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Prickly Pear Fruit

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.

Our evidence-based analysis on prickly pear fruit features 15 unique references to scientific papers.

Research analysis led by and reviewed by the Examine team.
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Research Breakdown on Prickly Pear Fruit

1Sources 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]

2Effects on heart health

2.1Interactions 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]

2.2Interactions 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. ^ a b c d Butera D, et al. Antioxidant activities of sicilian prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) fruit extracts and reducing properties of its betalains: betanin and indicaxanthin. J Agric Food Chem. (2002)
  2. ^ a b c Fernandez ML, et al. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin reverses low density lipoprotein receptor suppression induced by a hypercholesterolemic diet in guinea pigs. J Nutr. (1992)
  3. ^ Stintzing FC, et al. Color, betalain pattern, and antioxidant properties of cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) clones. J Agric Food Chem. (2005)
  4. ^ a b Hypoglycemic effect of Opuntia ficus indica in non insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients.
  5. ^ Ibañez-Camacho R, Meckes-Lozoya M, Mellado-Campos V. The hypoglucemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha studied in different animal experimental models. J Ethnopharmacol. (1983)
  6. ^ [Hypoglycemic action of different doses of nopal (Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire) in patients with type II diabetes mellitus.
  7. ^ Andrade-Cetto A, Wiedenfeld H. Anti-hyperglycemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha Lem. J Ethnopharmacol. (2011)
  8. ^ Frati-Munari AC, et al. Hypoglycemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire in NIDDM. Diabetes Care. (1988)
  9. ^ Frati AC, et al. The effect of two sequential doses of Opuntia streptacantha upon glycemia. Arch Invest Med (Mex). (1991)
  10. ^ Frati AC, et al. Influence of nopal intake upon fasting glycemia in type II diabetics and healthy subjects. Arch Invest Med (Mex). (1991)
  11. ^ [Evaluation of nopal capsules in diabetes mellitus.
  12. ^ Fernandez ML, et al. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet. J Nutr. (1994)
  13. ^ Fernandez ML, Trejo A, McNamara DJ. Pectin isolated from prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) modifies low density lipoprotein metabolism in cholesterol-fed guinea pigs. J Nutr. (1990)
  14. ^ Tesoriere L, et al. 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)
  15. ^ Ahmad A, et al. Antiviral properties of extract of Opuntia streptacantha. Antiviral Res. (1996)