Nopal Cactus also known as ―Prickly Pear‖, ―Indian Fig‖, ―Cactus Tuna‖, or “Barbary Fig” 

Scientifically called Opuntia Spp. For over 12,000 years, fresh Nopal cactus has been consumed for its legendary qualities. Cultivated around the world, Nopal cactus is generally believed to be indigenous to North America, particularly Mexico. Considered to be a valuable food source in Mexico, and an integral part of their culture, that it appears on their national flag. Natural News states that Nopal cactus has been a staple part of Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine for centuries. The green pads of the Nopal cactus are cooked and added to tacos, egg dishes, and Mexican salads. Research within the past ten years has caused Nopal cactus to be considered a super-food, due to its antioxidant and cholesterol-reducing properties.

The fruit of the prickly pear is rich in betalains. Several clinical studies suggest Nopal cactus is beneficial for diabetics because it reduces blood glucose levels. According to Reuters, some 10,000 farmers cultivate Nopal in Mexico, producing around $150 million worth of it each year. Only recently, in the last 20 years, has modern science truly been interested in the investigation of its nutritional and medicinal properties. The interest in this prickly plant is due to both the medical research and the wonderful taste of the fruit. Prickly pear has been used in Mexico to treat diabetes for over 1,000 years and is one of the most utilized natural products in Central America. The use of prickly pear as a natural helper in the treatment of diabetes is well known among native cultures. It is known to have hypoglycemic effects. It has been reported as beneficial to a whole host of conditions. Research has shown its beneficial actions on the cardiovascular system by decreasing platelet activity. This means it is good for both the heart and blood vessels.

The cactus pads of the prickly pear contain essential vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene and vitamin C. Nopal Cactus is the only plant to contain 24 of the known betalains, which are potent anti-inflammatory agents. Betalains are polyphenolic pigments found in beets. Betalains give Nopal cactus their purple-red and yellow colors. Prickly pear juice power comes from its ability to fight chronic inflammation. The pads of prickly pear fruit contain a wide range of amino acids. This includes the 8 essential amino acids, which our bodies don‘t produce. Nopal cactus is a plant that provides more essential amino acids than most other sources. The mucilage found inside the sticky pads of the stem contain polysaccharides, which are found in immune system stimulating plants.

Nopal Cactus Juice
Due to its antioxidant action, prickly pear cactus juice can be used to improve your overall health, may be able to reduce cancer risk and can even reduce the severity of your hangover when you overindulge in alcohol. It’s available in supplement form, or you can use seven to 10 medium cactus fruits to make one cup of cactus puree. Strain your raw fruit pulp through a medium-fine wire strainer. This removes fibers and seeds. Freeze pulp and puree for future use, recommend Ran Knishinsky in “Prickly Pear Cactus Medicine.”
Always consult a healthcare professional before using a new supplement. Nutritional and Medicinal Properties As naturopathy and holistic healing become more popular, there is an increased interest in prevention and supplements to stave off costly and potentially deadly illnesses before they get a foothold. While many vitamins and teas have therapeutic and medicinal values, supplemental powders and juices like Nopal cactus (also known as the prickly pear cactus or Tuna Plant) also have several health benefits, which should not be overlooked.
  • Fiber

Nopal cactus has a high level of both soluble and insoluble fiber (also known as roughage), which helps maintain a healthy digestive tract. Thanks to heavy processing and chemical recombination, fiber is missing in much of the modern Western diet, and the lack of fiber (especially roughage) has been linked to many illnesses including diabetes and colon cancer. Taking in high fiber promotes regular bowel movements, and taking in insoluble fiber, can help to better regulate the body’s metabolism, staving off illnesses like hyperglycemia and diabetes.

  • Polysaccharide Fibers
Polysaccharides occur naturally in the Nopal cactus, and its fruit have been known to help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) and triglycerides (fat cells). High LDL can lead to a number of conditions ranging from fatigue to angina to stroke. Eventually, high LDL leads to blood clots, which are debilitating or deadly. Triglycerides are, put simply, what makes a person fat. While there is no better cure for high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride count than daily exercise and a low-fat, high vegetable diet, the Nopal cactus’s polysaccharides have a positive impact and can lower LDL cholesterol levels as well as have an arresting effect on triglycerides.
  • Antioxidants

