Prickly Pear Cactus

Other Name(s):

Barbary-fig Cactus, Cactus Flowers, Cactus Fruit, Cactus Pear Fruit, Figue d'Inde, Figuier de Barbarie, Fruit du Cactus, Fruit de l'Oponce, Gracemere-Pear, Indian-fig Prickly Pear Cactus, Indien-Figue, Nopal, Nopal Cactus, Nopales, Nopol, OPI, Oponce, Opuntia, Opuntia cardona, Opuntia ficus, Opuntia ficus-indica, Opuntia Fruit, Opuntia fuliginosa, Opuntia hyptiacantha, Opuntia lasciacantha, Opuntia macrocentra, Opuntia megacantha, Opuntia puberula, Opuntia streptacantha, Opuntia velutina, Opuntia violacea, Prickly Pear, Tuna Cardona, Westwood-Pear.


Prickly pear cactus is a plant. It is part of the diet in Mexican and Mexican-American cultures. Only the young plant is eaten; older plants are too tough. Prickly pear cactus is also used for medicine.

Prickly pear cactus is used for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, alcohol hangover, colitis, diarrhea, and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). It is also used to fight viral infections.

In foods, the prickly pear juice is used in jellies and candies.

Most research on this product has been performed in Mexico by one research group.

How does it work?

Prickly pear cactus contains fiber and pectin, which can lower blood glucose by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestine. Some researchers think that it might also decrease cholesterol levels, and kill viruses in the body.

Uses & Effectiveness

Possibly Effective for...

  • Diabetes. Single doses of prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels by 17% to 46% in some people. However, it is not known if extended daily use can consistently lower blood sugar levels. The broiled stems of one prickly pear cactus species (Opuntia streptacantha) seem to lower blood sugar levels in people who have type 2 diabetes. However, raw or crude stems of this species do not seem to work. Other prickly pear cactus species don't seem to work either.
  • Hangover. Taking prickly pear cactus before drinking alcohol might reduce some symptoms of hangover the next day. It seems to significantly reduce nausea, anorexia, and dry mouth. However, it does not seem to reduce other hangover symptoms such as headache, dizziness, diarrhea, or soreness.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Enlarged prostate. Men with an enlarged prostate often feel their bladder is full, and they experience frequent, strong urges to urinate. Developing evidence suggests that taking powdered prickly pear cactus flowers may reduce these symptoms.
  • Inherited high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia). Early research shows that taking edible pulp of prickly pear cactus daily for 4 weeks, while following a diet, reduces total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels in people with inherited high cholesterol.
  • High blood cholesterol. Early research shows that taking edible pulp of prickly pear cactus daily, while following a diet, can reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in people with high cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol levels do not seem to be affected.
  • Metabolic syndrome. Early research suggests that taking a specific product containing dehydrated leaves of prickly pear cactus (NeOpuntia) daily for 6 weeks does not affect fat levels in the blood in women with metabolic syndrome.
  • Obesity.
  • Colitis.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Treating infections caused by viruses.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of prickly pear cactus for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


Diabetes is defined best as... See Answer

Side Effects

Prickly pear cactus is LIKELY SAFE when eaten as food. The leaves, stems, flowers, fruit and standardized extracts of the prickly pear cactus are POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth as medicine in appropriate amounts for a short period of time.

Prickly pear cactus can cause some side effects including mild diarrhea, nausea, increased amount and frequency of stool, bloating, and headache.

Special Precautions & Warnings

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking prickly pear cactus if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Diabetes: Prickly pear cactus might lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Watch for signs of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and monitor your blood sugar carefully if you have diabetes and use prickly pear cactus.

Surgery: Prickly pear cactus might affect blood sugar levels, making blood sugar control difficult during and after surgery. Stop using prickly pear cactus at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.


Chlorpropamide (Diabinese)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.

Chlorpropamide (Diabinese) is used to decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes. Prickly pear cactus might also decrease blood sugar. Taking prickly pear cactus along with chlorpropamide (Diabinese) might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your chlorpropamide (Diabinese) might need to be changed.

Glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.

Glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase) is used to decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes. Prickly pear cactus might also decrease blood sugar. Taking prickly pear cactus along with glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase) might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase) might need to be changed.

Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.

Prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking prickly pear cactus along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.

Metformin (Glucophage)Interaction Rating: Moderate Be cautious with this combination.Talk with your health provider.

Metformin (Glucophage) is used to decrease blood sugar in people with diabetes. Prickly pear cactus might also decrease blood sugar. Taking prickly pear cactus along with metformin (Glucophage) might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your metformin (Glucophage) might need to be changed.


Diabetes: What Raises and Lowers Your Blood Sugar Level? See Slideshow


The following doses have been studied in scientific research:


  • For diabetes: 100-500 grams of broiled stems of prickly pear cactus daily. Doses are often divided into three equal amounts and given throughout the day.
  • For hangover due to use of alcohol: 1600 IU of a specific prickly pear cactus extract (Tex-OE, Extracts Plus, Inc.) taken 5 hours before drinking alcohol.

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Reviewed on 6/14/2021

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