A cactus is a member of the plant family Cactaceae. This plant family contains about 127 genera of plants with nearly 1,750 different species. Cacti live in extremely dry environments, under the hot blistering sun—environments that other plants and animals have great difficulty living in.


Aloe vera and cacti may look similar but they belong to entirely different botanical plant families.

Aloe vera can take about 2 years to grow about 60 cm in height.

Some species of cactus, on the other hand, may take 10 years to grow only about 4 cm tall!


Cactus has long been part of the Mexican culture. Historically, cactus has been used for a wide variety of ailments. The stems of cactus used to be eaten raw or cooked for diabetes. Pulverized cactus used to be taken for high cholesterol. Cactus was used for digestive issues, such as diarrhea, to help lose weight, and even for urinary issues.

In traditional Chinese medicine, cactus is considered to be “cold” in nature, and can promote the flow of qi and blood circulation. It is used to help reduce swelling and relieve pain with its cooling and detoxifying properties. It is believed to be able to strengthen the spleen and stop diarrhea. Due to its many benefits, it is used both internally and externally for many diseases.


Cactus contains a wide variety of phytochemicals and polysaccharides, and these give great benefits to health. Phytochemicals are a type of phytonutrient that help plants defend against damage from ultraviolet light, pests, and the environment. The American Institute for Cancer Research states that phytochemicals have the potential to:

  • Block some of the actions of carcinogens
  • Stimulate the immune system
  • Prevent DNA damage and enhance DNA repair
  • Slow growth rate of cancer cells
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Reduce oxidative damage
  • Help regulate hormones

Below are some of the most noteworthy nutrients in cactus, and some research that has been done.

Key Points: Betalains, such as betanin and indicaxanthin, help prevent oxidative damage and show antioxidant properties greater than that of ascorbic acid.

Research conducted with human volunteers showed that in the group that consumed fruits containing betalains, their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) was more resistant to ex vivo-induced oxidative injury than the samples taken before consuming fruits containing betalains.

Key Point: Have powerful antioxidant properties.

Catechins exist in many plant foods, and much research has looked into their antioxidative effects. They are thought to function indirectly as antioxidants through effects on tranion factors and enzyme activities. They also function as scavengers of reactive oxygen species within the body. In animal models, the effects of catechins on markers of oxidative stress are promising. However, the exact function remains unclear.

Key Points: Has anticancer and antioxidant effects.

Research suggests that there are a few potential mechanisms of actions that are behind the therapeutic potential of dihydroquercetin in disease states such as cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease. The antioxidant response element and detoxifying phase II enzymes are thought to be activated, along with the inhibition of cytochrome P450 and fatty acid synthase. In research with animal models and breast cancer cell cultures, antioxidant and antiproliferative activities were noted. Experiments done on animal models with chemiluminescence showed that even at low concentrations, the radical-production reactions were inhibited, highlighting the antioxidant effects of dihydroquercetin. Other experiments showed that in animal cells, the levels of reactive oxygen species and intracellular glutathione were lower in the treatment group that was given dihydroquercetin.

Gallic Acid
Key Points: Inhibits cancer cell proliferation and promotes apoptosis. Has potent antioxidant effects.

Research done on lymphoblastic leukemia cell lines showed that cell viability in cancer cells decreased to less than 50% due to enhanced apoptosis compared to cells not treated with gallic acid. This suggests that gallic acid was effective in inhibiting proliferation of cancer cells and promoting apoptosis. In research done on other cancer cell lines, such as human melanoma, cervical cancer, osteosarcoma, colon cancer, and glioblastoma cell lines, gallic acid was shown to have cytotoxic effects on cancer cells without affecting normal cells. Research findings showed that gallic acid inhibited proliferation and induced apoptosis of various cancer cells.

Key Points: Helps inhibit cancer cell proliferation and promotes apoptosis of cancer cells.

In research done on breast cancer cell lines, researchers noted that isorhamnetin inhibited cell proliferation and induced cell apoptosis. It was observed to inhibit protein kinase B (PKB, also known as Akt)/the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and MEK/extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation cascades, and the expression of proliferating nuclear antigen Ki-67. Other research showed that isorhamnetin promoted activity of the mitochondrial apoptosis signalling pathway, thus promoting apoptosis. Some breast cancer cell lines showed decreased expression of Bcl-2, a marginal decrease in expression of Bcl-xL, and an increase of cleaved caspase-3 and cell apoptosis.

