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Nikhil Prasad  Fact checked by:Thailand Medical News Team Oct 10, 2023  1 month, 4 weeks, 2 days, 14 hours, 13 minutes ago

Herbs And Phytochemicals: Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.- A Herbal Plant With Anticancer Potential

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Herbs And Phytochemicals: Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.- A Herbal Plant With Anticancer Potential
Nikhil Prasad  Fact checked by:Thailand Medical News Team Oct 10, 2023  1 month, 4 weeks, 2 days, 14 hours, 13 minutes ago
Herbs And Phytochemicals: Cancer remains one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide, with conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy often accompanied by undesirable side effects. In recent years, natural products have garnered attention as a promising alternative for cancer treatment due to their comparatively lower side effects.

Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill., a member of the Cactaceae family, has emerged as a particularly intriguing herbal plant with a diverse array of phytochemicals that exhibit potent anticancer properties. This article comprehensively explores the potential of Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill. and its phytochemicals as natural agents for cancer prevention and treatment, emphasizing the current trends and future perspectives in this field.
A Herbs And Phytochemicals study conducted by researchers from Sichuan University, Chengdu-China, Baba Mastnath University, Haryana-India, Chaudhary Bansi Lal University, Haryana-India, Geeta University-Haryana, India, Universidade de Vigo-Spain and Lovely Professional University,Punjab, India explored the potential of Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill and its various phytochemicals in cancer treatment through a study review of existing published literature.
Understanding Cancer and Its Impact
Cancer represents a complex collection of more than 100 different diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell division, leading to abnormal cell growth that can potentially invade and metastasize to other parts of the body. This multifaceted condition poses a significant global health challenge, being the second leading cause of death worldwide. In 2005 alone, cancer claimed 7.6 million lives, and by 2020, it was estimated that 16 million people would be diagnosed with cancer. Timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment hold the potential to cure one-third of all new cancer cases. However, conventional cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, often come with severe side effects, limiting their effectiveness and tolerability.
Chemotherapy's Limitations
Chemotherapy, a widely used cancer treatment, relies on drugs that target rapidly dividing cells, which is a hallmark of cancer cells. Since cancer cells often lack the regulatory mechanisms present in normal cells, they continue to divide uncontrollably, making them more susceptible to chemotherapy drugs. Over the past few decades, a substantial arsenal of chemotherapeutic drugs has been developed, but they are not without their challenges. For instance, drugs like 5-fluorouracil and doxorubicin are known to cause myelotoxicity, cardiotoxicity, and other adverse effects. This toxicity can pose a significant hurdle in the treatment of cancer using allopathic or traditional medicine.
Role of Natural Products in Cancer Treatment
In light of the limitations and side effects associated with chemotherapy, natural products have gained prominence in the search for effective cancer treatments. Plants contain a wide variety of phytochemicals, many of which possess anticancer properties. These phytochemicals are often aromatic compounds, including phenols and their oxygen-substituted counterparts. Focusing on active phytochemical s in herbal therapy can help mitigate adverse effects and combat pathogenic resistance to antibiotics. Plants have been a valuable source of secondary metabolites that serve as microbicides, insecticides, and pharmaceutical agents. Medicinal plants and their secondary metabolites have played a pivotal role in combating diseases throughout human history.
Phytochemicals and Antioxidants in Natural Foods
Natural foods and antioxidants derived from them, such as vitamins and phenolic phytochemicals, have gained considerable attention for their ability to protect against oxidative damage and genotoxicity. In recent years, there has been a growing demand for fresh and minimally processed fruits and vegetables that combine convenience and freshness. The therapeutic potential of plant-derived compounds, especially phytochemicals, has sparked interest in their role in cancer prevention and treatment.
Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.: A Natural Anticancer Resource
Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill., commonly known as prickly pear or nopal cactus, belongs to the Cactaceae family and encompasses approximately 1500 species of cactus. This versatile plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions and can thrive in arid and semi-arid environments, making it prevalent in regions like South Africa, Mexico, Latin America, and the Mediterranean.

