By Ryan Saba
When people think about the Prickly Pear cactus, they tend to focus on the thorny exterior instead of the variety of amazing benefits it has to offer. Most people are unaware this desert plant has been used for thousands of years for its nutritional and health benefits. As unattractive as Prickly Pear may appear at first glance, it is a goldmine of vitamins and minerals. The pads contain high amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C, while the fruit is a rich source of essential amino acids. In addition, Prickly Pear contains an abundance of flavonoids that combine with vitamins and minerals to provide a variety of health-enhancing benefits.
One of the key health benefits of Prickly Pear is the ability to aid in various aspects of cardiovascular health. One Prickly Pear fruit has 88 mg of magnesium and 227 mg of potassium. These amounts are clinically proven to help promote normal heart rhythms and stabilize blood pressure. The additional vitamins and minerals, along with the amino acids, make Prickly Pear an effective detoxifier of the liver, while reducing triglyceride levels and inhibiting damage to blood vessel walls. Amino acids have been directly linked to lowering high cholesterol, cleaning up arteries, reducing the formation of new plaque and improving blood circulation.
The body uses inflammation as a beneficial biological process to defend itself against infection and injury. However, chronic inflammation is a serious and degenerative condition which has been known to cause premature aging and threaten overall health. Both the fruit and the pads of the Prickly Pear cactus are high in fiber and contain 24 known betalains, a group of potent anti-inflammatory antioxidants that heal inflammation throughout the body. Betalains have been studied for the treatment of various conditions including arthritis, crohns disease, psoriasis, allergies and asthma.
Blood Sugar Support
Prickly Pear has also been found to support blood glucose control. The large amounts of fiber within the pads and fruit prevent the body from absorbing excess sugar. Prickly Pear’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels has been shown to helps patients who suffer from diabetes with its important hypoglycemic properties four to six hours after consumption. Scientific studies conducted on animals and humans have shown its ability to stimulate the movement of blood glucose into cells reducing blood glucose levels by as much as 46%.
The fiber and water in Prickly Pear have been shown to promote weight control by reducing hunger cravings. Hunger cravings are reduced because the consumptions of high amounts of fiber lead to feeling fuller for longer periods of time. When the amino acids present in the cactus are ingested the results are appetite suppression and the reduction of blood sugar. The sugar is not stored as fat for later use because glucose is effectively moved into cells to be used for energy. This ultimately prevents fat build-up, making Prickly Pear a vital dietary addition for those attempting to lose or control weight.
Prickly Pear may have a plain appearance, nutritionally, it is anything but plain. With the combination of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and flavonoids, modern research is showing how significant Prickly Pear can be to improving overall health and wellness. Recent studies are surprising scientists regarding Prickly Pear’s health promoting qualities, and it won’t be long until it is on the radar as “the next big thing.” Whether it’s improving cardiovascular health through lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing inflammation, aiding in blood sugar support or helping control weight, few ingredients bring this wide repertoire of health benefits to the table.