Researching the cactus

This summer Luz and I have been working on our book, Decolonize Your Diet. I’ve mostly been working on the cultural histories of the native foods that we focus on, and their health benefits. I’m reading so many scientific studies that sometimes it feels like my brain is spilling out of my ears.
A lot of the interesting stuff hasn’t made it into the actual writing: just little curious bits that I never knew before.

For example, this week, I was working on cactus. It turns out that cactus was taken from Mexico to Europe very soon after the Conquest, and it became so popular in areas like Italy and North Africa that it naturalized and some people thought it was native to those areas. In Italy, although they prize the fruit, they apparently don’t eat the paddles. ¡Qué curioso! And in Mexico I found reference to colonche, a fermented, fizzy, slightly alcoholic drink made from the fruit. And a thick candy called “queso de tuna.” It’s totally non-dairy, just the tunas cooked down thick like cajeta. I have no idea what that is like but the idea makes my mouth water.

Nopalitos are a folk remedy for diabetes and the scientific research backs that up. Eating nopalitos lowers blood sugar in both diabetics and non-diabetics. It also lowers cholesterol and protects the liver from Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, which afflicts many diabetics.

A lot of the scientific studies done on cactus tend to focus on the fruit, rather than the paddles. Tunas have so many amazing properties, my head is spinning. The fruit, its juice, or extract, have been proven effective against many different cancers (skin, prostate, colon, ovarian, and, to a lesser extent, liver and breast). The juice also helps your body recover from damage caused by alcohol.

All of my favorite image of cactus are by Carmen Lomas Garza. See these and other paintings at her website.

·      Eating nopalitos can lower blood sugar in diabetics (Frata-Munari 1989, Hahm 2011)
·      Eating Nopalitos lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels (Hahm 2011, Wolfram 2002)
·      Nopalitos are effective in protecting the liver from Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, the most common type of liver disease in the US, and one related to metabolic syndrome (Morán-Rámos 2012)
·      Daily consumption of nopales improves platelet function (Wolfram 2003)
·      Both nopalitos and cactus fruit are excellent sources of dietary fiber (Peña-Valdivia 2012).
·      Cactus fruit are a good source of antioxidants (Kuti 2004)
·      Animal studies show that a diet including cactus fruit can prevent against skin cancer (Lee 2013)
·      Cactus fruit can inhibit cancer cell growth (Zou 2005)
·      In an in-vitro study, the juice from cactus fruit were effective against colon cancer and prostate cancer cells (Chavez-Santescoy 2009)
·      Cactus fruit extract can be effective against ovarian cancer (Feugang 2010)
·      Cactus fruit juice was shown to be effective in healing alcohol-induced damage (Alimi 2012)
Works Cited
Alimi, Hichem, Hfaeidh, Najla, Bouoni, Zouhour, Sakly, Mohsen, and Ben, Rhouma, Khémais. “Protective Effect of Opuntia Ficus Indica F. Inermis Prickly Pear Juice Upon Ethanol-induced Damages in Rat Erythrocytes.” Alcohol 46, no. 3 (2012): 235-43.
Chavez-Santoscoy, R.A, Gutierrez-Uribe, J.A, and Serna, Saldivar, S. O. “Phenolic Composition, Antioxidant Capacity and in Vitro Cancer Cell Cytotoxicity of Nine Prickly Pear (opuntia Spp.) Juices.” Plan Foods for Human Nutrition64 (2009): 146-52.
Feugang, Jean M, Ye, Fei, Zhang, David Y, Yu, Yanhong, Zhong, Mei, Zhang, Sui, and Zou, Changping. “Cactus Pear Extracts Induce Reactive Oxygen Species Production and Apoptosis in Ovarian Cancer Cells.” Nutr Cancer 62, no. 5 (2010): 692-99.
Frati-Munari, A C, Del, Valle-Martinez, L M, Ariza-Andraca, C R, Islas-Andrade, S, and Chavez-Negrete, A. “[hypoglycemic Action of Different Doses of Nopal (opuntia Streptacantha Lemaire) in Patients With Type Ii Diabetes Mellitus].” Arch Invest Med (Mex)20, no. 2 (1989): 197-201.
Hahm, Sahng-Wook, Park, Jieun, and Son, Yong-Suk. “Opuntia Humifusa Stems Lower Blood Glucose and Cholesterol Levels in Streptozotocin-induced Diabetic Rats.” Nutr Res 31, no. 6 (2011): 479-87.
Kuti, Joseph O. “Antioxidant Compounds From Four Opuntia Cactus Pear Fruit Varieties.” Food Chemistry 85, no. 4 (2004): 527-33.
Lee, Jin-A Lee, Jung, Bock-Gie, Kim, Tae-Hoon, Lee, Su-Gil, Park, Young-Seok, and Lee, Bong-Joo. “Dietary Feeding of Opuntia Humifusa Inhibits Uvb Radiation-induced Carcinogenesis By Reducing Inflammation and Proliferation in Hairless Mouse Model.” Photochemistry and Photobiology (2013): 1-8.
Moran-Ramos, Sofia, Avila-Nava, Azalia, Tovar, Armando R., Pedraza-Chaverri, Jose, Lopez-Romero, Patricia, and Torres, Nimbe. “Opuntia Ficus Indica (nopal) Attenuates Hepatic Steatosis and Oxidative Stress in Obese Zucker (fa/fa) Rats.” J. Nutr.142, no. 11 (2012): 1956-63.
Peña-Valdivia, Cecilia Beatriz, Trejo, Carlos, Arroyo-Peña, V. Baruch, Sanchez, Urdaneta, Adriana Beatriz, and Balois, Morales, Rosendo. “Diversity of Unavailable Polysaccharides and Dietary Fiber in Domesticated Nopalito and Cactus Pear Fruit (opuntia Spp.).” 9, no. 8 (2012): 1599-610.
Wolfram, R, Budinsky, A, Efthimiou, Y, Stomatopoulos, J, Oguogho, A, and Sinzinger, H. “Daily Prickly Pear Consumption Improves Platelet Function.” Prostaglandins Leukot. Essent. Fatty Acids 69, no. 1 (2003): 61-66.
Wolfram, Roswitha M, Kritz, Harald, Efthimiou, Yannis, Stomatopoulos, Jorgos, and Sinzinger, Helmut. “Effect of Prickly Pear (opuntia Robusta) on Glucose- and Lipid-metabolism in Non-diabetics With Hyperlipidemia–a Pilot Study.” Wien. Klin. Wochenschr. 114, no. 19-20 (2002): 840-46.
Zou, Da-ming, Brewer, Molly, Garcia, Francisco, Feugang, Jean M., Wang, Jian, Zang, Roungyu, Liu, Huaguang, and Zou, Changping. “Cactus Pear: a Natural Product in Cancer Chemoprevention.” Nutritional Journal 4, no. 1 (2005):