While you may be familiar with this edible cactus fruit from Mexican cuisine, cocktails or juices, prickly pear has some powerful health benefits. Touted for its antioxidant compounds, prickly pear has been historically used to treat liver problems. And while the benefits of prickly pear have commonly been celebrated in traditional medicine, there has been increasing scientific research, particularly over the last 10 years into the ability of prickly pear to help treat a variety of health conditions including high cholesterol and can even help reduce symptoms of a hangover.
This paper examines a study where liver protective flavonoids were isolated from prickly pear. It was concluded that these flavonoids help to reduce liver damage as a result of alcoholic oxidative stress.
Alimi H, Hfaeidh N, Mbarki S, Bouoni Z, Sakly M, Ben Rouma K. Evaluation of Opuntia ficus indica f. inermis fruit juice hepatoprotective effect upon ethanol toxicity in rats. Gen Physiol Biophys. 2012 Sep;31(3):335-42. doi: 10.4149/gpb_2012_038. PMID: 23047946.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the liver protective effects of prickly pear extracts against acute liver failure. It was concluded that prickly pear extracts are protective to the liver and can be used as a neutraceutical to prevent acute liver failure.
González-Ponce, Herson Antonio et al. “Hepatoprotective Effect of Opuntia robusta and Opuntia streptacantha Fruits against Acetaminophen-Induced Acute Liver Damage.” Nutrients vol. 8,10 607. 4 Oct. 2016, doi:10.3390/nu8100607
Improves symptoms of hangovers
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial conducted by the Internal Medicine Section and Department of Medicine, Tulane Health Sciences Center,
on the effects of prickly pear on an alcohol hangover, it was concluded that overall the symptom index was reduced by 2.7 points on average and the risk of a severe hangover was reduced by half.
Wiese J, McPherson S, Odden MC, Shlipak MG. Effect of Opuntia ficus indica on symptoms of the alcohol hangover. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Jun 28;164(12):1334-40. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.12.1334. PMID: 15226168.
This review examines a study that demonstrates that a healthy diet combined with the use of prickly pear can reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Linarès E, Thimonier C, Degre M. The effect of NeOpuntia on blood lipid parameters--risk factors for the metabolic syndrome (syndrome X). Adv Ther. 2007 Sep-Oct;24(5):1115-25. doi: 10.1007/BF02877717. PMID: 18029338.
This paper discusses the ability of prickly pear peel extract to reduce liver cholesterol and increase cholesterol excretion, which suggests that prickly pear has promising potential to be used to lower cholesterol and prevent coronary heart disease.
Milán-Noris, A. & Chavez-Santoscoy, Alejandra & Olmos-Nakamura, Andrea & Gutiérrez-Uribe, Janet & Serna-Saldivar, Sergio. (2016). An Extract from Prickly Pear Peel (Opuntia Ficus-Indica) Affects Cholesterol Excretion and Hepatic Cholesterol levels in Hamsters Fed Hyperlipidemic Diets. Current Bioactive Compounds. 12. 1-1. 10.2174/1573407212666151231183553.