Dr. Oz, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, The Dr. Oz Show

Dr. Oz was recently exploring “bizarre foods that fight cancer” with his guest Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel. One of the foods they discussed was “cactus pear,” a fruit from Opuntia species of cactus. You’ll hear it referred to by a variety of different names including:

  • Cactus fruit
  • Barberry-fig cactus
  • Nopales or Nopal
  • Opuntia
  • Prickly Pear
  • Opuntia Ficas Indica

A Traditional Food
Prickly pear cactus is native to the Western hemisphere, found particularly in Mexico and southwestern states including Arizona and Texas. It is traditionally consumed as a food and is purported to have a variety of health benefits. It has primarily been studied for lowering blood sugar in people with diabetes – some short-term clinical research shows that the broiled stems of Opuntia streptacantha can significantly reduce blood glucose levels (Frati-Munari, Diabetes Care 1998; Bacardi-Gascon M, Diabetes Care 2007). There has also been interest in using it for prostate symptoms, high cholesterol, obesity, diarrhea, and hangover.

On the Dr. Oz Show segment, Dr. Oz mentions that “…it can actually help slow the growth of a lot of cancer cells… ovarian, cervical, and bladder cancer cells.”


Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Prickly pear cactus, also called nopales, is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Research also suggests that prickly pear cactus extract may lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

Dr. Hichem Alimi

Juice from the fruit of the cactus Opuntia ficus indica is claimed to possess several health-beneficial properties. The present study was carried out to determine whether O. ficus indica f. inermis fruit extract might have a protective effect upon physiological and morphological damages inflicted to erythrocytes membrane by chronic ethanol poisoning, per os, in rat. Chemical analysis of the extract revealed the presence of polyphenols, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, carotenoids, and betalains. Ethanol administration (3 g/kg b.w, per day for 90 days) induced an increase of malondialdehyde (MDA) and carbonylated proteins levels and a decrease of glutathione (GSH) level in erythrocyte.

Ethanol administration also reduced the scavenging activity in plasma and enhanced erythrocytes hemolysis, as compared to control rats. In addition, ethanol intake increased the erythrocyte shape index by +895.5{2d836739b1b35052b3bc329f4ce221042b22d44bcb0c8ee29e65721fbbd624e2} and decreased the erythrocyte diameter by −61.53{2d836739b1b35052b3bc329f4ce221042b22d44bcb0c8ee29e65721fbbd624e2} as compared to controls. In animals also given prickly pear juice during the same experimental period, the studied parameters were much less shifted. This protective effect was found to be dose-dependent. It is likely that the beneficial effect of the extract is due to the high content of antioxidant compounds.

Dr Oz discusses the health benefits of the Nopal Cactus