A plant prickling with health benefits: The promising components of cacti

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

GettyImages - Prickly Pear / Annie Otzen
GettyImages - Prickly Pear / Annie Otzen

Related tags cactus ingredients Sustainability cactus water Dietary fibre plant-based Antioxidant

A research review has highlighted the numerous beneficial components found in cacti, including dietary fibre, minerals, phenolic compounds, and antioxidants

The authors from Campina Grande, Brazil, note the components of cacti have been linked​ to a range of health benefits such as blood sugar control, weight control, and anti-inflammation. 

They conclude that recent research positions cacti as an exciting and promising resource for developing sustainable and health-focused food production systems.

An ecological solution 

The authors note that cacti play an ecological role in preventing and mitigating soil degradation.

They explain that the unique acid metabolism of cacti makes them a potential alternative for capturing CO2​, thereby addressing soil temperature increases.

The authors note that, consequently, recognising the value of cacti holds promise for the future of sustainable food production systems, stating: “The commercial production of cacti has advantages over other agricultural practices by mitigating damage to ecosystems and encouraging migration to sustainable agriculture.”

A range of health benefits ​ 

The authors explain that the Puntia species of cacti have been medically used​ for centuries for treating chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, diabetes, and gastric ulcers. 

It is one of the main species, which has been noted for its fibre content​. 

One study​ reported that cactus fibre promotes faecal fat excretion, with the hypothesis that it may help reduce body weight by binding to dietary fat. 

The authors of the review explain that other research​ suggests that cactus fibre induces satiety, potentially reducing calorie intake and aiding in the development of weight-management products. 

Another prominent cactus researched for health benefits is Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), ​from which the seed oil has been found to be rich in linoleic acid​, an essential fatty acid, as well as tocopherols, including vitamin E.

The authors explain that these compounds give the oil strong antioxidant properties.

Additionally, the cactus seed oil is characterised by its high sterol content​, including β-sitosterol, associated with cholesterol-lowering effects.

The authors hypothesise that the relationship between the potential of the fruits and cladodes of cacti, the modified stems that fulfil the purpose that the leaves usually would do in other plants, provide health benefits due to the presence of secondary metabolites​ such as phenolic compounds, carotenoids, and betalains.

The report notes that cactus cladodes – the modified parts of the stem which carry out the roles usually performed by leaves - the most abundant compound is isorhamnetin.

Isorhamnetin has been shown​ to hold a multitude of pharmacological qualities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticancer, hepatoprotective, reproductive-system-protective, anti-obesity, and antidiabetic benefits.

The authors explain: “The pharmacological effects of isorhamnetin are related to its regulation of NF-kB, PI3K/AKT, MAPK​, and other signaling pathways and their downstream factors.”

Potential probiotic benefits

The review also discussed the potential for cactus use in the preparation of prebiotic, probiotic, postbiotic, and paraprobiotic products.

Probiotic products formulated with cacti have shown promise as functional foods. The authors note that one study​ showed that adding Limosilactobacillus fermentum​ to prickly pear juice through fermentation provides a new functional product with various antioxidants and health-beneficial phytochemicals.

Similarly, the fermentation of cactus pear juice by Lactiplantibacillus plantarum​ subsp. plantarum​, demonstrated, in a mouse study,​ the potential to prevent obesity and related pathologies by causing a significant decrease in body weight gain and alleviating insulin resistance. 

The authors mention that while exciting research has been done in this field, more needs to be explored about ways to add probiotics and their components to cactus derivatives for the development of foods and functional food inputs.

 They state: “To expand and diversify functional foods prepared with cacti, we propose new research on the application of cactus ingredients in developing probiotic, postbiotic, and paraprobiotic foods.

“Future research should focus on technologies applied in processing and on researching the interactions between components and cacti and probiotics, phenolic compounds, and other components to determine the functionality and bioactivity of the products.” 

Journal: Foods


“New Functional Foods with Cactus Components: Sustainable Perspectives and Future Trends”

Authors: Shênia Santos Monteiro, Raphael Lucas Almeida, Newton Carlos Santos, Emmanuel Moreira Pereira, Amanda Priscila Silva, Hugo Miguel Lisboa Oliveira and Matheus Augusto de Bittencourt Pasquali

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