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Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica)

Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) Image
Synonyms / Common Names / Related Terms
4-hydroxyproline(II), alpha-pyrone glycoside, barbary fig, betalains, betanin, Blanca Cristalina, Cactaceae (family), cactus flowers, daucosterol, (E)-ferulic acid, Esmeralda, gracemere-pear, indicaxanthin, L-(-)-malic acid, Naranjona, nopal cactus, nopal flour, nopales, nopalito, nopalitos, nopals, nopol, Opuntia, Opuntia basilaris (beavertail cactus), Opuntia chlorotica (pancake prickly pear), Opuntia compressa var. humifusa (eastern prickly pear), Opuntia dillenii, Opuntia ectodermis, Opuntia elator, Opuntia engelmannii (calico cactus, Engelmann prickly pear, Engelmann's pear), Opuntia erinacea (grizzly bear Opuntia, hedgehog prickly pear, porcupine prickly pear), Opuntia ficus-indica (Indian fig Opuntia), Opuntia fragilis (brittle cactus, little prickly pear), Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear, low prickly pear, smooth prickly pear), Opuntia hyptiacantha, Opuntia laevis, Opuntia lasciacantha, Opuntia leucotricha (arborescent prickly pear, Aaron's beard cactus, duraznillo blanco, nopal blanco, semaphore cactus), Opuntia lindheimeri (Texas prickly pear), Opuntia littoralis (sprawling prickly pear), Opuntia macrocentra (black spine prickly pear, purple prickly pear), Opuntia macrorhiza (plains prickly pear, tuberous prickly pear), Opuntia megacantha, Opuntia microdasys (bunny ears), Opuntia phaeacantha (brown-spinded prickly pear, New Mexico prickly pear, purple-fruited prickly pear), Opuntia polyacantha (plains prickly pear), Opuntia puberula, Opuntia pusilla (creeping cactus), Opuntia robusta, Opuntia rufida (blind prickly pear), Opuntia santa-rita (Santa Rita prickly pear), Opuntia spinosbacca (spiny-fruited prickly pear), Opuntia stricta (coastal prickly pear, spineless prickly pear), Opuntia strigil (bearded prickly pear), Opuntia velutina, Opuntia violacea (purple prickly pear, Santa Rita prickly pear), opuntin B(I), opuntioside, opuntioside-I, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, penca, polyphenols, prickle pear cactus, prickly pear cactus, Sicilian cactus pear, tuna, tuna cardona, tyrosine(III), westwood-pear.

Mechanism of Action


  • Constituents: The seed oil of Opuntia ficus-indica is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (C16:0, C18:0, C18:1, C18:2), linoleic acid (up to 700g/kg), and unsaturated fatty acids (884.8g/kg).11 Betalains have also been isolated cactus pear.18 Flavonosides have been isolated from the flowers of Opuntia vulgaris Miller.19 Daucosterol, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, L-(-)-malic acid, (E)-ferulic acid and opuntiol have all been obtained from the genus Opuntia.20
  • Opuntia ficus-indica fruit juice contains many phenol compounds, ascorbic acid, betalains, betacyanins, and a flavonoid fraction, which consists mainly of rutin and isorhamnetin derivatives.3,5
  • The proximate composition of pulp and skin of Opuntia ficus-indica reported on a dry weight basis was mainly ethanol-soluble carbohydrates.21 The pulp consisted primarily of glucose (35%) and fructose (29%), while the skin contained essentially glucose (21%). Protein content was 5.1% (pulp), 8.3% (skin) and 11.8% (seeds). Starch was found in each of the three parts of the fruit. Pulp fibers were rich in pectin (14.4%), and the skin and seeds were rich in cellulose (29.1 and 45.1%, respectively). The skin was remarkable for its content of calcium (2.09%) and potassium (3.4%).
