The nopal, also called the prickly pear cactus, has a long history of medicinal use in South American culture. The fruit, stem, and flower have all been used for the treatment of diabetes, stomach problems and fatigue. More recently the plant has gained popularity in the United States as an herbal remedy -- and you may not need to go to the health food store to find varieties of it. I have seen teas in my regular grocery store that have dried prickly pear additives.
Although research on nopal as a treatment for diabetes is somewhat contradictory, there is some evidence to suggest that the plant has a mild blood-sugar lowering effect. The raw plant contains complex carbohydrate and fiber, which may help to slow glucose digestion and absorption. Dried prickly pear capsules are popular both in Mexico and the United States, but while a study has shown that this supplement may help to lower cholesterol levels, there is not good evidence to support the use of nopal capsules for the treatment of diabetes.
As with most herbal remedies, there is a considerable list of safety precautions for using nopal. If you are already taking hypoglycemic agents, you should not discontinue them and replace them with nopal. You should discuss the desire to try nopal with your doctor before doing so. If you are diabetic and take nopal, you should monitor your blood glucose levels closely. Nopal does contain fiber, so overindulgence could cause constipation -- and in more serious cases, intestinal obstruction.
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