Prickly Pear (Opuntia)

Prickly pear is almost a super food. Researchers report a number of promising health benefits ranging from helping lower blood sugar levels, reducing high cholesterol, and managing obesity to treatment for hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. It is high in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids.

Prickly pear is a ubiquitous tall cactus native to dry regions of the Americas, and for its use in ethic-inspired cuisine. The edible fruit ranges from yellow-orange to wine-red; the flesh is moist and is an emergency source of water once one gets past the distinctive spines. The flesh of the prickly pear is frequently used for its traditional medicinal value. Dr. Grossman's Advanced Eye & Vision Support Formula utilizes the flat leaf-like stem, or cladode, of ficus-indica, a domesticated version of prickly pear.

Stem

The leaf-like stems, called cladodes, are the wide "pads" of this distinctive cactus.

  • The stems contatin nutrients with anti-microbial and anti-oxidant capacities.6
  • Essential oils from the cladodes include fatty acids, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, lauric acid and myristic acid. Palmitic acid, combined with vitamin A, has anti-oxidant properties. 7
  • Prickly Pear is rich in vitamin C, which is found in the eye in its second-largest concentration of the body. It is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation. Because of its vitamin C content it was carried on ships to fight scurvy.
  • Several forms of quercitin are also components of prickly pear. Quercitin is an antioxidant bioflavonoid which products the eye from radiation from the sun, reduces inflammation, and supports the action of vitamin E and taurine. It protects the integrity of fine capillaries in the eye. The quercitin compounds found in prickly pear also protect the health of nerve cells and so have a neuroprotective effect.2

Fruit

  • Prickly pear fruit contains kaempferol, another bioflavonoid antioxidant, which shows promise for fighting cancer.3 Kaempferol has been shown to support the activity of antioxidant enzymes.
  • The fruit of prickly pear are red to orange in color due to betalains which have antioxidant activity. One of the betalains, indacaxanthin, has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, as evidenced in lab animal studies, where it exhibits a neuro-protective effect.6
  • The fruit also contains glucose, fructose and starch as well as proteins and pectin-rich fiber.
  • Researchers found that varieties with yellow fruit contained the highest level of betalains. The varieties with red fruit contained the most phyphenols. Fruits contained substantial levels of vitamin C, which was only 40% of the total antioxidant components.1

Seed

  • In lab animal studies, prickly pear seed oil has been found to bring antioxidant-type activity to treat diabetes.4

Flowers

  • Prickly pear flowers are rich in minerals and phytochemicals, especially vitamin K and calcium, and especially the flavonol glycosides.5

Footnotes

1. Daniela Butera, et al, Antioxidant Activities of Sicilian Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus indica) Fruit Extracts and Reducing Properties of Its Betalains:_ Betanin and Indicaxanthin, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 2002, 50 (23).
2. Hyang Dok-Go, et al, Neuroprotective effects of antioxidative flavonoids, quercetin, (+)-dihydroquercetin, and quercetin 3-methyl ether, isolated from Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten, Brain Research, March 7, 2003
3. J. M. Calderon-Montano, et al, A review on the dietary flavonoid kaempferol.. Mini Reviews in Medical Chemistry Vol. 11, Issue 4, 2011.
4. A. Berraaouan, Evaluation of protective effect of cactus pear seed oil (Opuntia ficus-indica L. MILL.) against alloxan-induced diabetes in mice, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, July, 2015.
5. I. Ammar, et al, Phenolic Profiles, Phytchemicals and Mineral Content of Decoction and Infusion of Opuntia ficus-indica Flowers, Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, August, 2015.
6. E. Sanchez, et al, Antibacterial and antioxidant activities in extracts of fully grown cladodes of 8 cultivars of cactus pear, Journal of Food Science, April, 2014.
7. C.R.Wright, et al, Chemical composition of volatiles from Opuntia littoralis, Opuntia ficus-indica, and Opuntia prolifera growing on Catalina Island, California, Natural Product Research, Dec. 2014.