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Nopal cactus, also known as the prickly pear cactus, is found natively in the southwestern regions of the United States and in Mexico. The flat cactus pads can be eaten when the plant is young. When the cactus is older, it’s too tough to eat. Nopal cactus is a common ingredient in foods in some regions of Mexico.
There are several ways to use nopal cactus, including in jellies and candies and as an aid to help harden plaster. There are also a number of medicinal uses, thanks to this cactus’s varied health benefits.
Nopales are one of the very low-calorie vegetables. 100 g of fresh leaves carry just 16 calories. Nonetheless, its modified leaves (paddles) have many vital phytochemicals, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can immensely benefit health.
The succulent paddles are rich sources of dietary fiber, especially non-carbohydrate polysaccharides, such as pectin, mucilage, and hemicellulose. Together, these substances help bring a reduction in body weight, LDL-cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. This fiber and mucilaginous content in cactus aid in smooth passage of digested food through the gut and help relieve constipation problems.
Partly because of its vitamin C content, nopal cactus is also known for its antioxidant properties. Nopal cactus is rich in flavonoids, too, containing eight different ones in total. A 2004 study in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that nopal cactus significantly reduced the damage produced by lipids. It also helped improve overall antioxidant status in healthy adults, making them better at withstanding oxidative stress.
Herbal supplement manufacturers primarily sell nopal as a natural plant that can help you lose weight. The high fiber content of nopal helps to regulate your appetite and reduce the amount of fat in your body by helping your body to break down and excrete the fat. Additionally, several manufacturers claim that the amino acid content of nopal helps your body pull fluids back from your tissues into your bloodstream, therefore decreasing cellulite and fluid retention. Clinical research, however, does not support the purported weight-loss benefits of nopal.
People noticed that lightweight nopal cactus meal like salads provide good energy and refresh you when you feel tired. This allows more energy to exercise and lose weight. Same goes for pressed juice or other drinks and beverages made from nopal cactus.
Nopal cactus benefits weight loss can help flush excess fluids from tissues into your bloodstream. Obese people many times have this problem when excess fluids accumulate in tissues. This can be due to their unhealthy lifestyle or other health related issues. There are complicated mechanisms in body that regulate liquid levels in tissues. Even cellulite is a problem related to this mechanism and is not necessarily caused by fat cells as commonly believed.
In one study, Type II diabetic patients who ate a high carb breakfast (HCB) with 300g of Nopal showed significantly reduced blood glucose compared with those who only had the HCB.
Another study demonstrated that nopal counteracted high-fat diet induced adiposity (obesity) in rats, and reduce adipocyte hypertrophy (fat cell growth).
The same study noted that nopal reduced intestinal inflammation and oxidative stress as well as improving the gut microbiome
Cactus pear fruit (specifically, the species Opuntia Ficus Indica), in the dose of 500g of the fruit, appears to be able to reduce post-prandial (after meal) blood sugar levels. The compound(s) causative of the benefit appear to not be affected by varying preparation methods and seem to be heat stable up to 60°C and is the Cactus Fruit more commonly used in meal preparation.
The less palatable species Opuntia streptacantha has a well established role as being protective against diet-induced diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels. However, these beneficial effects may not occur in healthy persons and supplemental forms typically underdose.
It’s an antiviral
Prevention is the best line of defense for contracting a virus. Nopal cactus has antiviral properties, and some preliminary research has found that it has antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus (HSV), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and HIV.
It protects nerve cells
Nerve cells can be damaged like all other cells. This can lead to sensory loss or pain. Nopal cactus can protect against this damage. For instance, a 2014 studyTrusted Source found that it contains neuroprotective properties. This can help prevent nerve cells from damage or loss of function.
It’s high in antioxidants
Antioxidants can protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Nopal cactus is full of antioxidants, and a 2013 studyTrusted Source found that the cactus is able to reduce oxidative stress. Antioxidants can benefit everyone, regardless of age and preexisting conditions.
Nopal may help relieve the symptoms of alcohol hangover, according to a 2004 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. For this study, 64 healthy young adults received either a nopal extract or a placebo five hours before consuming up to 1.75 grams of alcohol per kilogram of their body weight.3
According to the research, people who took nopal extract before drinking alcohol experienced fewer hangover symptoms the next morning, including nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite.
Nopal also appeared to reduce levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of generalized inflammation) in blood samples compared to those from the placebo group.
However, the study did not take into account other factors that may have explained the difference, including weight and the history of alcohol use. Moreover, C-reactive protein has never been considered an accurate means of measuring the physical or neurological effects of alcohol hangover.
Prickly pear cactus is LIKELY SAFE when eaten as food. The leaves, stems, flowers, fruit and standardized extracts of the prickly pear cactus are POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth as medicine in appropriate amounts for a short period of time. In some people, prickly pear cactus can cause some minor side effects including diarrhea, nausea, increased amount and frequency of stool, bloating, and headache. In rare cases, eating large amounts of prickly pear cactus fruits can cause a blockage in the lower intestines.
Nopal supplements are sold in many natural-foods stores and drugstores and are widely available for purchase online. While there is no standardized dosage for nopal supplements, most manufacturers considered a daily 1,000-milligram dose both safe and tolerable.