PhytoNOTE #13

The Cactus & blood glucose

The prevalence of obesity is increasing worldwide, affecting over a third of the global population, posing a substantial economic burden on the healthcare system. Obesity is a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome and diabetes.


The number of cases of diabetes has been steadily increasing over the past few decades.

According to the WHO, about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes and an estimated 966 billion U.S. dollars was spent on diabetes-related healthcare in 2021 (Statista). Diabetes causes blood glucose levels to rise higher than normal (hyperglycemia), causing serious health problems if not treated. 


Hyperglycemia can damage the vessels that supply blood to vital organs, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision problems, and nerve problems.

Studies show an associations between being overweight or obese and having suboptimal glycemic control.


Insulin, which is secreted by the pancreatic β-cells upon elevated circulating glucose concentration, stimulates glucose import in muscle cells and thereby helps to reduce blood glucose.

Opuntia ficus-indica

Adequate nutritional interventions can exhibit beneficial outcomes on glycemic control through elevation of plasma insulin and reduction of blood glucose levels. The cactus Opuntia ficus-indica has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat several illnesses, including diabetes.

Clinical studies show acute blood glucose lowering effects immediately after consumption of a patented, proprietary extract made of fruit and cladodes (Godard 2010)

A study in healthy athletes shows that Opuntia ficus-indica extract can increase plasma insulin and thereby facilitate the clearance of an oral glucose load from the circulation at rest and after endurance exercise (Van Proeyen 2012)

A recent review by Kashif et al. on Opuntia concludes: "Given these potential hypoglycemic effects, prickly pear cladodes may represent a potential functional food ingredient to improve glycemic control and counter the negative metabolic effects of the modern Western diet"