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Opuntia, the weight-loss cactus

You can buy them in any drugstore: slimming supplements containing fibre from the cactus Opuntia ficus-indica. You can see the plant in the drawing below. The supplements go by the name of Proactol, Prickly Pear Cactus or simply Opuntia. According to a sponsored human study, published recently in Current Therapeutic Research, the supplements may actually work. A little. A teeny weeny bit.

Opuntia, the weight-loss cactus

The researchers, who did contract research at a private laboratory in Germany, gave healthy subjects with a normal weight two tables containing Opuntia ficus-indica fibre twice a day after meals for a week. Each tab contained 500 mg fibre. On another occasion the researchers gave their subjects a placebo.

Fat excretion
Before and during the supplementation the researchers measured the amount of fat in the subjects' stools. The figure below shows that the Opuntia ficus-indica supplementation caused the amount of fat to rise.

When the subjects took a placebo they lost about 4.6 percent of the fat in their diet through excretion. When they took the Opuntia fibre this increased to 15.8 percent.

Opuntia, the weight-loss cactus

Expressed in grams this meant that the subjects lost 4.3 g fat if they took the placebo and 15.1 g fat if they took the supplement. Thatís a difference of 10.8 g fat or 97 kcal per day.

Do the sums
If you burn 7000 kcal more than you consume you can lose 1 kg of body fat.

If you walk you burn 3.5 kcal per kg bodyweight each hour. So if you weigh 70 kg you lose the 97 kcal in just 24 minutes of walking.

Another example: jogging burns 7 kcal per hour per kg bodyweight. So if you weigh 70 kg you'll burn the 97 kcal in just 12 minutes of jogging.

You can see why we're sceptical.

The study was sponsored by InQpharm, the producer of the slimming supplement XLS Medical. This contains Opuntia ficus-indica fibre. Two of the authors of the study are also employees of InQpharm.

Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2014 Jun 21;76:39-44.

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