Nopal belongs to the prickly pear cactus family and is native to Mexico and the southwestern regions of the United States, Italy, Spain and South Africa. Various indigenous populations throughout history have used nopal as a medicinal plant, including the native Nahutal population of Mexico. You can purchase this plant as a standalone supplement or as an ingredient in weight-loss supplements. Before consuming nopal for weight loss, however, you should speak with a medical professional.
According to the book “Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine,” nopal contains vitamins A, B-1, B-2, B-3, and C. Additionally, this plant contains the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, sodium and iron. Additionally, nopal contains 18 amino acids and represents a good source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. This high fiber content helps to explain many of the purported health benefits of nopal.
Herbal supplement manufacturers primarily sell nopal as a natural plant that can help you lose weight. The high fiber content of nopal helps to regulate your appetite and reduce the amount of fat in your body by helping your body to break down and excrete the fat. Additionally, several manufacturers claim that the amino acid content of nopal helps your body pull fluids back from your tissues into your bloodstream, therefore decreasing cellulite and fluid retention. Clinical research, however, does not support the purported weight-loss benefits of nopal.
The amino acids in nopal may also provide you with energy and help you reduce fatigue. Additionally, nopal can lower your blood-sugar levels by strengthening your liver and pancreas and increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin. This in turn may stimulate the movement of glucose from your blood into your body’s cells where your cells can use the glucose as energy. Further, nopal may slow your digestion of carbohydrates and as a consequence, your insulin production may decrease. Again, no clinical studies have confirmed the metabolic benefits of nopal.
Nopal and Cholesterol
Manufacturers of nopal supplements also claim that nopal can exert a cholesterol-lowering action. Nopal's amino acids, fiber and vitamin B-3 may help to reduce your total cholesterol, triglyceride levels and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by helping your body metabolize fat and eliminating excess bile acids from your body. Additionally, nopal may help your body prevent excess blood sugar conversion into fat. Clinical studies, however, have not confirmed that nopal helps to lower cholesterol levels in your body.
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- "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine"; Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno; 1997