  • The cold-water extract from the skin of Opuntia ficus-indica fruit contains a polysaccharide composed of galactose and arabinose residues in the ratio 6.3:3.3, with traces of rhamnose, xylose, and glucose, but no uronic acid.22
  • Three compounds were isolated from the stems and identified as opuntin B, 4-hydroxyproline, and tyrosine.23
  • From the stems and fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten, eight flavonoids, kaempferol, quercetin, kaempferol 3-methyl ether, quercetin 3-methyl ether, narcissin, (+)-dihydrokaempferol (aromadendrin), (+)-dihydroquercetin (taxifolin), eriodictyol, and two terpenoids, (6S,9S)-3-oxo-alpha-ionol-beta-D-glucopyranoside and corchoionoside C, were isolated.24
  • 4-ethoxyl-6-hydroxymethyl-alpha-pyrone, 3-O-methylisorhamnein, 1-heptanecanol, vanillic acid, isorhamnetin-3-O-beta-D-rutinoside have been isolated from the genus of Opuntia.25
  • The aqueous ethanolic extract from the fresh stems of Opuntia dillenii HAW contains opuntioside I, 4-ethoxyl-6-hydroxymethyl-alpha-pyrone, and kaempferol 7-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl-(1-->4)-beta-D-glucopyranoside.26
  • The acidity of the prickly pear juice is very low (0.02%) and the pH very high (6.4-6.5), compared with values found in other common fruit juices.27 The sugar content (mainly glucose and fructose) is very high (11-12%). L-ascorbic acid is present in considerable amounts (31-38mg/100g). Among the transition metals, manganese (1.7-2.9ppm), iron (0.6-1.2ppm), and zinc (0.3-0.4ppm) were found. In particular, such ions appear to be present mainly in the thick skin of the fruit or inside the pulp.
  • Anti-diabetic activity: Purified extracts of Opuntia fuliginosa and Opuntia lindheimeri Englem. reduced blood glucose levels in a rat and pig diabetes model.28,29 In rats, a decrease in blood glucose and increase in muscle and liver glycogen has been observed after ingestion of Opuntia ficus-indica powder seeds (sic) and seed oil.11,30
  • In humans, ingestion of nopal lowered glucose and insulin levels in non-diabetic8 and diabetic individuals17,31,32,13,16,14,15.
  • Anti-inflammatory: In laboratory study, Opuntia humifusa Raf. chloroform and ethyl acetate fractions significantly blocked the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthetase (iNOS) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) from RAW264.7 cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharide.1 Moreover, the ethyl acetate fractions significantly blocked the expression of IL-1beta from the RAW264.7 cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharide.
  • Antioxidant activity: In humans, ingestion of nopal induced a significant decrease in plasma (27.9+/-3.3-->25.6+/-3.2; p<0.03), serum (302.0+/-11.4-->283.2+/-14.5; p<0.0003) and urinary (355.9+/-18.4-->323.9+/-16; p<0.00002) 8-epi-PGF(2alpha)values.2 These findings were more pronounced in females than in males, the highest significance being found in urine.
  • Betanin and indicaxanthin isolated from Opuntia ficus-indica may have antioxidant activities, based on results from an in vitro study.33
  • Opuntia humifusa Raf. ethyl acetate fraction had IC50 values of 3.6 and 48.2μg/mL. Chloroform and ethyl acetate fractions significantly blocked the expression of inducible nitric oxide synthetase (iNOS) from RAW264.7 cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharide.1
  • In animal studies decreased serum malondialdehyde and increased superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity due to nopal feeding have been noted.34
  • Betalains, from prickly pear, have been suggested to protect the endothelium from cytokine-induced reduction-oxidation state alteration, through ICAM-1 inhibition. 35
  • Antiviral activity: In an in vitro study, an extract of the cactus plant Opuntia streptacantha inhibited DNA and RNA intracellular virus replication and inactivated extracellular viruses.4 The active inhibitory component(s) of the extract appeared to be protein in nature and resided mainly in the wall of the plant rather than in the cuticle or inner sap.
  • Cholesterol lowering activity: In an animal study, a diet supplemented with nopal pectin lowered plasma LDL cholesterol, hepatic free and esterified cholesterol concentrations, and increased hepatic apolipoprotein B/E receptor expression (Bmax).7,36,34 However, in another animal study, LDL density has also been shown to be increased.36 In guinea pigs, nopal does not affect cholesterol absorption.6
  • In a clinical trial with hyperlipidemic individuals, nopal pulp reduced total and LDL-cholesterol, as well as apolipoprotein B and triglyceride levels, possibly due to the fiber (pectin) content.8 In another clinical trial, no significant changes were observed either in triglycerides or in HDL.2
  • Hepatic effects: Based on an animal study, the juice of Opuntia ficus-indica fruit may protect against carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)-induced hepatotoxicity, possibly due to flavonoids, vitamin C, or betalains.5 In contrast, a subsequent animal study noted adverse effects in the liver and spleen following high doses of oral methanolic extract of Opuntia dillenii and its pure compound alpha-pyrone glycoside, opuntioside-I.12 The studies used different species, preparations and doses, which may account for the conflicting conclusions.
