The Nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica), also known as "prickly pear," is a plant native to the mountains of Mexico. It has been used since ancient times as both a food and as a medicine for its health benefits. The Aztecs considered the cactus, which derives some of its properties from the volcanic soil in which it grows, as a food fit for royalty and a fortifying substance for warriors. A powdered form of Nopal has become popular in modern times as a treatment for a variety of metabolic, digestive and heart problems.
Stabilizes Blood sugar
Nopal cactus contains a large amount of slowly-digestible fiber and tends to slow down the digestion of foods when it is taken just before or with a meal. The cactus has the effect of lowering the Glycemic Index (a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels) of any foods it is eaten with. Clinical testing has shown that people with high morning blood-sugar levels who ate Nopal cactus for breakfast subsequently had lower or normal blood- sugar levels.
The fiber and sterols in Nopal bind with a bile salt in the intestines, which helps limit the amount of blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) absorbed by the body, thereby lowering blood cholesterol levels.
Scrubs Blood Vessels
Plaques are areas of inflammation that form on the walls of the blood vessels, where they trap blood fats that can harden or even block the arteries. Nopal cactus sterols, along with its polyphenols and glycoproteins, serve as antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and keep plaques from forming.
Sweeps the Colon
The insoluble plant fibers in Nopal cactus provide dietary roughage, which make it easier to maintain bowel regularity. Nopal also contains soluble plant fiber, which helps absorb toxins, including carcinogens, as it sweeps the colon clean.
Soothes the Stomach
Nopal contains a high amount of mucilage, which helps balance the pH of the stomach and soothes the stomach lining. Tests have shown that Nopal stimulates the healing of stomach ulcers and reduces stomach inflammation.
Protects the Liver
Because Nopal contains antioxidant flavonoids, it helps neutralize free radicals before they can overtax the liver. It also helps absorb toxins, decreasing the liver's load. By supporting the liver, it frees that organ to balance bodily functions, including the immune system.
Hangovers and Obesity
Nopal is sometimes used to help counteract the effects of alcohol consumption. It helps rehydrate the body, soothes the stomach, and improves liver function, thereby preventing the headache, stomach ache and toxic "morning after" feeling. When taken before meals, Nopal's roughage can help create a sensation of fullness that may help prevent overeating and helps stabilize the blood sugar, to ward off hunger. Nopal cactus also contributes calcium and valuable amino acids and other nutrients.