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Nopalacrin Nopal Cactus by Scott Siegel

Nopal is a prehistoric cactus that grows in both the old and new world. It is native to Mexico and grows abundantly there due to the semiarid weather. The cactus is known as Nopales, or Nopalitos, in Mexico and is a dietary staple of the native people. In fact, it is so revered that the flag of Mexico carries an emblem in honor of the cactus. It can also be found as far north as Canada and as far south as Argentina and is distributed throughout Europe, India, Africa, and the Mediterranean. Diverse methods of propagation may be one reason why it is located throughout the world.

Nopal is separated into two groups: Cylindropuntia and Platyopuntia. Platyopuntia is in the family that Opuntia Ficus-Indica is harvested. The pads or cladodes are green, oblong like and flattened. Nopal cactus is known as Nopales or Nopalitos that are a dietary staple is to the native people. In fact this food is so revered that the flag of Mexico honors the Nopal cactus as its emblem. Commonly known names for Nopal are bunny ears, prickly pear, barbory fig, Indian fig, spineless cactus, devil tongue, and tuna.1

Why Is Nopal Needed In Our Diets Today?

In the past 75 years, our life styles and diets have changed dramatically. Our forefathers once worked on the farms, ate from their gardens, and drank pure clean water. Pesticides were not used and seeds were not genetically altered with organisms that were foreign to our bodies. Soils were not depleted and crops were not improperly harvested. But farming practices have changed dramatically over the past several generations and so has the health of the population of our country. More and more diseases are affecting us at younger ages. In America statistics show 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop some form of cancer in their lives.i One reason for the decline of health is the standard American diet (SAD). With hectic life styles, convenience food on the rise and less vegetables picked fresh from the garden, nutrient dense food is no longer consumed. Therefore, it is increasingly important to know where to turn to complement and enrich our diet and the Nopal cactus may well be part of the solution to our dietary dilemma.ii

Nopal is succulent containing 90% water, 10% dry matter and 15% of its weight is in the fiber contents. The soluble and insoluble fibers are all present in Nopal which account for all known fibers. Because Nopal contains a complete balance of fibers, an incredible, concentrated, organic food is now available. These naturally occurring fibers are in a food matrix which reduces the "transit time" in the bowel. This point also has been thought to partially explain the link between a high fiber diet and a reduced risk of.

Joyce Saltsman, a nutritionist stated: "... no one knows whether one specific type of fiber is more beneficial than another since fiber-rich foods tend to contain various types," iii However, whenever it is possible, both soluble and insoluble fiber should be eaten on a daily basis.

Although there is no clear consensus on how much fiber is necessary for optimal health, it is agreed that U.S. citizens do not eat nearly enough. A national survey reported that our intake of fiber is extremely low, averaging only 7 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories of food eaten. To confuse matters more the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) does not even list fiber requirements. According to health professionals at UCLA, 25-40 grams of fiber per day is a recommended amount. When adding fiber to one's diet, a gradual intake is suggested to minimize side effects, such as intestinal gas, and increased water intake should also be incorporated. Supplementing with a whole food such as Nopal may benefit one's daily fiber requirements and provide naturally occurring phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.iv

What are the Benefits of Nopal?

Blood Sugar Regulation

According to the American Diabetes Association, it is estimated that17 million Americans or 6.2 percent of the population have diabetes. What is so astounding is that 1 in 3 does not know it! Further more there are approximately 850,000 to 1.7 million people with type 1 diabetes in the United States today. There is also an alarming trend among youth who are developing type 2 diabetes, a form that was previously diagnosed in adults only.