  • Immune effects: In an in vitro study, polyphenolic compounds from nopal increase [Ca2+]i via the endoplasmic reticulm pool and opening of CRAC channels, potentially exerting immunosuppressive effects in Jurkat T-cells.9
  • Neuroprotective activity: Opuntia ficus-indica extracts may be helpful in alleviating the excitotoxic neuronal damage induced by global ischemia as seen with the methanol extract of Opuntia ficus-indica's neuroprotective action against N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA)-, kainate (KA)-, and oxygen-glucose deprivation-induced neuronal injury in cultured mouse cortical cells.10
  • In an in vitro study, quercetin, (+)-dihydroquercetin, and quercetin 3-methyl ether are the active antioxidant principles in the fruits and stems of Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten exhibiting neuroprotective actions against the oxidative injuries induced in cortical cell cultures.37 Quercetin 3-methyl ether appears to be the most potent neuroprotectant of the three flavonoids isolated from this plant.
  • Weight loss: A significant decrease in body weight of rats receiving a diet partially substituted with Opuntia ficus-indica powder seeds (sic), was suggested to be due to a decrease in serum-free thyroxine (FT(4)).11


  • Insufficient available information available.


  1. Cho, J. Y., Park, S. C., Kim, T. W., Kim, K. S., Song, J. C., Kim, S. K., Lee, H. M., Sung, H. J., Park, H. J., Song, Y. B., Yoo, E. S., Lee, C. H., and Rhee, M. H. Radical scavenging and anti-inflammatory activity of extracts from Opuntia humifusa Raf. J Pharm Pharmacol 2006;58(1):113-119. 16393471
  2. Budinsky, A., Wolfram, R., Oguogho, A., Efthimiou, Y., Stamatopoulos, Y., and Sinzinger, H. Regular ingestion of opuntia robusta lowers oxidation injury. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2001;65(1):45-50. 11487308
  3. Galati, E. M., Mondello, M. R., Giuffrida, D., Dugo, G., Miceli, N., Pergolizzi, S., and Taviano, M. F. Chemical characterization and biological effects of Sicilian Opuntia ficus indica (L.) mill. Fruit juice: antioxidant and antiulcerogenic activity. J Agric Food Chem 8-13-2003;51(17):4903-4908. 12903943
  4. Ahmad, A., Davies, J., Randall, S., and Skinner, G. R. Antiviral properties of extract of Opuntia streptacantha. Antiviral Res 1996;30(2-3):75-85. 8783800
  5. Galati, E. M., Mondello, M. R., Lauriano, E. R., Taviano, M. F., Galluzzo, M., and Miceli, N. Opuntia ficus indica (L.) Mill. fruit juice protects liver from carbon tetrachloride-induced injury. Phytother Res 2005;19(9):796-800. ViewAbstract
  6. Fernandez, M. L., Lin, E. C., Trejo, A., and McNamara, D. J. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin alters hepatic cholesterol metabolism without affecting cholesterol absorption in guinea pigs fed a hypercholesterolemic diet. J Nutr 1994;124(6):817-824. 8207539
  7. Fernandez, M. L., Lin, E. C., Trejo, A., and McNamara, D. J. Prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) pectin reverses low density lipoprotein receptor suppression induced by a hypercholesterolemic diet in guinea pigs. J Nutr 1992;122(12):2330-2340. 1333520
  8. Wolfram, R. M., Kritz, H., Efthimiou, Y., Stomatopoulos, J., and Sinzinger, H. Effect of prickly pear (Opuntia robusta) on glucose- and lipid-metabolism in non-diabetics with hyperlipidemia--a pilot study. Wien Klin Wochenschr  10-31-2002;114(19-20):840-846. 12503475
  9. Aires, V., Adote, S., Hichami, A., Moutairou, K., Boustani, E. S., and Khan, N. A. Modulation of intracellular calcium concentrations and T cell activation by prickly pear polyphenols. Mol Cell Biochem  2004;260(1-2):103-110. 15228091
