Background: Besides others pectin, a soluble fibre, has been reported to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels in both animals and man with hyperlipidemia as well as being able to slow carbohydrate absorption and hence reduce the postprandial rise in blood glucose and serum insulin in patients with type-II diabetes. Aim of this pilot study was to assess the effect of prickly pear consumption on glucose- and lipid metabolism.
Design: In 24 non-diabetic, non-obese males (aged 37-55 years) suffering from primary isolated hypercholesterolemia (n = 12; group A) or combined hyperlipidemia (n = 12; group B) respectively, the influence of prickly pear pectin (Opuntia robusta)-intake on glucose- and lipid metabolism was examined. After an 8 week pre-running phase with a 7506 KJ step-I diet (phase I), 625 KJ were replaced by prickly pear edible pulp (250 g/day) for 8 further weeks (phase II).
Results: Prickly pear leads to a decrease of total cholesterol (12%), low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (15%), apolipoprotein B (9%), triglycerides (12%), fibrinogen (11%), blood glucose (11%), insulin (11%) and uric acid (10%), while body weight, high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, apolipoprotein A-I, and lipoprotein(a) remained unchanged.
Conclusion: The hypocholesterolemic action of prickly pear may be partly explained by the fibre (pectin) content, but the hypoglycaemic actions (improvement of insulin sensitivity) in the non-obese, non-diabetic need further investigation to get more insights on the potential advantage of treating the metabolic syndrome.