Ethnopharmacological Perspectives of Opuntia ficus-indica
Opuntia ficus-indica has a long history of use in traditional medicine for various health conditions. Indigenous populations have incorporated both fresh and dried fruits of the plant into their diets due to their high antioxidant, pectin polysaccharide, and fiber content. Recent scientific studies have shed light on the diverse bioactive molecules found in Opuntia ficus-indica, including carbohydrates, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, fibers, and secondary metabolites known for their antioxidant and anticancer properties.
Opuntia ficus-indica in Cancer Prevention and Treatment
Numerous studies have demonstrated the cytotoxic effects of various parts of Opuntia ficus-indica on malignant cell lines. For instance, purified isorhamnetin glycosides and cladode flour extracts of Opuntia ficus-indica (var. Jalpa) have shown cytotoxic activity against human colon cancer cell lines Caco-2 and HT-29. The induction of apoptosis via the caspase cascade, a critical pathway in apoptosis, has been linked to these effects.
Additionally, aqueous fruit extracts of Opuntia ficus-indica have exhibited dose-dependent apoptotic effects on human colon cancer cell line Caco-2, impacting the tumor suppressor gene p16INK4a. Betanin, derived from Opuntia ficus-indica fruits, has been shown to inhibit the development of chronic myeloid leukemia cell lines. Furthermore, Opuntia species have been found to exert cytotoxicity on various cancer cell lines, including prostate, glioblastoma, ovarian, and more.
One intriguing aspect of Opuntia ficus-indica's anticancer potential is its ability to counteract genotoxicity and oxidative stress caused by carcinogenic substances, such as aflatoxin B1 and mycotoxins. These findings indicate the plant's potential protective role against cancer development.
Phytochemicals Present In Opuntia Ficus-Indica And Their Anticancer Attributes
Opuntia ficus-indica, commonly known as prickly pear or Barbary fig, is a unique cactus species that has been known for its various health benefits for centuries. This remarkable plant is native to Mexico and has now spread to various parts of the world due to its adaptability and valuable properties. Among the numerous health-promoting compounds found in Opuntia ficus-indica, phytochemicals stand out as key players in its anticancer attributes.
Polyphenolic Compounds
Polyphenolic compounds are a diverse group of secondary metabolites found in plants, known for their antioxidant and health-promoting properties. Opuntia ficus-indica contains a wide range of polyphenolic compounds, including flavonoids, phenolic acids, and more. Flavonoids, in particular, are the most abundant phenolic compounds in this cactus species, with over 4000 flavonoids identified. Flavonoids are known for their role in protecting plants from oxidative stress and UV radiation, and they exhibit various health benefits in humans as well.
The distribution of phenolic compounds within the different parts of the Opuntia ficus-indica plant varies. The peels, flowers, and cladodes (flattened stems) contain the highest concentrations of phenolic compounds, while the fruits and seeds have comparatively lower levels. The phenolic profile of Opuntia ficus-indica includes a wide array of compounds, such as 40 phenolic acids, gallotannin, flavanones, flavanols, flavonols, flavononols, and flavones.
These phenolic compounds have been extensively studied for their potential anticancer properties. They have shown the ability to promote apoptosis (programmed cell death), reduce cell proliferation, and target various aspects of cancer development, including angiogenesis, growth, differentiation, and metastasis.
Organic Acids
In addition to phenolic compounds, Opuntia ficus-indica also contains organic acids, including malic, quinic, and aconitic acids. These organic acids are found in varying concentrations throughout the plant, with peels and cladodes having the highest levels.
Quinic acid, a cyclohexane carboxylic acid, has been of particular interest due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative properties. It has also been linked to neuro- and radioprotective effects. Experimental studies have shown that cis-aconitic acid, another organic acid found in Opuntia ficus-indica, can prevent carcinogenesis induced by harmful substances.’
Phenolic Acids
Phenolic acids, a subgroup of phenolic compounds, have garnered attention for their potential as anticancer agents. These compounds have demonstrated the ability to induce apoptosis, inhibit proliferation, and target various elements of cancer development. Opuntia ficus-indica contains several types of phenolic acids, including hydroxybenzoic and hydroxycinnamic acids. Hydroxycinnamic acids, a type of cinnamic acid derivative, are among the most prevalent in this cactus species.
