This time of year, in the desert, when magenta colored fruits begin to replace yellow blossoms on top of green cactus pads. Even though you will see these prickley pear or nopal cactus as far away as Israel, it is not a native. It's only native to the southwestern United States down through Mexico. It was spread to other hot and dry parts of the world during the colonial age. On it's home turf, North America, the plant was really important to ancient Native American cultures. Aztec legend states that Aztec civilization, started at the foot of prickly pear cactus stand. The story goes that a group of Aztec men saw an eagle perched in a prickly pair cactus with a snake in it's beak. The eagle had overcome the snake.
They took this as an omen that they too would overcome their adversaries, and in reverence for the vision they built their capital on the site of the vision. The prickly pear fruit is a rich source of magnesium, and the amino acid taurine, nutrients important to brain, and heart health. Prickly pear cactus is a rich source of flavanoids. These flavanoids are responsible for its health-enhancing benefits. Traditional Indian tribes have used prickly pear cactus as a food item, and a medicinal plant for centuries. The desert climate makes agriculture difficult in the absence of irrigation technologies. Out of necessity, prickly pear cactus was used as a food item by ancient Indian tribes. It has been used to make jellies, soups, pickles, and even cheese type products. Medicinally, prickly pear cactus has been used to heal superficial wounds, like cuts, and scrapes. Like Aloe Vera, it is usually applied topically.
Fast forward to 2017 and you'll find that modern science has uncovered the reasons for the many health benefits of prickly pear cactus. Studies show that in addition to being able to heal minor cuts and wounds, prickly pear cactus can protect the immune system, and prevent oxidative stress by acting as a scavenger of free radicals. This tough fruit is high in antioxidants, and may contain the highest amount of betalains known in the plant kingdom. Betalains are phytonutrients that can kill destructive free radicals in the body and stimulate the immune system by supporting the formation of stress recovery proteins. The free radical fighters in prickly pear also support the liver with detox abilities. It's antioxidant action will protect cells, and organs, slow the aging process, and help prevent disease. Recent studies the scientific community have also validated traditional uses. For example, a prickly pear extract was traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory. In tests with rats, the extract inhibited experimentally induced joint inflammation. Researchers found that this anti-inflammatory effect was at least partly due to a potent inhibition of white blood cell migration into sites of inflammation and the suppression of white blood cell release of inflammation causing compounds. Looks like the Aztecs, followed by the Spanish missionaries, and then the cowboys, were all smart users of various parts of the prickly pear to cure both chronic joint problems, and out on the range accidents. A French research scientist, Gilles Gutierrez, believes that prickly pear is much more than a remedy for arthritic joints, and thrown out backs. He feels it is the ideal supplement for anyone leading an active life. At his institute in Malta, Gutierrez established that professional athletes were able to go longer and harder while using a prickly pear extract. Even more importantly, they recovered from strenuous exercise more rapidly when taking the pear. According to Gutierrez, the key to this action is prickly pears ability to stimulate the production of the bodies natural restorative compounds. During stressful exercise the body produces compounds known as heat shock proteins. These compounds help the body heal itself after a work out. The researcher has established that the body synthesizes more heat shock proteins when dosed with his prickly pear extract.
Additionally, prickly pear cactus can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and this will help lower blood pressure and the workload placed upon the heart, and strain on other organs like your eyes. A 2003 medical study published by Nuclear Medicine Review: Central and Eastern Europe demonstrated that ten patients with high blood cholesterol levels were given dietary counseling for six weeks, then asked to eat prickly pear cactus for six weeks. The scientists found that these patients' livers were able to handle the regulation of LDL cholesterol significantly better by eating prickly pear cactus. A 2004 clinical study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences states that the betalains in prickly pear were clearly demonstrated to protect vascular endothelial cells from the free radical effects of redox alteration from cytokines, the "signal" proteins that regulate the immune system.
Not surprisingly, recently athletes have turned to prickly pear cactus to get more energy in the gym, to reduce post-exercise muscle soreness, to speed recovery and to reduce the chances of getting DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Prickly pear extract has proven remarkably useful as an ergogenic recovery aide. In addition to its effects on exercise and recovery, prickly pear cactus has shown promise as a diabetes treatment. Clinical trials have shown that it helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and is effective for the treatment of type-2 diabetes. The effects of prickly pear cactus on alcohol consumption are equally impressive. I see also that research has shown that it can help reduce the effects of excessive alcohol consumption because of it's ability to cut inflammation. Anyone can benefit from supplementing with prickly pear cactus, but especially diabetics, the obese, and athletes. You can buy the pads at small markets, and cut them up for your salads, or eat the fruits or jellies made from them. The fruit of the nopal cactus, tastes like a cross between bubblegum and watermelon. As always if under a doctors care or prescription medications check with your doctor. Otherwise give this ancient plant a try, and power up a workouts, speed your recovery, and detox your body. Good Luck...
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