- Side Effects
- Drug Interactions
- Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
- What Else to Know
Generic Name: Opuntia ficus-indica
Other Names: Barbary pear, cactus pear, Indian fig, Indian pear, nopal, prickly pear
Drug Class: Herbals
What is Opuntia ficus-indica, and what is it used for?
Opuntia ficus-indica is the botanical name of prickly pear, a type of cactus that grows in the tropical and subtropical regions all over the world. Opuntia ficus-indica stem, tender shoots (cladodes), flowers, fruits, dried flower powder, seed powder and oil, and extracts from the various parts of the cactus plant have been used in traditional medicine for a wide variety of conditions including prostate enlargement, diabetes and alcohol hangover. There is no scientific evidence, however, to back any of these uses.
Opuntia ficus-indica is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can help in reducing the risk of diseases associated with oxidative stress and consequent cellular damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are a type of unstable molecules that result from normal metabolic processes, and normally, the body’s own antioxidants neutralize them. Excessive levels of free radicals cause oxidative stress. Prickly pear also may be neuroprotective and lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
The therapeutic properties may come from the many bioactive compounds and nutrients that Opuntia ficus-indica contains. Studies indicate that prickly pear contains multiple beneficial substances and nutrients including flavonoids, phenolic acids, carotenoids, fatty acids, sterols, amino acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and pigments such as betaxanthins and betacyanins.
In addition to medicinal uses, the Opuntia fruits are edible, tender cladodes can be used as fresh vegetables and salad. The fruit and stem are used to make juice, jam, preserves, wine and used as ingredients in personal care products such as lotions, creams and shampoos. The suggested medicinal uses of Opuntia ficus-indica include:
- Do not take Opuntia ficus-indica supplements if you are hypersensitive to any ingredient in the product.
- Do not take Opuntia ficus-indica products if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or taking any medications.
- Opuntia ficus-indica may not work effectively with high-fiber foods.
- Opuntia ficus-indica may reduce blood sugar levels. Use with caution if you are suffering from diabetes and taking anti-diabetic drugs. It may also make it difficult to control blood sugar levels during and after surgery. Stop taking prickly pear at least 2 weeks before any scheduled surgery.
What are the side effects of Opuntia ficus-indica?
Common side effects of Opuntia ficus-indica include:
Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms or serious side effects while using this drug:
- Serious heart symptoms include fast or pounding heartbeats, fluttering in your chest, shortness of breath, and sudden dizziness;
- Severe headache, confusion, slurred speech, severe weakness, vomiting, loss of coordination, feeling unsteady;
- Severe nervous system reaction with very stiff muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, fast or uneven heartbeats, tremors, and feeling like you might pass out; or
- Serious eye symptoms include blurred vision, tunnel vision, eye pain or swelling, or seeing halos around lights.
This is not a complete list of all side effects or adverse reactions that may occur from the use of this drug. Call your doctor for medical advice about serious side effects or adverse reactions. You may also report side effects or health problems to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
What are the dosages of Opuntia ficus-indica?
There isn’t enough scientific information on what might be appropriate dosages of Opuntia ficus-indica. Follow manufacturer’s labels. Suggested dosing:
- Broiled stems: 100-500 g/day divided three times daily
- Opuntia streptacantha species only
- Extract: 1600 international units orally taken 5 hours prior to alcohol ingestion
Benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH)
- Dried, powdered flower: 500 mg orally three times a day
What drugs interact with Opuntia ficus-indica?
Inform your doctor of all medications you are currently taking, who can advise you on any possible drug interactions. Never begin taking, suddenly discontinue, or change the dosage of any medication without your doctor’s recommendation.
- Opuntia ficus-indica has no listed severe or serious interactions with other drugs.
- Moderate interactions of Opuntia ficus-indica include:
- insulin aspart
- insulin detemir
- insulin glargine
- insulin glulisine
- insulin lispro
- insulin NPH
- insulin regular human
Opuntia ficus-indica has no known mild interactions with other drugs.
The drug interactions listed above are not all of the possible interactions or adverse effects. For more information on drug interactions, visit the RxList Drug Interaction Checker.
It is important to always tell your doctor, pharmacist, or health care provider of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you use, as well as the dosage for each, and keep a list of the information. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you have any questions about the medication.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- There isn’t enough reliable information on the safety of Opuntia ficus-indica use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Small amount eaten as food may not cause harm. Avoid medicinal use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Do not take any herbal supplement, including Opuntia ficus-indica, without first checking with your physician if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What else should I know about Opuntia ficus-indica?
- Opuntia ficus-indica fruit is likely safe when eaten as food. The stem, flower, fruit and standardized extracts are possibly safe for most adults in recommended doses for a short period.
- Take Opuntia ficus-indica exactly as per label instructions. Natural products are not necessarily safe always and following suggested dosing is important.
- Check with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal supplement, including Opuntia ficus-indica, particularly if you have any health conditions or if you are on any regular medication.
- Herbal products often contain many ingredients. Check labels for the components in the Opuntia ficus-indica product you choose.
- Opuntia ficus-indica is marketed as an herbal supplement and is not regulated by the FDA. Products may differ in formulations and strengths, and labels may not always match contents; exercise caution in choosing your product.
- Store Opuntia ficus-indica supplements safely out of reach of children.
- In case of overdose, seek medical help or contact Poison Control.
Opuntia ficus-indica is the botanical name of prickly pear, a type of cactus that grows in the tropical and subtropical regions all over the world. Opuntia ficus-indica stem, tender shoots (cladodes), flowers, fruits, dried flower powder, seed powder and oil, and extracts from the various parts of the cactus plant have been used in traditional medicine for a wide variety of conditions including prostate enlargement, diabetes and alcohol hangover. There is no scientific evidence, however, to back any of these uses. The suggested medicinal uses of Opuntia ficus-indica include type 2 diabetes mellitus, alcohol hangover, enlarged prostate and associated urinary discomfort, high blood cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, obesity, gastritis, burns, and wounds. Common side effects of Opuntia ficus-indica include nausea, bloating, mild diarrhea, increased quantity and frequency of stools, and headache.
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