Opuntia Plant Benefits, Uses, and More

Published On: Sep 15, 2021

Who would have ever thought that a plant with uncountable thorns could ever benefit humans? Well, I never did. But recently, I went through some research papers on Opuntia Plant and found that it’s not just a species of cactus but it’s a healing plant. Besides, this plant has a lot to contribute to human’s health. 

Having said that, we humans have become utterly busy in our life, in fact, so much busy that we don’t even have a minute to breathe properly. In such situations, taking care of health, keeping up with diets, having regular exercises, etc. rarely fall into our to-do list. As a result, most of us suffer from hypertension, low and high blood sugar levels, low immunity, and more. 

The point of saying this is that if we can’t exercise daily, the least we can do is take a proper diet. Opuntia comprises antioxidants in abundance. Moreover, one of its properties is highly effective in preventing prostate cancer and the list goes on. 

If you want to discover more about this succulent, its potential benefits, its risk, etc., then keep reading. Let’s start with the definition-

Overview

Opuntia, also known as prickly pear cactus or nopal cactus or opuntia monacantha, is a plant that originates in Mexico and the Southwestern regions of America. This succulent is a part of the diet in Mexican-American and American cultures. Older plants are quite tough, therefore, only the young plant is consumed. 

Fruits, stems, leaves, and flowers are the edible parts of this plant. You can eat it either as boiled or grilled. In fact, due to its sweet and melony taste, the succulent is also put into candies, jellies, jams, and juices. 

Because of the varied health benefits of this cactus, it is used to treat obesity, hangovers, blood sugar levels, control weight, and more. To have a deep insight into its benefits, read further!

Top 10 Health Benefits of Opuntia Plant

Not many would think that a plant that looks like cactus can have some medicinal benefits. Well, get ready for the jaw-dropping advantages that this succulent plant has to offer:

1. Rich in Antioxidants

Do you know antioxidants have the capability to boost immunity? They are highly effective in protecting the cell of the human body from damage that free radicals cause. Therefore, including food rich in antioxidants in your daily meal would be a thumbs up. 

According to researches, opuntia is full of antioxidants and hence, it is capable of reducing oxidative stress and boosting immunity. Irrespective of age and preexisting conditions, antioxidants could be beneficial for everybody. 

2. Treats Enlarged Prostate

An enlarged prostate means the urge to urinate more frequently and we know how uncomfortable it would be for men. According to researchers, nopal cactus may treat enlarged prostate. In fact, researches also suggest that this cactus may be effective in treating prostate cancer as well. On top of it, the plant won’t have any bigger side effects like the traditional prescription medications. 

3. Regulates Blood Sugar Levels

Amongst many other common health issues, controlling blood sugar levels has become a real struggle for diabetic people. However, the opuntia plant may render a complementary solution. Researches indicate that prickly pear may have the potential to reduce and regulate blood sugar levels. 

According to a study published in 2012, the succulent when consumed with other diabetes medications will help regulate blood sugar levels better. 

4. Eliminates Hangovers

Here’s the good news for all the booze lovers! If you get the hangovers quite often, then prickly pear cactus may help you out. But there’s a catch! 

You have to consume the cactus’ extract before you start boozing. Actually, it’s kind of prevention. We all have read- “Prevention is better than cure.” Right? The same applies here. You need to intake it prior to consuming alcohol. 

A study carried in 2004, found powerful evidence that the extracts of prickly pear reduce the severity of hangovers when take before drinking. 

5. Protects Nerve Cells

Just like all other cells, nerve cells can also be damaged. As a result, it can cause pain or sensory loss. Fret Not! 

Prickly pear cactus can protect against this damage. According to a source, the nopal cactus comprises neuroprotective properties that help in preventing nerve cells from damage or loss of function. 

6. Comprises Antiviral Properties

Prevention is considered to be the best line of defence against catching a virus. Opuntia consists of antiviral properties. Besides, various preliminary studies have proved that the succulent has antiviral activity against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), herpes simplex virus (HSV), and HIV. 

7. Capable of Reducing Cholesterol

A study on prickly pear suggests that the plant was effective in reducing cholesterol. However, along with LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), the overall level of cholesterol also dropped. While this succulent is capable of lowering cholesterol, it may also have fewer side effects than traditional medications of cholesterol. 

8. Effective in Reducing Weight

Obesity is one of the commonest problems today. In fact, it has become a global epidemic that must be addressed and managed at the earliest. Instead of adopting extreme measures such as surgery or harmful medications, you can use a simple solution to this problem. You can consume plenty of dietary fibre in the form of food. Prickly pear fruits consist of such fibre that will make you feel full for longer and eradicate hunger pangs. 

Furthermore, it binds the dietary fat and excretes it from the system. Since intestines aren’t able to absorb much of the dietary fat, this fruit is highly effective in controlling weight and even in weight loss. 

9. Mitigates Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Such a succulent contains a rich amount of mineral potassium. When you ingest it, the mineral in the plant has the potential to eliminate the pressure on the blood vessels and reduce the increased blood pressure levels. 

If you consume it regularly, it can maintain normal blood levels and offer relief from hypertension. The fruit of this plant contains a compound called betalain. This mainly helps in strengthening the inner walls of the blood vessels, which in turn, aids the promotion of cardiovascular health. 

10. Reduces PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Today, PMS has become a common issue among women. During PMS, women often suffer from back pain, severe cramps, breast tenderness, and headaches. Speaking from my personal experience, it’s quite painful and tiring. 

Now the question is- why does this happen and how can an opuntia plant be helpful here? Usually, the symptoms of PMS are linked with a rise in the levels of prostaglandins (hormone-like chemicals) in the body. Prickly pear cactus is known to suppress this hormone by inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins. This, in turn, alleviates PMS symptoms. 

Potential Risks of Intaking Opuntia 

While Opuntia is safe to eat and has the potential to treat various diseases, there could be some side effects of using it too. Besides, you must also note that its supplements aren’t even monitored by the Food and Drug Administration for quality, safety, purity, or packaging. Therefore, you must pick up your product carefully and from a reputable source. 

Here are some of the side effects of the succulent that you must know about: 

  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Headache 
  • Diarrhoea 

Also, pregnant women or those trying to conceive must not take prickly pear cactus supplements as no reliable information about whether it’s safe to take it or not isn’t available. 

Besides, if you are a diabetic patient you must be particularly careful while consuming its supplements, as it can have a direct impact on your blood sugar levels. Therefore, you must talk to your doctor before taking it. As long as you are taking it as food, it’s completely safe. 

In a Nutshell

Opuntia plant might be a cactus with a lot of thorns, but it offers a myriad of benefits. As we read above, it is rich in antioxidants and has properties to treat enlarged prostate and even prevent prostate cancer. The plant is highly effective in fighting the foreign radicals in our body to keep us healthy. It is very safe to consume and must be taken as a whole (boiled or grilled). 

Although there aren’t many of its side effects, some of us might feel nausea, have headaches, bloated stomach, etc. In case this happens, you must lower the intake.