Nopal cactus is also known as prickly pear cactus and is native to Northwestern Mexico and the Southwestern United States desert areas. For thousands of years it has been part of the culture and is used in a variety of ways. The fruit (cactus fruit), stems and leaves are used as a food substance and as an extract in a multitude of medicinal remedies. There are a few side effects of Nopal cactus that should be noted before taking in a supplement form.
Nopal cactus is high in dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B and is considered a useful antioxidant. It is also high in pectin and mucilage, which are the two main components thought to aid in reduction of glucose and absorption in the intestinal tract. There have been studies conducted, mostly in Mexico, that link to evidence that Nopal cactus may lower glucose levels in some diabetes patients. According to a study at the Hospital de Especialidades del Centro La Raza, Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, levels of serum glucose and insulin were reduced in non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus patients (NIDDM).
The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says that Nopal cactus can be used as a supplement to control glucose levels in diabetes but there is little proof that it will have any effect. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not reviewed or evaluated claims of effectiveness of Nopal Cactus as a supplement.
Nopal cactus is used medicinally for diabetes, alcohol hangover, digestive tract cleansing, viral infections, diarrhea, enlarged prostate and high cholesterol. There is little or insufficient evidence that Nopal Cactus will help with any of these conditions.
Nopal cactus is thought to be safe and is commonly used as food in certain parts of the world. If supplements are consumed some mild side effects may include headache, nausea, diarrhea and bloating. For most healthy adults there are no serious side effects of Nopal cactus.
People with kidney or liver disorders should not take the supplement without consulting with your health care provider first.
With diabetic patients extreme caution should be used when taking certain medications to control your diabetes with Nopal cactus. Always consult with your physician before trying Nopal cactus due to the chance of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and any other adverse effects
There are not many studies of any side effects of Nopal cactus on pregnant or nursing women. But use should be avoided due to the yet unknown effects Nopal may have. Safety in young children has not been sufficiently studied and should be avoided.
Customarily people are advised to not eat or take medication within two hours of oral of Nopal cactus. When Nopal is mixed with water or other types of fluids, it forms a slick, sticky gel coating and expands. Taking it by mouth could obstruct the absorption of medications, supplements and nutrients from foods when Nopal is consumed at the same time. All the side effects of Nopal cactus should be considered before taking it as a supplement.