  10. Kim, J. H., Park, S. M., Ha, H. J., Moon, C. J., Shin, T. K., Kim, J. M., Lee, N. H., Kim, H. C., Jang, K. J., and Wie, M. B. Opuntia ficus-indica attenuates neuronal injury in in vitro and in vivo models of cerebral ischemia. J Ethnopharmacol  3-8-2006;104(1-2):257-262. 16243466
  11. Ennouri, M., Fetoui, H., Bourret, E., Zeghal, N., Guermazi, F., and Attia, H. Evaluation of some biological parameters of Opuntia ficus indica. 2. Influence of seed supplemented diet on rats. Bioresour Technol  2006;97(16):2136-2140. 16290138
  12. Saleem, R., Ahmad, M., Azmat, A., Ahmad, S. I., Faizi, Z., Abidi, L., and Faizi, S. Hypotensive activity, toxicology and histopathology of opuntioside-I and methanolic extract of Opuntia dillenii. Biol Pharm Bull 2005;28(10):1844-1851. 16204933
  13. Frati-Munari, A. C., Altamirano-Bustamante, E., Rodriguez-Barcenas, N., Ariza-Andraca, R., and Lopez-Ledesma, R. [Hypoglycemic action of Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire: study using raw extracts]. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1989;20(4):321-325. 2488772
  14. Frati-Munari, A. C., Valle-Martinez, L. M., Ariza-Andraca, C. R., Islas-Andrade, S., and Chavez-Negrete, A. [Hypoglycemic action of different doses of nopal (Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire) in patients with type II diabetes mellitus]. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1989;20(2):197-201. 2557805
  15. Frati-Munari, A. C., Gordillo, B. E., Altamirano, P., and Ariza, C. R. Hypoglycemic effect of Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire in NIDDM. Diabetes Care 1988;11(1):63-66. 3276479
  16. Frati, A. C., Gordillo, B. E., Altamirano, P., Ariza, C. R., Cortes-Franco, R., Chavez-Negrete, A., and Islas-Andrade, S. Influence of nopal intake upon fasting glycemia in type II diabetics and healthy subjects. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1991;22(1):51-56. 1668138
  17. Frati Munari, A. C., Vera, Lastra O., and Ariza Andraca, C. R. [Evaluation of nopal capsules in diabetes mellitus]. Gac Med Mex  1992;128(4):431-436. 1307994
  18. Stintzing, F. C., Schieber, A., and Carle, R. Identification of betalains from yellow beet (Beta vulgaris L.) and cactus pear [Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill.] by high-performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. J Agric Food Chem 4-10-2002;50(8):2302-2307. 11929288
  19. Paris, R. [Flavonoside of the flowers of Opuntia vulgaris Miller.]. C R Hebd Seances Acad Sci 7-2-1951;233(1):90-92. 14859510
  20. Qiu, Y. K., Dou, D. Q., Pei, Y. P., Yoshikawa, M., Matsuda, H., and Chen, Y. J. [Study on chemical constituents from Opuntia dillenii]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi  2005;30(23):1824-1826. 16499018
  21. El Kossori, R. L., Villaume, C., El Boustani, E., Sauvaire, Y., and Mejean, L. Composition of pulp, skin and seeds of prickly pears fruit (Opuntia ficus indica sp.). Plant Foods Hum Nutr 1998;52(3):263-270. 9950087
  22. Habibi, Y., Heyraud, A., Mahrouz, M., and Vignon, M. R. Structural features of pectic polysaccharides from the skin of Opuntia ficus-indica prickly pear fruits. Carbohydr.Res 4-28-2004;339(6):1119-1127. 15063200
  23. Jiang, J. Q., Ye, W. C., Liu, Y. H., Chen, Z., Min, Z. D., and Lou, F. C. [A new alkaloid from Opuntia vulgaris]. Yao Xue Xue Bao  2003;38(9):677-679. 14730917
  24. Lee, E. H., Kim, H. J., Song, Y. S., Jin, C., Lee, K. T., Cho, J., and Lee, Y. S. Constituents of the stems and fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten. Arch Pharm Res 2003;26(12):1018-1023. 14723334