Cinnamic acid derivatives, such as chlorogenic, coumaric, and ferulic acids, are abundant in Opuntia ficus-indica and have shown promising anticancer potential. These compounds have been studied for their ability to inhibit cancer cell growth, induce apoptosis, and modulate various cellular processes.
Gallic Acid
Gallic acid, chemically known as 3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid, is another noteworthy phytochemical found in Opuntia ficus-indica. It can be found in various forms in plants, including as an ester, free acid, hydrolyzable tannin, or catechin derivatives. Gallic acid and its derivatives have exhibited a broad range of biological activities, including antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antidiabetic effects.
In addition to these properties, gallic acid has been studied for its anticancer potential. It has been shown to possess anti-cancer effects both in vitro and in vivo, with evidence of its ability to suppress cell proliferation and promote apoptosis in various cancer cell lines, including human ovarian cancer cells.
Protocatechuic Acid
Protocatechuic acid (PCA), also known as 3,4-dihydroxybenzoic acid, is a dihydroxybenzoic acid with radical scavenging activity and antioxidant properties. Recent research suggests that PCA may have potential as a cancer-fighting agent. Its mode of action is primarily related to its ability to scavenge free radicals, limit their formation, and up-regulate enzymes involved in neutralizing radicals.
PCA has also been described as an anticancer agent and a powerful antioxidant. Its ability to modulate oxidative stress and promote antioxidant defense systems in cells makes it a promising candidate for cancer prevention and treatment.
Cinnamic Acid and Derivatives
Cinnamic acid, a plant-derived organic acid, is known for its biological and antioxidant properties. Cinnamic acid derivatives, both natural and synthetic, have been explored for their anticancer potential in recent years. Various cinnamoyl compounds have gained significant attention for their ability to inhibit cancer cell growth and promote neural progenitor cell proliferation.
Chlorogenic Acid
Chlorogenic acid (CGA), also known as 3-O-caffeoylquinic acid, is a cinnamate ester with well-established antioxidant properties. It has been recognized for its anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant potential. CGA may serve as a chemo-sensitizing agent, inhibiting cancer growth by affecting critical pathways in cancer metabolism. Although the exact molecular mechanisms of CGA's anticancer effects are not fully understood, it has shown promise in cancer prevention and treatment.
Coumaric Acid and Derivatives
P-coumaric acid, also known as 4-hydroxycinnamic acid, is a phenyl ring hydroxylated cinnamic acid analog. It plays a crucial role in the production of various phenolic acids, including rosmarinic, caffeic, chlorogenic, and ferulic acids. P-coumaric acid has demonstrated antioxidant properties and has been shown to suppress cancer cell growth, promote apoptotic cell death, and have potential chemopreventive effects against colon cancer.
Ferulic Acid
Ferulic acid (FA) is a trans-cinnamic acid with hydroxy and methoxy groups on the phenyl ring. It is a common phytochemical found in plant cell walls and can exist in both covalently-coupled and free forms. FA is known for its high antioxidant activity, attributed to the generation of a resonance-stabilized phenoxyl radical. Studies have demonstrated FA's anticancer properties in various cancers, including colon and lung cancers, as well as tumors of the central nervous system. FA's potential role in limiting breast cancer metastasis is still being explored.
Caffeic Acid
Caffeic acid is another phenolic compound found in Opuntia ficus-indica, structurally characterized by acrylic and phenolic functional groups. It has been identified in high levels in various plant species and is recognized for its antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties. Caffeic acid has exhibited antiproliferative effects in numerous cancer cell lines, including breast, colon, and lung cancers. Additionally, it can induce apoptosis and inhibit tumor growth in animal models.
Flavonoids are a diverse group of polyphenolic compounds with a wide range of biological activities. Opuntia ficus-indica contains various flavonoids, such as quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and rutin. These compounds have shown potential as antioxidants and anticancer agents through various mechanisms, including the modulation of cell cycle progression, induction of apoptosis, and inhibition of angiogenesis and metastasis.
Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, are pigments found in Opuntia ficus-indica that are responsible for its characteristic red and yellow colors. These compounds have antioxidant properties and may play a role in preventing oxidative damage that can lead to cancer development. Beta-carotene, in particular, is known for its potential to reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as lung cancer.
Betalains are nitrogen-containing water-soluble pigments responsible for the red color of the Opuntia ficus-indica fruit. While they are not traditional phytochemicals associated with cancer prevention, they do contribute to the overall antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the plant. Red-purple varieties of Opuntia ficus-indica may have higher levels of betacyanins, which could contribute to their potential health benefits.
Betalains have shown potential in preventing and treating cancer. In vitro studies have demonstrated that betalains activate the phase II detoxifying enzyme quinone reductase and act as free radical scavengers, which can help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. They also activate transcription factors that enhance the body's natural antioxidant defense systems.
Specifically, betalains from Opuntia ficus-indica fruits have been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells, including human ovarian cancer cells and cervical cancer cells. They have also induced apoptosis (cell death) in a leukemia cell line, suggesting their potential as anticancer agents.
Triterpenoids and Sterols
Opuntia ficus-indica also contains triterpenoids and sterols, which are compounds known for their diverse biological activities. Some triterpenoids have been studied for their potential as anticancer agents due to their ability to modulate apoptosis, inhibit cell proliferation, and target cancer-specific signaling pathways.
Future Perspectives and Research Opportunities
While Opuntia ficus-indica shows promise as an anticancer resource, several avenues for future research and exploration remain. Most anticancer studies have primarily focused on colorectal/colon cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer, leaving other cancer types like leukemia, thyroid, endometrial, liver, and prostate with limited attention. This presents an opportunity for researchers to delve into the potential effectiveness of Opuntia ficus-indica and its metabolites against these underexplored cancers.
Furthermore, studies have predominantly utilized cell line-based experiments, with limited investigations into animal-based models. The utilization of alternative platforms like the Zebrafish model could provide valuable insights into the anticancer mechanisms of Opuntia ficus-indica. However, more comprehensive and in-depth studies are necessary to ascertain the clinical utility of this sustainable resource.
In conclusion, Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill. stands out as a herbal plant with significant anticancer potential due to its rich repertoire of phytochemicals. The various parts of this plant have shown cytotoxic effects against malignant cell lines in numerous studies, offering a promising avenue for cancer prevention and treatment. However, further research is needed to explore its efficacy against a wider range of cancer types and to bridge the gap between in vitro and in vivo findings. As the world continues to search for effective and sustainable cancer treatments, Opuntia ficus-indica and its phytochemicals present an exciting frontier in the quest to combat this devastating disease.
Opuntia ficus-indica, a versatile and resilient cactus species, harbors a rich array of phytochemicals with potential anticancer properties. These phytochemicals include polyphenolic compounds, organic acids, phenolic acids, gallic acid, protocatechuic acid, cinnamic acid and derivatives, chlorogenic acid, coumaric acid and derivatives, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, flavonoids, carotenoids, betacyanins, triterpenoids, and sterols.
While the anticancer potential of these phytochemicals is promising, it's essential to emphasize that cancer is a complex and multifaceted disease. The effectiveness of Opuntia ficus-indica in preventing or treating cancer would likely depend on various factors, including the specific type of cancer, the concentration of phytochemicals, individual genetics, and overall dietary and lifestyle habits.
Incorporating Opuntia ficus-indica into a balanced and varied diet may offer potential health benefits, including its possible role in cancer prevention and support. However, it should not be considered a sole or guaranteed treatment for cancer. Individuals seeking to incorporate Opuntia ficus-indica or its extracts into their dietary regimen for potential health benefits, especially related to cancer, should consult with healthcare professionals for personalized guidance and recommendations.
Moreover, while research on the anticancer properties of Opuntia ficus-indica is promising, ongoing scientific investigations are needed to better understand the mechanisms of action and optimize its use in cancer prevention and therapy.
The study findings were published in the peer reviewed journal: Frontiers in Plant Science.
For the latest on Herbs And Phytochemicals, keep on logging to Thailand Medical News.
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