The picture is different with people who use the Nopal cactus to fulfill part of their nutritional needs. Nopal is consumed largely by persons of Mexican descent and is taken as part of the regular diet when the blood glucose is elevated or on an as-needed basis.5 Nopal appears to level out sugar fluctuation; however, the exact mechanism by which nopal decreases blood glucose is unknown. Numerous studies have indicated high fiber intake indirectly aids glucose metabolism in the body.7 The mechanism of action for hypoglycemic activity (lowering blood glucose levels) is thought to be due in part to the plant's high soluble fiber content. Because Nopal is a good source of fiber and pectin, it is believed to act primarily by decreasing glucose absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.8

Insulin concentrations decrease with Nopal administration; therefore, enhanced insulin sensitivity is another theorized benefit of Nopal.9 Some researchers find that increasing fiber decreases the body's need for insulin.10,11 This is great news for diabetics. Studies with Nopal in pancreatic-tomized (no pancreas) animals have shown that the hypoglycemic activity does not depend on the presence of insulin.12,13,14 Nopal pulp is also rich in soluble and insoluble fibers and is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and iron.15


An analysis of many trials of soluble fiber reveals it has a cholesterol-lowering effect, but the degree of cholesterol reduction in many studies was quite modest.16 For unknown reasons, diets higher in insoluble fiber (mostly unrelated to cholesterol levels) have been reported to correlate better with protection against heart disease in both men and women.17,18 Another study tracked more than 68,000 women over 10 years and confirmed the protective effects of fiber against heart disease that previous studies have found in men.19

Cholesterol Regulation

The high content of pectin's, amino acids, and B3 (niacin) in Nopal may assist the excess bile production and sugar retention associated with high blood cholesterol. Excessive bile acids are eventually converted to cholesterol. Research has shown Nopal increases the transit time of fats and sugar in the bowel. This action possibly reduces excessive cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream. Other research studies on B3, vitamin C and beta-carotene show an increase of High-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol, HDL) and a reduction of Low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol, LDL).20 These nutrients are high in anti-oxidant properties that keep arterial walls free from blood vessel damage, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. 21,22 Because cardiovascular disease is listed as the underlying cause in nearly half of all diabetes-related deaths, the recently published revised National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines emphasize the importance of aggressive lipid management in people with diabetes. The use of Nopal can be part of the management approach in some patients. Clinical trials have demonstrated the benefit of Nopal for improvement in lipid profiles.23 These nutrients are high in anti-oxidant properties that keep arterial walls free from blood vessel damage thus reducing the risk of heart disease.

Gastrointestinal Tract

A healthy body has a healthy and active colon. However, a diet low in fiber plays a significant role in creating a poorly functioning bowel. According to the American Diabetic Association, Americans fall short of the 20 to 35 grams of daily fiber necessary to eliminate constipation. This contributes to the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States, accounting for 2 million annual visits to the doctor and over $725 million spent on laxatives annually. In fact, a National Health Interview Survey conducted in 1991stated that 4.5 million people in the United States were constipated most or all the time.24
Roughly one third of all North Americans over the age of 45 and two thirds of all persons over the age of 85 have inflamed diverticula's in their colons. A published study, which involved more than 40,000 middle-aged to elderly men, showed that higher fiber intakes translated into a lower incidence of symptom-generating diverticulosis.25With this condition small pockets of the bowel form extended, ballooning protrusions usually from the pressure of straining during bowel movements. A diet that is low in fiber promotes diverticulosis because of straining or difficulty in defecating. This increases colon pressure and thus leads to the formation of inflamed diverticula's.25
With this condition small pockets of the bowel form extended, ballooning protrusions usually from the pressure of straining during bowel movements. A diet that is low in fiber promotes diverticulosis because of straining or difficulty in defecating. This increases colon pressure and thus leads to the formation of inflamed diverticula's.
Nopal has the full range of fiber necessary for the final stages of the digestion process. Soluble and insoluble fibers can reduce chronic constipation.26 Pectin, gums, and mucilage absorb water, increase fecal bulk, and contribute to more bowel movements daily. In addition, lignin, cellulose, and hemi cellulose scour and brush the intestinal membrane. This action enhances absorption of nutrients and reduces toxic waste uptake back into the bloodstream.

Liver Functions

There also is some evidence that soluble fiber can slow the liver's manufacture of cholesterol, as well as alter low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles to make them larger and less dense. Furthermore; researchers believe that small, dense LDL particles pose greater health risks.27 HDL cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol because a high HDL level seems to protect arterial walls. About one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoprotein or HDL. Medical experts think HDL tends to carry LDL's out of the blood and back to the liver, where it's passed into the enterohepatic circulation and then discarded into the bowel. Some experts believe HDL removes excess cholesterol from plaque and thus slows its growth. In other words, the liver is able to release excess cholesterol and detoxify additional toxins from of the blood.

