Nopal cactus and supplement
January 17 2016 by Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Nopales are a vegetable made from the young stem segments of prickly pear cactus with the spines removed. Nopales are particularly common in Mexico. Farmed nopales are most often of the species Opuntia ficus-indica, although the pads of almost all Opuntia species are edible. The fruit of the cactus tree is called a prickly pear.

Benefit
Molecules. 2014. Nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a source of bioactive compounds for nutrition, health and disease. Opuntia ficus-indica, commonly referred to as prickly pear or nopal cactus, is a dicotyledonous angiosperm plant. It belongs to the Cactaceae family and is characterized by its remarkable adaptation to arid and semi-arid climates in tropical and subtropical regions of the globe. In the last decade, compelling evidence for the nutritional and health benefit potential of this cactus has been provided by academic scientists and private companies. Notably, its rich composition in polyphenols, vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids and amino acids has been highlighted through the use of a large panel of extraction methods. The identified natural cactus compounds and derivatives were shown to be endowed with biologically relevant activities including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hypoglycemic, antimicrobial and neuroprotective properties. The present review is aimed at stressing the major classes of cactus components and their medical interest through emphasis on some of their biological effects, particularly those having the most promising expected health benefit and therapeutic impacts.

Diabetes
Q. I am a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist working with a client who has pancreatitis secondary to having an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) test. Her pancreas was damaged in the process but her blood glucose levels are WNL. I have found research that the Nopal Cactus helps lower blood glucose levels in patients with DM2 and does not affect the blood glucose levels in patients without DM2. I have heard that nopal cactus will strengthen the pancreas and I am looking for empirical evidence to support this claim. Do you know of any such research? I have also been looking for drug nutrient interactions. The only ones I found are for drugs that lower glucose levels. Are you aware of any herbal, food or drug interactions.
   A. There is very little human research in this area and at present I am not aware of any human studies that have evaluated it for this condition.

Bone strength
Food Nutr Res. 2013. Intake of dehydrated nopal improves bone mineral density and calciuria in adult Mexican women. The intake of dehydrated nopal at a high stage of maturity along with high calcium content could improve bone mineral density and calciuria and thus prevent osteoporosis.

Gastric ulcer
Nopal
extract could be of benefit in gastic ulcer prevention. It has blood lipid and cholesterol lowering uses, and may even ease hangover symptoms.
   Ingestion of nopal fruit decreases oxidative damage to lipids, and improves antioxidant status in healthy humans.

Liver health
J Nutr. 2012. Nopal attenuates hepatic steatosis and oxidative stress in obese Zucker rats.

Questions
Q. Hello, I am a researcher at the University of Virginia. My current work involves the use of plant matter in water treatment. Nopal is one of the species we are interested in, but we are having a difficult time locating any plants in this area. Could you provide me with some information about where to acquire a plant or someone to contact?
   A. Finding a nopal plant is outside our range of knowledge.

I live in Mexico and was introduced to nopal capsules to maintain healthful blood sugar levels. The capsules have no fillers. My own levels have remained relatively level for over 3 years. The nopal capsules also stopped the constant constipation I had experienced for many years. That was an unexpected and most welcome benefit. I do receive your Newsletter and appreciate your information.