The humble prickly pear, or Opuntia, is an edible cactus plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. And in modern times it has shown to be effective in fighting viral infections, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, combatting obesity, relieving colitis and diarrhoea, and even to treat benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). It is also known to be an effective hangover cure.
Suffice it to say, there are many reasons the prickly pear is being promoted as a superfood and one area in particular where it has been shown to have exceptional health benefits is in the fight against type 2 diabetes.
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, preliminary studies have indicated that prickly pear extract has the ability to reduce blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
The fibre and pectin found within the cactus also appear to lower blood sugar by decreasing sugar absorption in the stomach and intestines. In addition, the plant extract also improves insulin sensitivity.
Back in 2007, we told you about research that found prickly pear could reduce blood sugar spikes after a meal by up to 50 per cent.
The study, published in Diabetes Care, looked at the effect of the cactus pear on blood sugar levels when consumed on a regular basis.
Lead researcher Montserrat Bacardi-Gascon explained: “Consumption of nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) in middle and low socioeconomic populations of central and southern Mexico is generally three times weekly. The purpose of this study was to estimate the glycaemic index of three usual Mexican breakfasts and to measure the effect of adding cactus pads (nopales) on postprandial glucose response in type 2 diabetic subjects.”
The researchers recruited 36 volunteers (average BMI was 25 kg per sq. m) with type-2 diabetes aged between 47 and 72 and, after an 18-hour fast, assigned them to eat a meal of scrambled egg and tomato burritos, chilaquiles (cheese, beans and tomato sauce with corn tortillas), or quesadillas with avocados and pinto beans, with or without 85 grams of prickly pear cactus pads.
The results showed that blood sugar levels of the participants were reduced in all meal types when prickly pears were incorporated in a meal, compared to those who did not consume it.
Commenting on the findings, the researchers said: “The promising results shown with these typical Mexican breakfasts provide Mexican patients with a broader and more culturally based choice for the management of diabetes.”
More recent research has shown that single doses of prickly pear extract can decrease blood sugar levels by 17 ? 46 per cent in some people. However, researchers are still unclear on whether extended daily use can consistently lower blood sugar levels.
The broiled stems of one prickly pear cactus species (Opuntia streptacantha) seem to lower blood sugar levels in people who have type 2 diabetes. However, raw or crude stems of this species do not seem to work. Other prickly pear cactus species don’t seem to work either. Previous research has also linked the cactus pear to improvements for diabetes-related health conditions. It has also been found to help sufferers of metabolic syndrome – a condition characterised by central obesity, hypertension, and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism. The syndrome has been linked to increased risks of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
If you do plan to incorporate prickly pear into your daily regime, work closely with an alternative health specialist because even though the cactus is considered safe, it may interact with some diabetes prescription drugs like chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase) and metformin (Glucophage).
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Use of Opuntia Cactus as a Hypoglycemic Agent in Managing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus among Mexican American Patients, published online, eScholarship University of California, escholarship.org/
PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS, published online, webmd.com