Like many vegetables, the Nopal cactus is high in antioxidants. These vitamins and flavonoids work to reduce the stress put on the body by toxic chemicals and free radicals. Especially helpful in the liver, antioxidants work to neutralize all the pre-processing and toxicity in most diets. These chemicals can also help the body deal with highly toxic situations like hangovers and drug detoxification. Although not able to provide full relief from the aftereffects of extreme alcohol or drug abuse, the Nopal cactus has often been used as a palliative when treating a hangover or used as a pad for those looking to clean their system of prescription or illegal drugs. In humans, these rare antioxidants serve a very specific purpose within the cells- they capture and “diffuse” free radicals (unstable molecules) before they have a chance to destroy or damage anything. Free radical damage to the cells is what causes the aging process, which is why Nopal cactus juice is said to have anti-aging properties.

  • Anti-Cancer Agent

Cactus juice may help reduce risk for cancer, says Da-mingZou, lead author for a study published in Nutrition Journal. It may someday be used as a natural alternative to chemoprevention of cancer, in which chemical agents are used to ward off cancer among high-risk populations. Chemical agents are expensive and have numerous undesirable side effects. Cactus juice may be a good alternative because it can inhibit cancer cell growth and slow tumor growth, says Zou. Cactus works just as well as a synthetic retinoid that’s being used in chemoprevention trials, Zou says, but he notes that more study is needed to confirm this benefit and the mechanism by which the cactus works.
  • Inflammation fighting capabilities

Chronic inflammation is the result of the body’s inability to control its own immune response. What starts out as a normal call for help to your white blood cells because you bumped your knee or twisted your ankle, causes a cascade effect which results in your body not being able to “flick the off switch” on the call for help. A number of ethanol extract studies on the Nopal fruit have shown that ingestion of it can inhibit leukocyte (white blood cell) migration, which is the catalyst in the development of inflammatory disease. In addition, the studies showed suppression of edema, or fluid retention.

  • Lowering Bad Cholesterol
The Nopal fruit is a rich source of pectin, a soluble fiber, which is found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. It does so by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestines. In fact, a study done by Dr. Maria L Fernandez as published in the “Journal of Nutrition” showed that consumption of prickly pear cactus lead to a 28 percent drop in total cholesterol levels in the animals tested which is pretty substantial.
  • Decrease of Blood Sugar Values
There have been several studies on the effect of Nopal cactus extract on blood glucose values. One, done in 1995 and published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology”, revealed an 18 percent decrease among participants while another, done by a group in California showed that adding Nopal to a high carbohydrate Mexican diet among patients with Type 2 diabetes actually reduced the concentration of glucose in the body immediately after the meal. The reason for this, again, stems back to the amount of pectin within the fruit. By reducing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestines, the overall blood glucose values of the body are reduced.
  • Cholesterol
In studies led by Dr. Maria L. Fernandez in California and published in the “Journal of Nutrition,” Mexican researchers found that animals fed raw Nopal had lower weight gains and a 34 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol levels.
  • Diabetes
Nopal has been studied for its effects on blood sugar levels, with one study published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” in 1995 finding the cactus extracts caused a significant decrease in blood glucose values by almost 18 percent. The Calzada Tecnologico in Baja California also discovered that adding Nopal to traditional high-carbohydrate Mexican meals among patients with Type 2 diabetes induced a reduction in glucose concentration after the meal.
  • Side Effects
Nopal cactus is thought to be safe and is commonly used as food in certain parts of the world. If supplements are consumed some mild side effects may include headache, nausea, diarrhea and bloating. For most healthy adults there are no serious side effects of Nopal cactus. People with kidney or liver disorders should not take the supplement without consulting with your health care provider first.
  • Drug Interactions
With diabetic patients extreme caution should be used when taking certain medications to control your diabetes with Nopal cactus. Always consult with your physician before trying Nopal cactus due to the chance of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and any other adverse effects
There are not many studies of any side effects of Nopal cactus on pregnant or nursing women. But use should be avoided due to the yet unknown effects Nopal may have. Safety in young children has not been sufficiently studied and should be avoided. Customarily people are advised to not eat or take medication within two hours of oral of Nopal cactus. When Nopal is mixed with water or other types of fluids, it forms a slick, sticky gel coating and expands. Taking it by mouth could obstruct the absorption of medications, supplements and nutrients from foods when Nopal is consumed at the same time. All the side effects of Nopal cactus should be considered before taking it as a supplement.


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