1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Nopal (Prickly Pear Cactus) As An Herbal Treatment For Diabetes


Updated January 14, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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.


Butera D, Tesoriere L, Di Gaudio F. et al. Antioxidant activities of sicilian prickly pear(Opuntia ficus indica) fruit extracts and reducing properties of its betalains: betanin and indicaxanthin. J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50(23):6895-6901.

El Kossori RL, Villaume C, El Boustani E, et al. Composition of pulp, skin and seeds of prickly pears. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1998; 52:263-270.

Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, McNamara DJ. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin reverses low density lipoprotein receptor suppression induced by a hypercholesterolemic diet in guinea pigs. J Nutr. 1992; 122:2330-40.

Fernandez ML, Lin EC, Trejo A, et al. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet. J Nutr. 1994; 124:817-24.

Frati-Munari AC, Altamirano-Bustamante E, Rodriguez-Barcenas N, et al. Hypoglycemic action of Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire: study using raw extracts [in Spanish]. Arch Invest Med (Mex). 1989; 20:321-5.

Frati AC, Diaz NX, Altamirano P, Ariza R, Lopez-Ledesma R. The effect of two sequential doses of Opuntia steptacantha upon hypoglycemia. Arch Invest Med (Mex), 1991; 22:333-336.

Frati AC, Gordillo BE, Altamirano P, Ariza R, Cortes-Franco R, Chavez-Negrete A. Acute hypoglycemic effect of Opuntia steptacantha Lemaire in NIDDM. Diabetes Care, 1990; 13:455-456.

Frati-Munari AC, Fernandez-Harp JA, de la Riva H, Ariza-Andraca R, del Carmen Torres M. Effects of nopal (Opuntia sp) on serum lipids, glycaemia, and body weight. Arch Invest Med (Mex), 1983; 14:117-125.

Frati AC, Gordillo BE, Altamirano P, Ariza R. Hypoglycemic effects of Opuntia steptacantha Lemaire in NIDDM. Diabetes Care, 1988; 11:63-66.

Frati-Munari AC, Yever-Garces A, Becerril M, Islas S, Ariza R. Studies on the mechanism of "hypoglycemic" effect of nopal (opuntia sp). Arch Invest Med (Mex), 1987; 18:7-12.

Frati-Munari AC, Fernandez-Harp JA, de la Riva J, et al. Effects of nopal (Opuntia sp.) on serum lipids, glycemia and body weight [in Spanish]. Arch Invest Med (Mex). 1983; 14:117-25.

Frati-Munari AC, Vera Lastra O, Ariza-Andraca CR. Evaluation of nopal capsules in diabetes mellitus. Gac Med Mex. 1992; 128:431-6. Vol. 42, No. 2 March/April 2002

Frati-Munari AC, de Leon C, Ariza-Andraca R, et al. Effect of a dehydrated extract of nopal (Opuntia ficus indica Mill.) on blood glucose [in Spanish]. Arch Invest Med (Mex). 1989; 20:211-6.

Galati EM, Pergolizzi S, Miceli N. et al. Study on the increment of the production of gastric mucus in rats treated with Opuntia ficus indica (L.) Mill. cladodes. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002;83(3):229-233.

Galati EM, Tripodo MM, Trovato A. et al. Biological effect of Opuntia ficus indica (L.) Mill. (Cactaceae) waste matter. Note I: diuretic activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002 ;79(1):17-21.

Ibanez-Camacho R, Meckes-Lozoya M, Mellado-Campos V. The hypoglycemic effects of Opuntia steptacantha studied in different experimental models. J Ethnopharm, 1983; 7:175-181.

Kleiner O, Cohen Z, Mares AJ. Low colonic obstruction due to Opuntia ficus indica seeds: the aftermath of enjoying delicious cactus fruits. Acta Paediatr. 2002;91(5):606-7.

Laurenz JC, Collier CC, Kuti JO. Hypoglycaemic effect of Opuntia lindheimeri Englem in a diabetic pig model. Phytother Res. 2003;17(1):26-29.

Lee JC, Kim HR, Kim J, Jang YS. Antioxidant property of an ethanol extract of the stem of Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten. J Agric Food Chem. 2002; 50(22):6490-6496.

Noble, P. Cacti: Biology and Uses. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2002.

Rayburn K, Martinez R, Escobedo M, Wright F, Farias, M. Glycemic Effects of Various Species of Nopal (Opuntia sp.) in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Texas Journal of Rural

Rodriguez-Felix A, Cantwell M. Developmental changes in composition and quality of prickly pear cactus cladodes (nopalitos). Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1988;38(1):83-93.

Roman-Ramos R, Flores-Saenz JL, Alarcon-Aguilar FJ. Anti-hyperglycemic effect of some edible plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 1995; 48:25-32.

Shapiro K, Gong WC. Natural products used for diabetes. J Am Pharm Assoc (Wash). 2002;42(2):217-226.

Trejo-Gonzalez A, Gabriel-Ortiz G, Puebla-Perez AM, et al. A purified extract from prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fuliginosa) controls experimentally induced diabetes in rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 1996; 55:27-33.

Veronin MA, Ramirez G. The validity of health claims on the World Wide Web: a systematic survey of the herbal remedy Opuntia. Am J Health Promot. 2000;15(1):21-28.

Yarnell E, Abascal K, Hooper C. Clinical Botanical Medicine. New York: Mary Ann Liebert; 2003.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.