Weight Loss/Obesity

An eye-opening study tracing the health of Americans over the past three decades indicates a health crisis that is not only affecting adults, but the vast majority of our children! Obesity is an escalating problem and the continuing increase of overweight children and adolescents is of great concern because it poses greater health risks in adulthood. Chronic degenerative diseases that afflict adults are now affecting our youth earlier on in life. There is an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. Also included are certain types of cancer, arthritis, and breathing problems.28

Used for centuries, Nopal cactus is known as a "sugar cure" in Mexico. When fiber depleted foods are eaten, a roller-coaster ride of blood sugar levels follows, and the body will respond by storing excess blood sugar as fat. However, soluble fiber slows the rate at which food is broken down and absorbed into the bloodstream as glucose. Fiber is a weight watcher's dream since lignin's, cellulose and hemicelluloses expand in the stomach, creating fullness, and therefore food intake is less.29 In addition, research has shown in animal studies a significant reduction of fat versus lean muscle ratio by including Nopal in the diet. 30 Supplementing with Nopal may assist a weight management program by creating satiety and lessening the consumption of calories.

Other Benefits of Nopal Cactus

* Increased Energy
* Cleanse Bladder
* Supports Urinary Function
* Circulation Improves
* Helps Decrease Appetite
* Helps With Digestion
* Cleanse Lymphatic System
* Prevent Ulcers
* Cleanse Colon
* Supports Liver Function
* Blocks Absorption Of Fat
* Lower Blood Pressure

Dietary Fibers


Soluble fibers are water soluble and include pectin's, gums, and mucilage's. These fibers are also thought to be of some benefit in lowering blood cholesterol. Thus these soluble fibers are valuable components of a cholesterol-lowering diet. 31They increase the viscosity of food in the gut, slowing the emptying time of the stomach and delaying or reducing glucose absorption into the bloodstream. Agents with a high soluble fiber content decrease after meal glucose levels--an increasingly attractive benefit with the current emphasis on tighter postprandial control.32
Mucilage's - a gelatinous substance of various plants that contain protein and polysaccharides and is similar to plant gums. ‡ (Regulates blood glucose, removes toxins and cholesterol)
Gums - any of various viscous substances that are exuded by certain plants and trees and dry into water-soluble, noncrystalline, brittle solids.† (Bulks up stool, removes LDL cholesterol and toxins)

Pectin - any of various water-soluble substances that bind adjacent cell walls in plant tissues and yield a gel.‡
(Removes toxins, heavy metals, carcinogens, slows absorption of foods)


Insoluble fibers include cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin. These plant fibers do not dissolve in water. They do increase fecal bulk and cause feces to move more rapidly through the intestines. These fibers are more likely to be used in the treatment or prevention of constipation.33

Hemi-cellulose - any of several polysaccharides that are more complex than a sugar and less complex than cellulose, found in plant cell walls.† (Absorbs water, bulks up stool)

Cellulose - a polysaccharide (C6H10O5) of glucose units that is the chief constituent of all plant tissues and fibers.‡ (Eases constipation, removes toxins and carcinogenic substances)

Lignin - an amorphous polymer related to cellulose that provides rigidity and together with cellulose forms the woody cell walls of plants and the cementing material between them.‡ (Removes cholesterol, binds with bile acids)

Naturally Occurring: Phytochemicals, Antioxidants, 17 Amino Acids
Vitamin: A, B1, B2, B,3 and Vitamin C
Minerals salts: Potassium, Magnesium, and Iron, High in Calcium, and Low in Sodium,
How much fiber is enough? The question is a difficult one since no RDA exists for fiber and there is disagreement among the experts about how much fiber is adequate for optimal health. But despite the lack of a clear consensus, it is generally agreed that U. S. citizens eat too little: A national diet survey reported that the intake of fiber is quite low, averaging only about 7 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories of food eaten (about 14 grams per day for a typical 2,000 calorie diet). ©
4R Health ProductsTM; Nopal cactus is available now, its called NopalacrinTM with 500 mg and 90 capsules per bottle.


