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Nopal (Opuntia)

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Also listed as: Prickly pear, Opuntia
Related terms
Background
Evidencetable
Tradition
Dosing
Safety
Interactions
Attribution
Bibliography

Related Terms
  • Alpha-pyrone glycoside, barbary fig, betalains, betanin, Blanca Cristalina, Cactaceae (family), cactus flowers, daucosterol, (E)-ferulic acid, Esmeralda, gracemere-pear, indicaxanthin, Naranjona, nopal cactus, nopal flour, nopales, nopalito, nopalitos, nopals, nopol, Opuntia, Opuntia basilaris (beavertail cactus), Opuntia chlorotica (pancake prickly pear), Opuntia compressa var. humifusa (eastern prickly pear), Opuntia dillenii, Opuntia ectodermis, Opuntia elator, Opuntia engelmannii (calico cactus, Engelmann prickly pear, Engelmann's pear), Opuntia erinacea (grizzly bear Opuntia, hedgehog prickly pear, porcupine prickly pear), Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig Opuntia), Opuntia fragilis (brittle cactus, little prickly pear), Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear, low prickly pear, smooth prickly pear), Opuntia hyptiacantha, Opuntia laevis, Opuntia lasciacantha, Opuntia leucotricha (arborescent prickly pear, Aaron's beard cactus, duraznillo blanco, nopal blanco, semaphore cactus), Opuntia lindheimeri (Texas prickly pear), Opuntia littoralis (sprawling prickly pear), Opuntia macrocentra (black spine prickly pear, purple prickly pear), Opuntia macrorhiza (plains prickly pear, tuberous prickly pear), Opuntia megacantha, Opuntia microdasys (bunny ears), Opuntia phaeacantha (brown-spinded prickly pear, New Mexico prickly pear, purple-fruited prickly pear), Opuntia polyacantha (plains prickly pear), Opuntia puberula, Opuntia pusilla (creeping cactus), Opuntia robusta, Opuntia rufida (blind prickly pear), Opuntia santa-rita (Santa Rita prickly pear), Opuntia spinosbacca (spiny-fruited prickly pear), Opuntia stricta (coastal prickly pear, spineless prickly pear), Opuntia strigil (bearded prickly pear), Opuntia velutina, Opuntia violacea (purple prickly pear, Santa Rita prickly pear), opuntioside, opuntioside-I, penca, polyphenols, prickle pear cactus, prickly pear cactus, Sicilian cactus pear, tuna, tuna cardona, westwood-pear.

Background
  • Traditionally, nopal (also known as prickly pear) has both food and medicinal uses. Nopals are common in North American deserts and are generally sold fresh, canned, or dried for use in the preparation of nopalitos (a traditional Mexican dish made from nopal pads). They have a light, tart flavor. Nopals are commonly used in Mexican and New Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal) or tacos de nopales. The juice is used in jellies and candies. The fruit is also eaten fresh or used in pies, deserts, shakes, or spreads.
  • Traditionally, nopal is medicinally used as an anti-inflammatory or a laxative. More recently, nopal has been used in exercise recovery and in reducing the symptoms of alcohol hangovers. Nopal is the most commonly used substance for lowering blood sugar among persons of Mexican descent.
  • Nopal may offer benefits to individuals with an alcohol-induced hangover, diabetes, or hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). However, additional study is needed.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *


People who consume alcohol to the point of intoxication often experience what is known as a hangover, which can result in fatigue, headache, dizziness, and a general unpleasant feeling. Nopal may have hangover preventative effects, although more studies are needed to confirm this finding.

C


Diabetes is a chronic health condition where the body is unable to produce insulin and properly break down sugar (glucose) in the blood. Symptoms may include hunger, thirst, excessive urination, dehydration, and weight loss. Scientific studies suggest that nopal may decrease blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.

C


Hyperlipidemia is described as excess levels of fats in the blood. Nopal may aid in reducing hyperlipidemia, although there is currently insufficient evidence to make a strong recommendation for this condition.

C
* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)


Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Acne, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, arthritis, astringent, benign prostate hypertrophy (enlarged prostate), burns, cardiovascular health, chest congestion, colitis, cuts, diarrhea, diuretic, exercise recovery, eye problems, hair tonic, hepatoprotection (liver protection), hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), hypertension (high blood pressure), immunosuppression, insect bites, ischemic injury, laxative, obesity, platelet aggregation, rash, scrapes, skin irritations, skin toner, sunburn, ulcers, weight loss, wound healing.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

  • There is no proven effective dose for nopal in adults.

Children (younger than 18 years)

  • There is no proven effective dose for nopal in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to nopal. Nasal inflammation or asthma has been reported due to allergy.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Nopal is likely safe when used in food amounts, as nopal is common in Mexican and southwestern American cuisine.
  • Side effects associated with nopal may include mild diarrhea, nausea, abdominal fullness, headache, and increase in stool volume and frequency.
  • Use cautiously in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), high cholesterol, low blood pressure, or thyroid dysfunction.
  • Use cautiously in individuals with rhinitis or asthma, as nopal may worsen symptoms.
  • Avoid in patients with immunosuppression, as nopal may suppress the immune system.
  • Avoid in patients with impaired liver function, as nopal may increase liver toxicity.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Nopal is not recommended in pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence.

