The pitahaya ( Hylocereus undatus ) is a fruit native to Central America, widely distributed in America and Asia. It belongs to the cactus family and has two variants, one with a yellow pulp and the other with a red pulp.

It has an ovoid shape, about 10 cm in diameter, red in color and a scaly surface on which there are several hard spines. This appearance has led to it being also known as dragon fruit.

Nutritional value of pitahaya

This fruit contains a white pulp with seeds inside. Its largest component is water, it is also rich in vegetable fiber, proteins, various minerals and vitamin C.

It also contains many types of antioxidant substances, especially betalains, phenols and captin.

Beneficial effects of pitahaya for health

Dragon fruit or pitahaya has many positive effects. However, what differentiates it from other fruits are the following five characteristics:

  1. It contains a large amount of vitamin C , which naturally strengthens the immune system.
  2. It can help regulate blood sugar levels due to its fiber.
  3. Dragon fruit has a positive influence on cholesterol level and therefore can help prevent heart disease.
  4. It contains lycopene, an antioxidant that can kill certain cancer cells.
  5. In addition, the high water content and the enzymes contained in the pulp and in the tiny black grains of the fruit stimulate digestion.

Anti-cancer effects

Betalains are the main antioxidants contained in pitahaya, being found in a higher proportion in the red pulp variant. These substances have anti-cancer effects, especially by preventing the proliferation of malignant tumors and inducing the death of malignant cells .

In the case of tumors whose proliferation depends on hormonal stimulation by female sex hormones, pitahaya has been shown to have the ability to decrease the expression of receptors for estrogens and progesterone in malignant cells.

These effects have been documented in clinical studies mainly in the case of breast cancer, cervical cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia and melanoma.

Antioxidant effects

This fruit is rich in other antioxidants, which have been contained in its pulp. These include phenols, tannins, flavonoids, catechins, anthocyanins, and proanthocyanins.

These components work by counteracting the production of free radicals, substances that oxidize cellular components and molecules such as lipids, leading to the appearance and progression of various degenerative disorders that lead to the development of chronic diseases.

Metabolic effects

Fruits from xerophytic plants such as pitahaya, nopal and prickly pears, are rich in mucilage. These are recognized for giving the fruit a somewhat slimy texture.

These substances have a regulatory effect on resistance to the action of insulin, while they can stimulate the production of this hormone by the pancreas, which contributes to a decrease in blood sugar values ​​in people with type 2 diabetes .

Cardiovascular effects

The various antioxidants contained in pitahaya, especially captin, have a number of beneficial effects at the cardiovascular level.

Many studies have confirmed the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables in preventing cardiovascular disease. This is related to the fact that antioxidants help fight the process known as oxidative stress, which is key to the development of cholesterol plaques inside the arteries , also preventing the development of diabetes in people susceptible to this disease.

Another associated benefit of dragon fruit is its proven ability to induce greater production of nitric oxide to the level of the artery walls. This substance is a powerful vasodilator, which helps reduce the tone or hardness of the wall of the arteries, which reduces blood pressure and increases the diameter of the blood vessel to allow a greater supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues.

Gastrointestinal effects

The pitahaya contains mucilages and pectins. These substances have a healing effect on the gastric mucosa. This has led it to be used in people with conditions such as gastritis and gastric ulcers, where in addition to counteracting symptoms such as abdominal pain and heartburn, it favors the healing process of the mucosa.

Another gastrointestinal benefit is its laxative effect, which helps to improve conditions such as constipation.

Pitahaya, a fruit with great potential to treat various diseases

The pitahaya is a fruit that offers a host of health benefits. They were already known to the Mayans and Aztecs, the first cultures that were able to observe their benefits.

By reviewing the clinical studies in which the active principles of the fruit have been identified, as well as their effects on the body, we can realize its great potential to maintain an optimal functioning of the body in general and also help prevent the three great evils of modern society: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Many studies conclude that pitahaya has great therapeutic potential for the treatment of various malignant diseases, which means that its consumption can help people with cancer to overcome the disease.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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