Background: Cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit contains vitamin C and characteristic betalain pigments, the radical-scavenging properties and antioxidant activities of which have been shown in vitro.
Objective: We investigated the effects of short-term supplementation with cactus pear fruit compared with vitamin C alone on total-body oxidative status in healthy humans.
Design: In a randomized, crossover, double-treatment study, 18 healthy volunteers received either 250 g fresh fruit pulp or 75 mg vitamin C twice daily for 2 wk, with a 6-wk washout period between the treatments. Before (baseline) and after each treatment, 8-epi-prostaglandin F(2alpha) (8-epi-PGF(2alpha)) and malondialdehyde in plasma, the ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione (GSH:GSSG) in erythrocytes, and lipid hydroperoxides in LDL were measured as biomarkers of oxidative stress; plasma Trolox-equivalent antioxidant activity (TEAC) and vitamins A, E, and C were evaluated as indexes of antioxidant status.
Results: Both treatments caused comparable increases compared with baseline in plasma concentrations of vitamin E and vitamin C (P < 0.05); vitamin A and TEAC did not change significantly. After supplementation with cactus pear fruit, 8-epi-PGF(2)alpha and malondialdehyde decreased by approximately 30% and 75%, respectively; GSH:GSSG shifted toward a higher value (P < 0.05); and LDL hydroperoxides were reduced by almost one-half. Supplementation with vitamin C did not significantly affect any marker of oxidative stress.
Conclusions: Consumption of cactus pear fruit positively affects the body's redox balance, decreases oxidative damage to lipids, and improves antioxidant status in healthy humans. Supplementation with vitamin C at a comparable dosage enhances overall antioxidant defense but does not significantly affect body oxidative stress. Components of cactus pear fruit other than antioxidant vitamins may play a role in the observed effects.