Nopal, the cactus that captures fat and sugar

A little history

Nopal is entwined with the history of Mexico, home to an abundance of different species of cacti, where more than 120 different species of Opuntia are estimated to grow. Nopal is even symbolised in Mexico’s coat of arms, alongside images of other natural elements (1)(2).

It is estimated that thousands of years ago, when the first settlers arrived in the Mexican basin, they found several types of cactus, including the Nopal, and that the Mayans of south-eastern Mexico fed on its fruits and shoots. History has it that it arrived in Europe with Columbus’s first return journey to Lisbon in 1493, and that its succulent fruits delighted 15th-century Europeans (3)(4).

Today the fruit of the nopal, or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), continues to be a treat for the palate, as well as an important source of nutrients. Nopal is rich in dietary fibre, vitamin C, calcium, betalain and polyphenols with antioxidant action (5), and is used in traditional cooking as food, for making juices or as a raw material in the manufacture of food supplements (6).

From traditional medicine to the present day

In traditional medicine, the Opuntia cactus was used for the treatment of burns and wounds in topical use, and in oral use as an anti-inflammatory, for the treatment of ulcers, as a hypoglycaemic and as an antiviral (7)(8).

The Opuntia ficus-indica species currently grows not only in Mexico but also in semi-arid climates in  Latin America, South Africa and in Mediterranean countries, where it is used as a herbal remedy for various conditions thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycaemic and lipid-lowering effects (9).

Nopal, a natural blocker of sugar and fats

Current studies show how Nopal can control and reduce blood glucose levels in healthy people and in people with type 2 diabetes (10)(11). This supports the traditional use of this plant for blood glucose management and demonstrates its potential as a blood glucose control supplement (12).

Research suggests that the high fibre content of Nopal (mucilages, pectins, hemicelluloses) (13) may be partly responsible for its beneficial effect on blood glucose and cholesterol levels by reducing their passage into the bloodstream through partial inhibition of absorption (14)(15). This could explain its hypolipidemic effect.

One study found that a supplement of dry extract of Opuntia ficus-indica increased HDL cholesterol, with a decrease in LDL and triglycerides in women with metabolic syndrome (16), while another animal model study observed a decrease in triglycerides and diastolic blood pressure (17).

Nopal, weight loss support

Losing weight is no easy task; millions of people around the world are looking for natural solutions to support their diet and exercise plans in order to achieve better results. Obesity has already been declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization (18) and evidence shows that excess weight is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hyperlipaemia, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer (19)(20). So this natural aid offered by Nopal is invaluable. 

The fibre naturally present in Nopal can be a great ally since it exhibits beneficial properties such as an increase of the feeling of fullness and support in reducing body weight by binding to dietary fat and increasing its excretion, creating a complex that cannot be digested or absorbed and is therefore eliminated (21)(22)(23). Simply put, if a meal rich in fat is ingested, part of this nutrient would bind to nopal fibre to form an insoluble complex. This is eliminated without being absorbed and therefore the calories of that fat ‘do not count’ (are not added). This translates into a reduction in calorie (energy) absorption and consequent weight loss, as part of a balanced diet. 

Other lines of preliminary research suggest that the possible prebiotic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effect of nopal is particularly interesting for weight control and associated risk factors (24)(25), and evidence points to microbiota being involved in the control of low-grade inflammation associated with obesity (26). Although science always demands more conclusive studies, it seems that Nopal, thanks to its fibre, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals, can be beneficial in weight loss and in the control of cardiovascular risk parameters. 

All these benefits, based on scientific evidence, have led Anastore to develop a food supplement from organic cactus to guarantee the highest quality of raw material, and also guarantees a minimum 40% fibre content. These substances naturally present in Nopal help to capture fats and sugars, meaning this supplement may be a good option for people with type 2 diabetes and/or hypercholesterolaemia. Also effective at partially blocking the passage of these caloric nutrients into the blood and controlling appetite, this supplement can contribute to weight loss. Taking two capsules per day of Anastore’s organic Nopal is recommended, ideally before main meals for most effect. Never forget the importance of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise. 
‘Eating cactus’ and its derived products, such as Anastore’s dry extract of organic Nopal leaves (Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.), has never been so easy, natural and healthy.  

This product is recommended only for adults, and is not suitable during pregnancy or breastfeeding. If you have a specific medical condition, or if you are taking medication, consult your doctor beforehand. 
 