  25. Qiu, Y. K., Dou, D. Q., Pei, Y. P., Yoshikawa, M., Matsuda, H., and Chen, Y. J. [The isolation and identification of a new alpha-pyrone from Opuntia dillenii]. Yao Xue Xue Bao  2003;38(7):523-525. 14515798
  26. Qiu, Y., Chen, Y., Pei, Y., Matsuda, H., and Yoshikawa, M. Constituents with radical scavenging effect from Opuntia dillenii: structures of new alpha-pyrones and flavonol glycoside. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 2002;50(11):1507-1510. 12419920
  27. Gurrieri, S., Miceli, L., Lanza, C. M., Tomaselli, F., Bonomo, R. P., and Rizzarelli, E. Chemical characterization of sicilian prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) and perspectives for the storage of its juice. J Agric Food Chem  2000;48(11):5424-5431. 11087496
  28. Trejo-Gonzalez, A., Gabriel-Ortiz, G., Puebla-Perez, A. M., Huizar-Contreras, M. D., Munguia-Mazariegos, M. R., Mejia-Arreguin, S., and Calva, E. A purified extract from prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fuliginosa) controls experimentally induced diabetes in rats. J Ethnopharmacol  1996;55(1):27-33. 9121164
  29. Laurenz, J. C., Collier, C. C., and Kuti, J. O. Hypoglycaemic effect of Opuntia lindheimeri Englem in a diabetic pig model. Phytother Res 2003;17(1):26-29. 12557242
  30. Ennouri, M., Fetoui, H., Bourret, E., Zeghal, N., and Attia, H. Evaluation of some biological parameters of Opuntia ficus indica. 1. Influence of a seed oil supplemented diet on rats. Bioresour Technol  2006;97(12):1382-1386. 16129601
  31. Frati-Munari, A. C., Rios, Gil U., Ariza-Andraca, C. R., Islas, Andrade S., and Lopez, Ledesma R. [Duration of the hypoglycemic action of Opuntia streptacantha Lem.]. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1989;20(4):297-300. 2488768
  32. Frati-Munari, A. C., Licona-Quesada, R., Araiza-Andraca, C. R., Lopez-Ledesma, R., and Chavez-Negrete, A. [Activity of Opuntia streptacantha in healthy individuals with induced hyperglycemia]. Arch Invest Med (Mex) 1990;21(2):99-102. 2103713
  33. Butera, D., Tesoriere, L., Di Gaudio, F., Bongiorno, A., Allegra, M., Pintaudi, A. M., Kohen, R., and Livrea, M. A. Antioxidant activities of sicilian prickly pear (Opuntia ficus indica) fruit extracts and reducing properties of its betalains: betanin and indicaxanthin. J Agric Food Chem 11-6-2002;50(23):6895-6901. 12405794
  34. Li, C. Y., Cheng, X. S., Cui, M. Z., and Yan, Y. G. [Regulative effect of Opuntia powder on blood lipids in rats and its mechanism]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi  2005;30(9):694-696. 16075737
  35. Gentile, C., Tesoriere, L., Allegra, M., Livrea, M. A., and D'Alessio, P. Antioxidant betalains from cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) inhibit endothelial ICAM-1 expression. Ann N Y Acad Sci 2004;1028:481-486. 15650274
  36. Fernandez, M. L., Trejo, A., and McNamara, D. J. Pectin isolated from prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) modifies low density lipoprotein metabolism in cholesterol-fed guinea pigs. J Nutr 1990;120(11):1283-1290. 2231018
  37. Dok-Go, H., Lee, K. H., Kim, H. J., Lee, E. H., Lee, J., Song, Y. S., Lee, Y. H., Jin, C., Lee, Y. S., and Cho, J. Neuroprotective effects of antioxidative flavonoids, quercetin, (+)-dihydroquercetin and quercetin 3-methyl ether, isolated from Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten. Brain Res 3-7-2003;965(1-2):130-136. 12591129

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