Nopal (Opuntia spp.) and its Effects on Metabolic Syndrome: New Insights for the Use of a Millenary Plant

Curr Pharm Des. 2019;25(32):3457-3477. doi: 10.2174/1381612825666191010171819.


Background: Nopal (Opuntia spp.) is by excellence the most utilized cactus in human and animal nutrition. It is also a very noble plant; its main physicochemical, nutritional and nutraceutical characteristics allow the use of nopal in diverse food applications. Special focus has been given over the past decades in the use of Opuntia for the treatment of metabolic syndrome (MetS), which is predominantly related to Diabetes Mellitus. In this sense, the prevalence of MetS is increasing at a worldwide level. This in turn has led to a notorious demand for natural and nutraceutical food sources.

Methods: The objective of this work was to summarize the main contributions in the field of Opuntia spp. research highlighting the potential use of nopal fruits or cladodes in MetS treatment, providing the reader with historical and novel information in this field. Nevertheless, the present work is not a meta-analysis. We included mainly information from recognized scientific databases, such as PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar. No homeopathic based studies were included since they lack scientific validation. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first review that fairly categorizes the majority of the information in this field into subsections, which can be of interest for the reader, such as the effect of nopal against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and obesity among others.

Conclusion: Nopal constitutes one of the most studied members of the Cactaceae family; its potential effects on human health have been described since ancient times, mostly through traditional medicine. The present work highlights the importance of this plant in the treatment of MetS related maladies and points out the importance of elucidating new compounds and their validation for the interactions of nutraceutical compounds which could be related to MetS.

Keywords: Cactaceae family; Diabetes; hypercholesterolemia; metabolic syndrome; nopal; obesity..

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fruit / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Syndrome / therapy*
  • Obesity
  • Opuntia / chemistry*