Bibliography

  1. Secretaría de Medio ambiente y recursos naturales. Gobierno de México. https://www.gob.mx/semarnat/articulos/nopales-previo 
  2. Reyes-Agüero J. A., Aguirre Rivera J. R. Agrobiodiversity of cactus pear (Opuntia, Cactaceae) in the meridional highlands plateau of Mexico. Journal of Natural Resources and Development. 2011;1:1–8. doi: 10.5027/jnrd.v1i0.01. 
  3. The origins of an important cactus crop, Opuntia ficus-indica (Cactaceae): new molecular evidence.
    Griffith MP. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21652337 
  4. Donkin R. Spanish red-ethnogeographical study of cochineal and Opuntia cactus. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 1977;67:5–84. 
  5. Supplementation with cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) fruit decreases oxidative stress in healthy humans: a comparative study with vitamin C. Tesoriere L, Butera D, Pintaudi AM, Allegra M, Livrea MA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15277160
  6. Nutritional and medicinal use of Cactus pear (Opuntia spp.) cladodes and fruits. Feugang JM, Konarski P, Zou D, Stintzing FC, Zou C. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16720335/
  7. Nopal Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a Source of Bioactive Compounds for Nutrition, Health and Disease
    Karym El-Mostafa, Youssef El Kharrassi, Asmaa Badreddine, Pierre Andreoletti, Joseph Vamecq, M’Hammed Saïd El Kebbaj, Norbert Latruffe, Gérard Lizard, Boubker Nasser, and Mustapha Cherkaoui-Malki https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6270776/
  8. Decreased blood glucose and insulin by nopal (Opuntia sp.).
    Frati-Munari AC, Fernández-Harp JA, Bañales-Ham M, Ariza-Andraca CR. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6367685
  9. Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Miller as a source of bioactivity compounds for health and nutrition.
    Aragona M, Lauriano ER, Pergolizzi S, Faggio C. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28805459
  10. The effect of nopal (Opuntia ficus indica) on postprandial blood glucose, incretins, and antioxidant activity in Mexican patients with type 2 diabetes after consumption of two different composition breakfasts.
    López-Romero P, Pichardo-Ontiveros E, Avila-Nava A, Vázquez-Manjarrez N, Tovar AR, Pedraza-Chaverri J, Torres N. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25132122
  11. Acute blood glucose lowering effects and long-term safety of OpunDia supplementation in pre-diabetic males and females.
    Godard MP, Ewing BA, Pischel I, Ziegler A, Benedek B, Feistel B. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20621660
  12. Antidiabetic Effect of Fresh Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) in Low-Dose Streptozotocin-Induced Diabetic Rats Fed a High-Fat Diet
    Seung Hwan Hwang, Il-Jun Kang, and Soon Sung Lim https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5338070/
  13. Diversity of unavailable polysaccharides and dietary fiber in domesticated nopalito and cactus pear fruit (Opuntia spp.).
    Peña-Valdivia CB1, Trejo C, Arroyo-Peña VB, Sánchez Urdaneta AB, Balois Morales R.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22899620/
  14. Effect of prickly pear (Opuntia robusta) on glucose- and lipid-metabolism in non-diabetics with hyperlipidemia--a pilot study.
    Wolfram RM, Kritz H, Efthimiou Y, Stomatopoulos J, Sinzinger H. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12503475/
  15. Hypoglycemic activity of two polysaccharides isolated from Opuntia ficus-indica and O. streptacantha.
    Alarcon-Aguilar FJ, Valdes-Arzate A, Xolalpa-Molina S, Banderas-Dorantes T, Jimenez-Estrada M, Hernandez-Galicia E, Roman-Ramos R. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14699912
  16. The effect of NeOpuntia on blood lipid parameters--risk factors for the metabolic syndrome (syndrome X).
    Linarès E, Thimonier C, Degre M. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18029338/
  17. The Comparative Effect of Nopal and Mucilage in Metabolic Parameters in Rats with a High-Fructose Diet.
    Cárdenas Y, Ríos-Silva M Huerta M, López M, Bricio-Barrios J, Ortiz-Mesina M4, Urzúa Z, Saavedra-Molina A, Trujillo X. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30864849
  18. World Health Organization . World Health Organization; Geneva, Switzerland: 2000. Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. W.H.O. Technical Report Series 894.
  19. Obesity: epidemiology and clinical aspects. Formiguera X, Cantón A. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15561643
  20. Obesity related morbidity and mortality. Bellanger TM, Bray GA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15751909
  21. Effects of Cactus Fiber on the Excretion of Dietary Fat in Healthy Subjects: A Double Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Clinical Investigation. Ralf Uebelhack, MD, PhD, Regina Busch, Felix Alt, Zhi-Ming Beah and Pee-Win Chong https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4109417/
  22. A Natural Fiber Complex Reduces Body Weight in the Overweight and Obese: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study. Barbara Grube, Pee-Win Chong, Kai-Zhia Lau, and Hans-Dieter Orzechowski https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3627296/
  23. Opuntia spp.: Characterization and Benefits in Chronic Diseases
    María del Socorro Santos Díaz, Ana-Paulina Barba de la Rosa, Cécile Héliès-Toussaint, Françoise Guéraud, and Anne Nègre-Salvayre, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5401751/
  24. Nopal (Opuntia ficus indica) protects from metabolic endotoxemia by modifying gut microbiota in obese rats fed high fat/sucrose diet Mónica Sánchez-Tapia, Miriam Aguilar-López, Claudia Pérez-Cruz, Edgar Pichardo-Ontiveros, Mei Wang, Sharon M. Donovan, Armando R. Tovar, and Nimbe Torres https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5498631/
  25. Nopal feeding reduces adiposity, intestinal inflammation and shifts the cecal microbiota and metabolism in high-fat fed rats
    Sofia Moran-Ramos, Xuan He, Elizabeth L. Chin, Armando R. Tovar, Nimbe Torres, Carolyn M. Slupsky and Helen E. Raybould https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5308786/
  26. Involvement of gut microbiota in the development of low-grade inflammation and type 2 diabetes associated with obesity.
    Cani PD, Osto M, Geurts L, Everard A. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22572877/