Key Points: Has anticancer properties and helps suppress metastasis.

Research done in Korea noted that kaempferol reduced proliferation and the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor in an ovarian cancer cell line. The Cornell University in the United States published an article that stated kaempferol exhibited inhibitory effects on cell proliferation by the regulation of cyclin dependent kinase 1 (CDK1) and cyclin B, and through the regulation of a tumor suppressor gene p53 and polo like kinase 1 (PLK1) in breast cancer cell lines and cervical cancer cell lines respectively. Researchers also noted that kaempferol suppressed estrogen-receptor alpha and cell migration in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. This data is important in promoting understanding of how plant foods can help in cancer prevention.

Key Point: Has anticancer properties through inhibition of both metastasis and angiogenesis.

Research done on different cancer cell lines suggests that luteolin’s anticancer property is associated with the promotion of apoptosis of cancer cells as well as the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation, metastasis, and angiogenesis. There is some research that shows luteolin sensitizing cancer cells to therapeutic-induced cytotoxicity through suppression of cell survival pathways and stimulation of apoptosis pathways.

On a non-small cell lung cancer cell line, it was shown that luteolin exhibited an anticancer effect through SIRT1-mediated apoptosis. In research done on the BEAS-2B cell line, made from human bronchial epithelium, scientists confirmed that luteolin modulated VRK1 activity, thereby suppressing cancer cell proliferation, and, through this regulation of the cell cycle progression, induced apoptosis.

Pectic Polysaccharides
Key Point: Have antitumor properties.

Pectic polysaccharides are present in a wide variety of plants and vegetables. In an experimental lung metastasis study of a colon cancer cell line, it was noted that a polysaccharide fraction inhibited the formation of metastasis in the lung. This polysaccharide fraction also enhanced the function of natural killer cells and the production of several chemicals that were needed for their function. Other studies show that pectin, a pectic polysaccharide, can induce apoptosis in some human prostate cancer cells. This suggests that pectin may be able to help reduce tumor spread by activating some of our immune cells—the macrophages and natural killer cells, as well as helping to kill cancer cells.

Key Point: Act as powerful antioxidants.

Polyphenols in plants are generally involved in protection against ultraviolet radiation and pathogens. However, there is growing evidence of their benefits for humans. Polyphenols are a group of over 8,000 compounds in various plants. There has been much research done on the different polyphenolic compounds and how they affect health. Much of the research focuses on the health benefits of using polyphenols as antioxidants. Multiple experimental and epidemiological studies have shown that polyphenol-rich foods and beverages can increase plasma antioxidant capacity. Other epidemiological studies have also shown “an inverse association between the risk of chronic human diseases and the consumption of a polyphenol-rich diet.” As antioxidants, polyphenols have the potential to protect cells from oxidative damage, and thus, reduce the risk of various degenerative diseases associated with damage caused by oxidative stress.

Key Points: Has potent anti-inflammatory capabilities as well as anticancer activities through reducing cancer cell proliferation and suppressing metastasis. May be a potent neuroprotector.

In studies done on animal models with endotoxemia, a deadly infection of the blood, researchers noted that quercetin significantly attenuated the production of TNF-alpha, a cytokine involved in systemic inflammation, as well as interleukin 1 beta (IL1B) in macrophages. Through this, the researchers noted that quercetin reduced the lethality rate of endotoxemia and the circulation levels of TNF-alpha and IL1B.

Quercetin has also been reported to lower the risk of several cancers. In a study done on an animal neuroblastoma cell line, researchers noted that quercetin could potentially induce apoptosis in these cancer cells. This suggests that quercetin could potentially be used as a potent anticancer drug in future.

There have been several studies done on whether compounds such as quercetin could have neuroprotective effects on the developing, adult, and aging nervous systems. Several studies in animal models and humans have suggested that there is supporting evidence for this neuroprotective effect through acting against toxic chemicals, in other forms of injury to the nervous system, and in degenerative diseases. There have been several hypotheses on the mechanisms of action.

In animal models, it was shown that quercetin was found to inhibit xanthine/xanthine oxidase-induced oxidative neuronal cell injury in primary cultured cortical cells. Quercetin also inhibited lipid peroxidation and scavenged free radicals. These findings affirm the neuroprotective effects of quercetin.

Key Points: Has antioxidant effects. May help to support collagen production, promote healthy blood vessels, prevent blood clots, and reduce cholesterol.

