The Healing Properties of Prickly Pear

The prickly pear cactus, also called the nopal, has some amazing health benefits, and in this articles we'll outline them all for you
The Healing Properties of Prickly Pear

Last update: 24 July, 2020

The prickly pear, or nopal, belongs to the cactus family that grows wild in many dry parts of the world. Moreover, it has been proven to have great qualities that can turn it into a natural remedy for several illnesses. Learn more about the healing properties of nopal in this article.

Nutritional properties of prickly pear

This plant is rich in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and it also has carbohydrates, nitrogenous ingredients, fiber, vitamins A, B, C, and K, chlorophyll, riboflavin, and proteins. There is research that shows that the prickly pear cactus can be used to help the nervous, immune, circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems.

It can also be used externally. There are cosmetics, creams, and beauty treatments for the skin as well as hair that use the nopales (the flat stems). They have also been used to make soaps, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizing gels, lotions, eye shadows, etc. In traditional medicine, it can treat wounds or minor skin burns.

Leaves of nopal

You can eat it in different ways. Some examples are in juices, sauces, sweets, lollipops, stews, salads, jams, soups, broths, or combined with grains, fruits, or linseed. For its gastronomical use, nopal is as tender as a vegetable, and can be prepared by pickling it, for example. It is very popular when blended with fruit.

Health properties of nopal

  • A powerful antibiotic: It inhibits or directly stops the growth and development of different bacteria. The stems of the prickly pear are used as a poultice and has very good effects on your skin, as well as on wounds and infections.
  • Treats atherosclerosisthis cardiovascular inflammation caused by plaque on blood vessels can be treated with this plant because it is an unrivaled antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Regularly consuming fresh nopal juice or, alternatively, in powdered form, can help to prevent this disease.

Nopal, commonly known as prickly pear

  • Can help to stop cancer from spreading: nopal has many dietary fibers, both soluble and insoluble. The latter absorb water and help food pass through the digestive tract more easily. It also improves ingestion and is in charge of diluting the concentration of potentially carcinogenic cells in the colon, which could prevent this disease from forming or spreading.
  • Helps regulate cholesterol: This is thanks to its amino acids, vitamin B3, and fiber. Nopal also prevents excess sugar in the blood and the conversion to fat, which is why it substantially reduces “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. It also helps to eliminate bile acids which then convert into cholesterol.
  • Improves the colon: Because of its active ingredients, it helps in the prevention of fat and carbohydrate absorption. It keeps the the blood level balanced and helps control obesity. Nopal contains fiber that absorbs glucose in the intestine. It also keeps this organ clean and in an excellent condition.

Slices of nopal

Help against diabetes

  • Regulates diabetes: It can help to regulate the blood sugar level for people that suffer from this disease. Thanks to the 18 amino acids in the plant, your body will have more energy and you will feel less tired. It can strengthen the liver and the pancreas and increases sensitivity to insulin, stimulating the movement of glucose to all the cells in the body. It also decreases carbohydrate digestion, which reduces insulin production.
  • Improves digestion: It does this because of the B vitamins (B1, 2, and 3) and C, as well as calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and iron. With its antioxidant power, it offers great protection against the toxins contained in food.
  • Prevents constipation: The fiber contained in the prickly pear stems can help digestion, as we said above, and this can help with constipation.

Obesity and the immune system

  • An ally against obesity: Because of the large amounts of fiber it contains, it helps slow down the absorption process of food and nutrients entering the blood. This, as a result, facilitates their elimination. It allows liquids to get to the blood stream faster, which helps to reduce cellulitis and retention. We recommend consuming nopal with juices, like orange juice, for example. The insoluble fibers that it has make you feel full, and prevent you from eating too much. As if that was not enough, it regulates bowel movements.
  • Reinforces the immune system: this is because nopal contains a lot of vitamins, especially the complex ones like A, B, and C. It also has minerals and a lot of amino acids that help eliminate toxins and detoxify the liver. Because of the photochemicals it has, it helps the body fight against virus or bacterial attacks.
  • Prevents damages to the nervous system: it also helps you to relax and feel better about yourself. It can even help with depression or emotional instability.
  • It is an excellent diuretic: nopal juice is used to reduce inflammation in the urinary system, and reduce kidney or bladder pain.

Images courtesy of Razi Marysol Machay, Diógenes el Pacífico, David de la Luz, Javier Lastras, Roberto González and Luis Daniel Carbia Cabeza.

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  • López-Romero, P., Pichardo-Ontiveros, E., Avila-Nava, A., Vázquez-Manjarrez, N., Tovar, A. R., Pedraza-Chaverri, J., & Torres, N. (2014). 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. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Hernández-Urbiola, M. I., Contreras-Padilla, M., Pérez-Torrero, E., Hernández-Quevedo, G., Rojas-Molina, J. I., Cortes, M. E., & Rodríguez-García, M. E. (2010). Study of Nutritional Composition of Nopal (Opuntia ficus indica cv. Redonda) at Different Maturity Stages. The Open Nutrition Journal.
  • Medina-Torres, L., Gallegos-Infante, J. A., Gonzalez-Laredo, R. F., & Rocha-Guzman, N. E. (2008). Drying kinetics of nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) using three different methods and their effect on their mechanical properties. LWT – Food Science and Technology.