterol absorption from the diet like many soluble fibers[12] but seems to be able to reduce serum cholesterol vicariously through the formerly described mechanism.[13][2]



In a comparitive study against vitamin C (a standard of which anti-oxidants are tested against), Cactus pear fruit (250g pulp) was able to beneficially affect various markers of oxidation whereas vitamin C was not.[14]



Cactus pear fruit appears to possess anti-viral properties.[15]

1.^Butera D, Tesoriere L, Di Gaudio F, Bongiorno A, Allegra M, Pintaudi AM, Kohen R, Livrea MAAntioxidant activities of sicilian prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) fruit extracts and reducing properties of its betalains: betanin and indicaxanthinJ Agric Food Chem.(2002 Nov 6)
3.^Stintzing FC, Herbach KM, Mosshammer MR, Carle R, Yi W, Sellappan S, Akoh CC, Bunch R, Felker PColor, betalain pattern, and antioxidant properties of cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) clonesJ Agric Food Chem.(2005 Jan 26)
5.^Ibañez-Camacho R, Meckes-Lozoya M, Mellado-Campos VThe hypoglucemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha studied in different animal experimental modelsJ Ethnopharmacol.(1983 Mar)
7.^Andrade-Cetto A, Wiedenfeld HAnti-hyperglycemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha LemJ Ethnopharmacol.(2011 Jan 27)
8.^Frati-Munari AC, Gordillo BE, Altamirano P, Ariza CRHypoglycemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire in NIDDMDiabetes Care.(1988 Jan)
9.^Frati AC, Xilotl Díaz N, Altamirano P, Ariza R, López-Ledesma RThe effect of two sequential doses of Opuntia streptacantha upon glycemiaArch Invest Med (Mex).(1991 Jul-Dec)
10.^Frati AC, Gordillo BE, Altamirano P, Ariza CR, Cortés-Franco R, Chávez-Negrete A, Islas-Andrade SInfluence of nopal intake upon fasting glycemia in type II diabetics and healthy subjectsArch Invest Med (Mex).(1991 Jan-Mar)
15.^Ahmad A, Davies J, Randall S, Skinner GRAntiviral properties of extract of Opuntia streptacanthaAntiviral Res.(1996 May)