Cactus Pear: Superb Source of Antioxidants

Fruit's Disease-Fighting Power Beats Vitamin C Supplements

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 19, 2004 --Want to improve your health? Eat fresh fruit, instead of popping vitamin pills.

Eating cactus pear fruit, which is packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants, is superior to taking pills, a new study shows.

Research has shown that antioxidants in foods can help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. But studies of pure vitamin supplements have not shown impressive health benefits.

Cactus pear fruit, also known as prickly pear, is more complex, containing vitamins and substances that may act as antioxidants, writes researcher Luisa Tesoriere, PhD, with the Universida de Palermo in Italy. Her study appears in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The cactus pear is common in Mexico, Latin America, South Africa, and the Mediterranean. In a previous study, Tesoriere's research group showed that the fruit of the cactus pear plant is a rich source of antioxidants.

But how does cactus pear fruit measure up against vitamin C supplements? Do they affect the body differently? That's what Tesoriere looks at in her current study.

The 18 healthy people in her two-week study were divided into two groups: half ate 250 grams of fresh cactus pear fruit daily; the other half took a 75-milligram vitamin C tablet twice daily. Then after a six-week break, they switched. Their blood was analyzed both before and after each two-week session.

Tesoriere found that both the cactus pear and vitamin C supplement groups had higher vitamin C and E levels. However, after eating cactus pear fruit, volunteers had more signs of antioxidant effects than the vitamin-C group. The researchers aren't sure why vitamin E levels went up since neither cactus pear nor vitamin C supplements are a source of vitamin E.

The researchers suggest that the antioxidant properties of cactus pear fruit come from vitamin C as well as other nutrients that also exhibit antioxidant properties.

SOURCE: Tesoriere, L. Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Aug. 2004; vol 80: pp 391-395.