Could Prickly Pear Help Combat Diabetes?

| October 15, 2016

I mentioned in my last blog post how an extract of Chilean maqui berries could help control blood sugar spikes after a meal. Another fruit with antidiabetic properties comes from the prickly pear cactus, or Opuntia. This desert plant has been cultivated for centuries in arid areas of the world, both as a food crop and for its medicinal properties. Animal studies have shown that prickly pear fruit juice could restore blood sugar levels to normal in diabetic rats, as well as helping to prevent the rise in blood cholesterol and markers of inflammation that typically accompany diabetes.1

So far, no clinical trials of prickly pear fruit have been carried out in humans, but the fleshy cactus pads (called cladodes or nopales) are used in traditional herbal medicine in Mexico to help treat type 2 diabetes. A study in which people with type 2 diabetes ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast, with or without cooked prickly pear cladodes, showed that including prickly pear help to reduce the rise in blood sugar and insulin after the meal.2

Prickly pear fruits or their juice could also help prevent metabolic syndrome, a condition characterised by central obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and abnormal glucose metabolism. This syndrome has been linked to increased risks of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. An analysis of published studies concluded that, while the weight-loss effects of prickly pear fruits could not be considered to be large, eating them could potentially bring significant reductions in body mass index, percentage body fat, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol.3

Other studies suggest that prickly pear fruits could help prevent the growth and spread of cervical, ovarian and bladder cancers. Betanin, a pigment isolated from the fruits, also blocked the growth of human myeloid leukaemia cells in laboratory studies. In addition, the cladodes appear to have anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and may also provide a natural treatment for enlarged prostate.4

You can now buy prickly pears in the tropical fruit section of some supermarkets, as well as in ethnic food shops and from online suppliers. Food supplements containing the dried cactus pads are also available. In my next blog post, I’ll be returning to the important subject of vitamin D, which is particularly topical now that the summer sunshine is gone for another year.

Here’s to healthy living,

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Rojo LE, Ribnicky D, Logendra S et al. In vitro and in vivo anti-diabetic effects of anthocyanins from maqui berry (Aristotelia chilensis). Food Chem. 2012; 131(2):387-396.

2. Hidalgo J, Flores C, Hidalgo MA et al. Delphinol® standardized maqui berry extract reduces postprandial blood glucose increase in individuals with impaired glucose regulation by novel mechanism of sodium glucose cotransporter inhibition. Panminerva Med. 2014; 56(2 Suppl 3):1-7.

3. Watson RR, Schönlau F. Nutraceutical and antioxidant effects of a delphinidin-rich maqui berry extract Delphinol®: a review. Minerva Cardioangiol. 2015; 63(2 Suppl 1):1-12.

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Category: Diabetes, Natural Diabetes Alternatives

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