Interactions

Interactions with Drugs

  • When mixed with water or other fluids, nopal forms a sticky, slippery gel. Taking nopal by mouth could block the absorption of drugs, other supplements, and nutrients from foods that are taken at the same time. Traditionally, patients are advised to not eat meals or take medication within two hours of consuming nopal by mouth.
  • Nopal may act as an acid absorber. Use cautiously with anti-ulcer medications.
  • Use of nopal and chloropropamide concomitantly may increase the hypoglycemic (blood sugar-lowering) effect and levels of insulin in patients with type 2 diabetes. Broiled nopal stems (not crude stems), nopal extract, or dietary cactus ingestion may lower blood sugar levels. Consult with a qualified healthcare professional as dosing may need to be adjusted.
  • Large doses of nopal may cause adverse effects on the liver and spleen.
  • Nopal may decrease lipids (fats) in the blood. Use cautiously in patients taking cholesterol-lowering medications due to possible additive effects.
  • Use cautiously with blood pressure-altering medications.
  • Although not well studied in humans, nopal may also interact with thyroid agents.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • When mixed with water or other fluids, nopal forms a sticky, slippery gel. Taking nopal by mouth could block the absorption of drugs, other supplements, and nutrients from foods that are taken at the same time. Traditionally, patients are advised to not eat meals or take medication within two hours of oral consumption of nopal.
  • Large doses of nopal may cause adverse effects on the liver and spleen. Use cautiously with herbs and supplements that may have similar effects.
  • Broiled nopal stems (not crude stems), nopal extract, or dietary cactus ingestion may lower blood sugar levels.
  • Nopal may decrease lipids (fats) in the blood. Use cautiously with cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements due to possible additive effects.
  • Use cautiously with blood pressure-altering herbs and supplements due to possible additive effects.
  • Although not well studied in humans, nopal may also interact with thyroid agents. Use cautiously with herbs or supplements with similar or contradictory effects.

Attribution
  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Bibliography
  1. Ahmed MS, El Tanbouly ND, Islam WT, et al. Antiinflammatory flavonoids from Opuntia dillenii (Ker-Gawl) Haw. flowers growing in Egypt. Phytother Res 2005;19(9):807-809.
  2. Aires V, Adote S, Hichami A, et al. Modulation of intracellular calcium concentrations and T cell activation by prickly pear polyphenols. Mol.Cell Biochem. 2004;260(1-2):103-110.
  3. Cho JY, Park SC, Kim TW, et al. Radical scavenging and anti-inflammatory activity of extracts from Opuntia humifusa Raf. J Pharm Pharmacol 2006;58(1):113-119.
  4. Ennouri M, Fetoui H, Bourret E, et al. Evaluation of some biological parameters of Opuntia ficus indica. 1. Influence of a seed oil supplemented diet on rats. Bioresour.Technol. 2006;97(12):1382-1386.
  5. Ennouri M, Fetoui H, Bourret E, et al. Evaluation of some biological parameters of Opuntia ficus indica. 2. Influence of seed supplemented diet on rats. Bioresour.Technol. 2006;97(16):2136-2140.
  6. Faldmo D, Stephan M, Boyd ST, et al. Dietary cactus reduces blood glucose levels in a Hispanic man. JAAPA. 2004;17(11):35-36.
  7. Galati EM, Mondello MR, Lauriano ER, et al. Opuntia ficus indica (L.) Mill. fruit juice protects liver from carbon tetrachloride-induced injury. Phytother Res 2005;19(9):796-800.
  8. Habibi Y, Heyraud A, Mahrouz M, et al. Structural features of pectic polysaccharides from the skin of Opuntia ficus-indica prickly pear fruits. Carbohydr.Res 4-28-2004;339(6):1119-1127.
  9. Kim JH, Park SM, Ha HJ, et al. Opuntia ficus-indica attenuates neuronal injury in in vitro and in vivo models of cerebral ischemia. J Ethnopharmacol. 3-8-2006;104(1-2):257-262.
  10. Li CY, Cheng XS, Cui MZ, et al. [Regulative effect of Opuntia powder on blood lipids in rats and its mechanism]. Zhongguo Zhong.Yao Za Zhi. 2005;30(9):694-696.
  11. Pittler MH, Verster JC, Ernst E. Interventions for preventing or treating alcohol hangover: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ 12-24-2005;331(7531):1515-1518.
  12. Qiu YK, Dou DQ, Pei YP, et al. [Study on chemical constituents from Opuntia dillenii]. Zhongguo Zhong.Yao Za Zhi. 2005;30(23):1824-1826.
  13. Saleem R, Ahmad M, Azmat A, et al. Hypotensive activity, toxicology and histopathology of opuntioside-I and methanolic extract of Opuntia dillenii. Biol Pharm Bull 2005;28(10):1844-1851.
  14. Tesoriere L, Butera D, Pintaudi AM, et al. Supplementation with cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit decreases oxidative stress in healthy humans: a comparative study with vitamin C. Am.J.Clin.Nutr. 2004;80(2):391-395.
  15. Yoon HJ, Won CH, Moon SE. Allergic contact dermatitis due to Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten. Contact Dermatitis 2004;51(5-6):311-312.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


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