Research done with different assays concluded that rutin has strong antioxidant activity and free radical scavenging activity.It can also effectively inhibit lipid peroxidation. A double-blind clinical study was conducted with human volunteers. The experimental group was given rutin, which was applied to the skin, while the control group was not given rutin. In the group that was given rutin, researchers noted that dermal density and skin elasticity were increased, and the length, area, and number of wrinkles were decreased. The researchers thought that this was due to increased messenger RNA (mRNA) expression of collagen, decreased mRNA expression of matrix metallopeptidase 1, and increased ROS scavenging activity. Some people believe that rutin can also strengthen blood vessels.

In experiments done on animal models, it was noted that supplementation of rutin helped promote the excretion of fecal sterols, leading to decreased absorption of dietary cholesterol, and thus helping to lower plasma and hepatic cholesterol levels.

In other studies, it was shown that rutin could be a potent inhibitor of protein disulfide isomerase (PDI), which is secreted from cells during thrombosis. There is also evidence that showed rutin preventing PDI from entering cells. The researchers found that “rutin proved to be the most potently antithrombotic compound that we ever tested in this model.”

Vanillic Acid
Key Points: Has potential antibacterial and antioxidant effects. It can help guard against high blood sugar and liver damage.

In experiments, researchers have noted that vanillic acid demonstrated antihypertensive and antioxidant effects in their animal models. Further research has revealed that vanillic acid has a stronger antioxidative activity than other antioxidants, including Trolox. The results suggest that vanillic acid has a protective effect against free radical-induced biomembrane damage.

In studies done with animal models with diabetes, the group given vanillic acid had a significant decrease in fasting plasma glucose, insulin and blood pressure levels compared to the group not given vanillic acid. When looking at other markers, it was noted that lipid peroxidation markers were also significantly decreased. This suggests that vanillic acid could help control diabetics’ blood sugar levels as well as diabetic hypertension, which could lead to other therapeutic benefits such as reducing insulin used.

In studies done with bacterial colonies of Cronobacter sakazakii strains, it was shown that the cell membranes of the bacteria were damaged by exposure to compounds including vanillic acid. This suggests that vanillic acid has the potential to be used in controlling bacterial growth. Vanillic acid was shown to decrease the level of transaminases (markers of liver damage) in animal models with carbon tetrachloride-induced chronic liver injury. It was also noted that vanillic acid could inhibit activation of hepatic stellate cells, which in turn could inhibit liver fibrosis and scarring. This suggests that vanillic acid could have a protective effect on the liver against hepatic fibrosis.


In research done on animal embryonic models, beta-sitosterol showed potent angiogenic activity. It helps stimulate neovascularization in animal models, and the motility of endothelial cells. This shows that beta-sitosterol helps form new blood vessels, thereby promoting nutrient delivery to damaged areas, and helping new cells move to the damaged areas to encourage wound healing. Furthermore, beta-sitosterol also has anti-inflammatory actions.


There are many other benefits of cactus. Multiple studies suggest that cactus contains many antioxidants, which have well-known cardioprotective, anticancer, antiviral, and anti-allergy properties.

Some studies have shown that substances in cactus may:

  • Inhibit the replication of several viruses and even inhibit the action of viruses that have yet to invade a cell.
  • Lower blood sugar levels.
  • Lower cholesterol levels and modify the composition of LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Provide neuroprotection.

Some Phytonutrients in Cactus

Phytochemical Effect
Betalains (such as betanin and indicaxanthin)
  • Help prevent oxidative damage
  • Show antioxidant properties greater than that of ascorbic acid
  • Anti-inflammatory and angiogenic properties
  • Helps with wound healing
  • Powerful antioxidant properties
  • Anticancer and antioxidant effects
Gallic acid
  • Anticancer, antiviral, and antifungal activities
  • Inhibits cancer cell proliferation
  • Promotes apoptosis of cancer cells
  • Anticancer activities through reducing proliferation and expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)
  • Suppresses metastasis
  • Anticancer properties through inhibition of both metastasis and angiogenesis
Pectic polysaccharides
  • Antitumor properties
  • Powerful antioxidant properties
Quercetin 3-methyl ether, Quercetin
  • Powerful anti-inflammatory actions
  • May be potent neuroprotectors
  • Antioxidant effects
  • Supports collagen production
  • Promotes healthy vessels, prevents blood clots, may reduce cholesterol
Vanillic acid
  • Antibacterial effects
  • Helps guard against high blood sugar
  • Antioxidant, hepatoprotective

References can be found at www.eleadglobal.com.