Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Prickly Pear: A Cactus Cure?

I have been told that prickly pear can be used to help control diabetes and reduce cholesterol levels. Is this true? If so, what can you tell me about it?

Answer (Published 1/7/2013)

Originally published June, 2004. Updated October, 2012

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp), called nopal in Spanish, is a plant native to Mexico and the American southwest that is now widely cultivated in many parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean regions. I've long recommended prickly pear extract as a supplement to help control blood sugar levels in those with diabetes or pre-diabetes, as does my friend, colleague, and fellow desert-dweller, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women's health. Dr. Low Dog routinely recommends prickly pear to patients, as food, in capsules, or as a pulp-rich juice. She also teaches the Fellows how to prepare simple dishes using both the succulent cactus leaves (pads) and the fruit. (She even makes an amazing prickly pear Margarita!)

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for a Healthy Body, Mind and Spirit - Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging for a Healthy Body, Mind and Spirit - A healthy body, mind and spirit are the fundamental components of a successful life. The Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging online guide combines therapies, an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid, spiritual assessments and more to help promote better overall health. Sign up today and get 14 days free!

Dr. Low Dog tells me that prickly pear is popular in Mexico for preventing hangovers, a folk remedy that proved effective in a Tulane University study published in the June 28, 2004 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers found that volunteers who took a prickly pear extract five hours before consuming five to 7 alcoholic drinks had significantly less nausea, dry mouth and loss of appetite the following day compared to those who took a placebo. (The extract did not prevent hangover-related headaches and dizziness, however.) The researchers suggested that the benefits were related to prickly pear’s strong anti-inflammatory effects. The juice contains betalains, a rare class of antioxidants that is responsible for the rich color of beets and red Swiss chard. Prickly pear juice also contains vitamin C.

Some research suggests that prickly pear may also help control cholesterol levels. In 2003, a small Italian study (only 10 patients participated) indicated that prickly pear extract might lower LDL ("bad" cholesterol) but had no effect on levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol or triglycerides. Results of the study were published in Nuclear Medicine Review of Central and Eastern Europe. Another small study (24 participants) at the University of Vienna in Austria found that prickly pear decreased total cholesterol (by 12%), LDL (15%), triglycerides (12%), blood glucose (11%), insulin (11%) and uric acid (10%), while body weight, HDL and other lipid measurements did not change. If you're concerned about your cholesterol, I suggest reading the high cholesterol article in the Condition Care Guide on this site, which will give you my recommendations for dietary changes, exercise and supplements that can help you get it under control.

In addition to its popular use for hangovers, prickly pear remedies have been used traditionally in Mexico for a wide variety of disorders. The heated cactus pads have served as poultices for rheumatism, and the fruit of the plant is consumed as treatment for diarrhea, asthma and gonorrhea. Mexicans also consume prickly pear to address high blood pressure, gastric acidity, ulcers, fatigue, shortness of breath, glaucoma, and liver disorders.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here