Prickle Pear: The history and benefits of a superfood

While not terribly familiar for most Americans, the prickly pear is in fact one of the most common and widely grown cacti on the planet, with a wide variety of uses. Originating in Central America, the prickly pear is now grown all over the world, from Mexico and the southern US, to the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, Middle East, India, and beyond. It is grown primarily as food, as the fruit of the prickly pear are eaten raw, turned into jams, jellies, sauces, or used for their juice, while the edible leaves are also widely served as a vegetable dish. The fruit is also used in a number of alcoholic beverages for its fruity, strawberry like flavor.

In the mid 90s, researchers began to investigate the health benefits of the prickly pear in greater depth. Already known to have antioxidant properties, researchers discovered that the prickly pear also helped the body repair damage caused by a variety of causes. Basically, when your body is under significant stress, like that caused by climbing a high mountain, deep sea diving, or consuming too much alcohol, it creates a specific type of protein (called heat shock proteins, because they were first discovered in relation to heat shock) that helps repair the damage and protect your cells. The earlier these heat shock proteins are produced, the less damage that is caused, and the less serious the symptoms you end up feeling. What researchers discovered is that prickly pear accelerates your body’s ability to produce these proteins, thus helping protect you and reduce the severity of your symptoms.

Recognizing these benefits, in the early 2000s researchers at Tulane conducted a study to see if prickly pear could help with hangovers. These researchers knew that consuming alcohol caused inflammation, and were some of the earliest researchers to hypothesize that this inflammation was a major contributor towards hangovers. Knowing prickly pear’s antioxidant capabilities along with its ability to help repair and protect against cellular damage, they further hypothesized that prickly pear might be able to help reduce inflammation, and with it, reduce hangovers.

Their results suggested they were right. Test subjects given prickly pear prior to drinking showed not only greatly reduced levels of inflammation, but also reduced hangover symptoms. While the researchers could not prove this was due to prickly pear’s ability to help the body create heat shock proteins, their results showed that prickly pear was clearly effective. Unfortunately, there is very little funding in the United States for research on hangovers, so there were no follow up studies; however, a second study in the early 2010s to evaluate prickly pear’s ability to protect from alcohol caused damage (this time on blood cells) once again showed prickly pear to be highly effective.

Today, prickly pear is an important part of the Toast! formula. We made Toast! gummies shareable so you can easily carry them in your bag or pocket and then be the talk of the group for bringing party favors!  Check out our collection here and stock up today.