Superfood: Prickly Pear Cactus

Prickly pear cactus is a type of plant found in the diets of Mexicans and Mexican-American cuisine. It is used as a medicine and is eaten when the plant is very young. If the plant gets too old, it becomes too tough to eat.
Benefits of Prickly Pear Cactus
It has many health benefits and is used to manage the following conditions:
• Diarrhea
• Colitis
• Hangovers from excessive alcohol intake
• Obesity
• Elevated cholesterol
• Type 2 diabetes
• Benign prostatic hypertrophy
• Viral infections
It is eaten as a juice that is transformed into candies and jellies for eating.
This is a substance that is high in pectin and fiber, which has the effect of lessening the sugar absorption in the gut so that it controls blood glucose levels.
It is also believed to lessen cholesterol levels and acts as an anti-viral agent.
According to research evidence, it has the following health benefits:
• Lowers Blood Sugar Levels. Just one dose of prickly pear cactus has been found to decrease blood glucose levels by about 17-46 percent in susceptible people. It hasn’t yet been determined whether continued use of prickly pear cactus will keep the blood glucose levels down on a daily basis. People with type 2 diabetes can eat the broiled stems of prickly pear cactus and can keep blood sugar levels low. It doesn’t seem to work with all types of prickly pear cactus nor does it work when you eat the raw stems of the plant.
• Prevents a hangover. If you take prickly pear cactus before consuming alcohol, you may have lessened symptoms of an alcohol hangover the next morning. In particular, it reduces anorexia, nausea, and the dry mouth experienced in alcohol withdrawal but doesn’t seem to affect the pain, diarrhea, dizziness, or headache associated with an alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
• Benign prostatic enlargement. There is some evidence to suggest that people with an enlarged prostate gland can take powdered prickly pear cactus to reduce symptoms of urinary frequency and the sensation of a full bladder.
• Elevated Cholesterol Levels. People with familial hyperlipidemia seem to have a reduction in total and LDL cholesterol when they take in the edible pulp of the prickly pear cactus for about four week’s total. It also lowers triglyceride levels
• Metabolic syndrome. The dehydrated leaves of the prickly pear cactus don’t affect the levels of fat among women who suffer from metabolic syndrome.
Other things that prickly pear cactus have been used for include colitis, obesity, diarrhea, and viral infections. Clearly more research is necessary to see if prickly pear cactus can help these conditions.
Safety of Prickly Pear Cactus
It is believed that prickly pear cactus is completely safe when eaten as part of the food you eat. When the stems, leaves, fruit, and flowers of the cactus are used as medicine, they are believed to be possibly safe.
Side effects of taking the prickly pear cactus include nausea, mild diarrhea, stool enlargement, stool frequency, headache, and bloating.
It should not be taken in pregnancy or lactation because there isn’t enough information as to the safety of taking in prickly pear cactus under these circumstances.
Interactions of Prickly Pear Cactus and other Drugs
There are interactions between certain drugs and prickly pear cactus. These include the following interactions:
• Diabinese (chlorpropamide). This is used for blood sugar reduction in diabetics. Taking it with prickly pear cactus may cause a lowering of the blood glucose levels so that the blood sugar may get too low. You need to monitor your blood glucose levels carefully when taking the two things together and the dosage of Diabinese may need to be lowered.
• Diabeta (glyburide). As Diabeta lowers blood glucose levels, there may be a reduction in blood sugars to a level that is too low when taking it with prickly pear cactus. You need to monitor your blood glucose levels closely and consider lowering the dose of Diabeta when taking the two together for diabetes.
• Other diabetic medicines. Any type of diabetic medicine, including Glucophage (metformin), may interact with prickly pear cactus and cause an unnatural lowering of the blood glucose levels so that the dosages of the diabetic drugs may need to be lowered. The blood sugar levels should be monitored closely.

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