The nopal cactus, also known as Opuntia ficus-indica or prickly pear, is a cactus variety readily found in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and southwestern US. A staple in the diets of many natives of the area, the nopal cactus has been shown to have some amazing health benefits which are just now beginning to gain traction in the nutritional community, particularly when it comes to the health benefits of nopal cactus juice.
A source of unique antioxidants
Nopal cactus juice, made from the fruit of the prickly pear, is a great source of a rare form of antioxidants called Betalains. Betalains are naturally found in just a handful of fruits and vegetables, such as beets, rainbow swiss chard, and the nopal cactus fruit and are responsible for giving those items their pinkish-red pigmentation.
In humans, these rare antioxidants serve a very specific purpose within the cells- they capture and "diffuse" free radicals (unstable molecules) before they have a chance to destroy or damage anything. Free radical damage to the cells is what causes the aging process, which is why nopal cactus juice is said to have anti-aging properties.
Inflammation fighting capabilities
Chronic inflammation is the result of the body's inability to control its own immune response. What starts out as a normal call for help to your white blood cells because you bumped your knee or twisted your ankle, causes a cascade effect which results in your body not being able to "flick the off switch" on the call for help.
A number of ethanol extract studies on the nopal fruit have shown that ingestion of it can inhibit leukocyte (white blood cell) migration, which is the catalyst in the development of inflammatory disease. In addition, the studies showed suppression of edema, or fluid retention.
Lowering Bad Cholesterol
The Nopal fruit is a rich source of pectin, a soluble fiber, which is found to reduce LDL cholesterol levels. It does so by decreasing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestines. In fact, a study done by Dr. Maria L Fernandez as published in the "Journal of Nutrition" showed that consumption of prickly pear cactus lead to a 28 percent drop in total cholesterol levels in the animals tested which is pretty substantial.
Decrease of Blood Sugar Values
There have been several studies on the effect of nopal cactus extract on blood glucose values. One, done in 1995 and published in the "Journal of Ethnopharmacology", revealed an 18 percent decrease among participants while another, done by a group in California showed that adding nopal to a high carbohydrate Mexican diet among patients with Type 2 diabetes actually reduced the concentration of glucose in the body immediately after the meal.
The reason for this, again, stems back to the amount of pectin within the fruit. By reducing the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestines, the overall blood glucose values of the body are reduced.
Overall, the studies on the nopal cactus fruit, and the juice that comes from it, reveal that it's a great asset to anyone's diet. It prevents pre-mature aging, promotes optimal cellular health, reduces inflammation and detoxifies the body. One word of caution, however, for those on medications for any sort of health condition that they hope nopal cactus juice may help with- as with any nutritional change you make to your diet, you should consult your physician before giving nopal cactus juice a try.The Many Health Benefits of Nopal Cactus Juice