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What Are the Benefits of Prickly Pear?

Prickly pear is a genus consisting of about 200 species of cactus native to the western hemisphere. Prickly pear produces broad flat leaves with sharp spines and flowers that turn into a bulbous-shaped fruit, which can be eaten or used to make confections. Some health benefits have been attributed to extracts of various parts of the prickly pear cactus.

Prickly pear seeds and oil contain considerable nutritional value, according to a study published in the March 2011 issue of the "International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition." Prickly pear seeds are a good source of several minerals, including calcium, with 470 milligrams per kilogram, potassium, with 533 milligrams per kilogram, magnesium with 117 milligrams per kilogram and phosphorus with 1,627 milligrams per kilogram. The fatty acids in prickly pear seed include 61 percent linoleic acid -- an essential fatty acid and 25 percent oleic acid, which tolerates high heat and is particularly useful for cooking. Its high content of linoleic acid makes prickly pear seed a potentially useful nutraceutical food.

Polysaccharide compounds in prickly pear cactus have blood sugar-lowering effects, according to a study published in the February 2011 issue of the journal "Phytomedicine." In the study on laboratory animals, three weeks of supplementation with prickly pear polysaccharide extract significantly decreased food consumption, fasting blood sugar levels, total cholesterol, triglycerides and oxidized lipids. Prickly pear increased levels of glycogen -- a storage form of glucose -- in the liver and high density lipoproteinm, HDL, the good form of cholesterol. Antioxidant levels also increased. The researchers concluded that prickly pear provides blood sugar-lowering effects by protecting the liver from oxidation and improving insulin sensitivity.

Two different extracts of prickly pear improved glucose tolerance, in a study published in the January 2011 issue of the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology." Both extracts contained a recently discovered compound in prickly pear. In the laboratory animal study, consumption of the prickly pear extracts before a glucose tolerance test prevented blood sugar levels from rising above acceptable levels. The researchers concluded that prickly pear may help control blood sugar by the release of glucose from the liver, particularly while fasting.

Anti-clotting may be a benefit of prickly pear cactus, according to a study published in the July 2003 issue of the journal "Prostaglandings, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids." In the study, participants with elevated cholesterol consumed 250 grams of prickly pear and showed reductions in clot promoting compounds and improved platelet sensitivity. Platelet count and other parameters of blood clotting were not affected in the study. The researchers concluded that prickly pear exerts its benefits, in part, by decreasing platelet activity to inhibit clotting.

Photo Credits:

  • flowering prickly pear cactus image by Kathy Burns from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.