1 Mizrahi, Y., A. Nerd, and P.S. Nobel (1996). Cacti as crops. Hort. Rev. 18:291-320.

2 1998 Cancer Facts and Figures, American Cancer Society

3 Feskens, EJM. In: Nutrition in the Control of Metabolic Diseases, World Rev Nutr Diet vol. 69, Basel: Karger; 1992:1-39.

4 FDA's Office of Food Labeling

5 El Kossori RL, Villaume C, El Boustani E, et al. Composition of pulp, skin and seeds of prickly pears. Plant Foods Hum Nutr, 1998; 52:263- 270.

6 Taddei-Bringas GA, Santillana-Macedo MA, Romero-Cancio JA, et al. Acceptance and use of medicinal plants in family medicine. Salud Publica Mex. 1999; 41:216-20

7 Frati-Munari AC, Yever-Garces A, Becerril M, Islas S, Ariza R. Studies on the mechanism of "hypoglycemic" effect of nopal (opuntia sp). Arch Invest Med (Mex), 1987; 18:7-12.

8 Frati-Munari AC, Fernandez-Harp JA, de la Riva H, Ariza-Andraca R, del Carmen Torres M. Effects of nopal (Opuntia sp) on serum lipids, glycaemia, and body weight. Arch Invest Med (Mex), 1983; 14:117-125.

9 Meckes-Lozyoa M, Roman-Ramos R: Opuntia streptacantha: a coajutor in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Am J Chin Med 14:116-118, 1986

10 Frati AC, Gordillo BE, Altamirano P, Ariza R. Hypoglycemic effects of Opuntia steptacantha Lemaire in NIDDM. Diabetes Care, 1988; 11:63-66.

11 Ibanez-Camacho R, Meckes-Lozyoa M, Mellado-Campos V. The hypoglycemic effects of Opuntia steptacantha studied in different experimental models. J Ethnopharm, 1983; 7:175-181.

12 Ibanez-Camacho R, Roman-Ramos R: Hypoglycemic effect of Opuntia cactus. Arch Invest Med 10:223-230, 1979

13 Anderson JW, Gustafson NS, Bryart CA, Tietyen-Clark J. Dietary fiber and diabetes. J. Am. Diet Assoc. 1987; 87:1189-97

14 Nuttall FW. Dietary fiber in the management of diabetes. Diabetes 1993; 42:503-8.

15 USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. Nutrient Data Laboratory Web site. Available at: www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/cgibin/ nut_search.pl. Accessed December 14, 2001. El Kossori RL, Villaume C, El Boustani E, et al. Composition of pulp, skin and seeds of prickly pears. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1998; 52:263-70..

16 Brown L, Rosner B, Willett WW, Sacks FM. Cholesterol-lowering effects of dietary fiber: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr 1999; 69:30-42.

17 Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Ransom TPP. Dietary fiber, the evolution of the human diet and coronary heart disease. Nutr Res 1998; 18:633-52 [review].

18 .Wolk A, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of coronary hart disease among women. JAMA 1999; 281:1998-2004.

19 JAMA, June 2, 1999-Vol 281, No 21
20 Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, et al. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet

21, Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, McNamara DJ. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin reverses low density lipoprotein receptor suppression induced by a hypercholesterolemic diet in guinea pigs. J Nutr. 1992; 122:2330.

22 Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, et al. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet. J Nutr. 1994; 124:817-24.

23 Executive Summary of the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). JAMA. 2001; 285:2486-97.

24 National Institutes of Health

25 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1994

26 American Council on Science and Health Volume 9 Number 1, 1997
27 This article originally appeared in the July-August 1997 FDA Consumer and contains revisions made in September 1998
28 Nation Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2000

29 Johns Hopkins, Bayview Medical Center
30 Frati, A.C., J. A. Fernandez, H. de la Riva, R. Ariza, and M.D. C. Torres. 1983. Effects of nopal (Opuntia sp) on serum lipids, glycemia, and body weight. Arch. Invest. Med. (Mex) 14:117-125.
31 The American Council on Science and Health

32 Bastyr E, Stuart C, Brodows R, et al. Therapy focused on lowering post- 1c. Diabetes Care, 2000; 23:136-41

33 The American Council on Science and Health

‡ Merriam Webster Dictionary

† Dictionary.com

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