Nopalea for Arthritis: Benefits, Risks, Effectiveness

Drink derived from the Nopal cactus fruit contains antioxidants

If you watch television late at night, you have probably seen the infomercial for Nopalea. Until I saw it myself, I had not heard of Nopalea. The claims were striking, and I imagine that most people living with chronic joint pain or arthritis would likely want to know more about the product after hearing the claims. I did some digging of my own, and here's what I found.

Prickly pear
Julien Mcroberts / Getty Images

What Is Nopalea?

Nopalea is marketed as a "wellness drink." It is derived from the fruit of the Nopal cactus (Opuntia Ficus Indica), also called the prickly pear.

According to TriVita, the manufacturer, the Nopal cactus fruit contains a class of antioxidants known as bioflavonoids (also called flavonoids). More specifically, the company's website says:

"Research unveiled that the Nopal cactus fruit has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, thanks to a class of rare and potent nutrients called bioflavonoids. Bioflavonoids are in the quercetin family, which have been shown to protect against inflammation related to free radicals (unstable molecules in the body). Nopal cactus fruit is a rich source of quercetin."

The infomercial claims, "The Nopal fruit is scientifically proven to contain an extremely potent class of antioxidants known as betalains, bringing a wide range of benefits." It states that betalains are rare and typically lacking from our diets.

Claims About Nopalea's Benefits

The manufacturer claims that Nopalea has several benefits, including that it may help:

  • Reduce pain associated with inflammation
  • Improve joint health
  • Relieve swelling in muscles
  • Protect the health of the body's cells
  • Neutralize the body's inner toxins

They also claim it's a natural solution to inflammation.

Here's how Nopalea is said to work:

  • Once the drink is ingested, bioflavonoids "permeate the body."
  • Bioflavonoids then "approach unhealthy cells and drain out the toxic waste."
  • The body turns unhealthy cells into healthy cells, and macrophages seek out and engulf dead cells.
  • Bioflavonoids surround remaining cells and protect them.

How Much Should You Drink?

The manufacturer advises people who are trying Nopalea for the first time to drink 3 to 6 ounces daily for 30 days.

After that, it should be ingested as a maintenance drink to continue fighting inflammation; the manufacturer recommends drinking 1 to 3 ounces daily.

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting anything medicinal, including supplements and botanical products.

Risks and Side Effects

Little is known about side effects of Nopal cactus juice. Some research suggests it may be linked to bowel obstructions. Other potential side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased stool

The other ingredients of Nopalea juice, which mostly come from fruit, may also be tied to possible side effects.

Nopal juice is sometimes recommended for helping manage blood sugars in diabetes. Because it can lower blood sugar, if you have diabetes, hypoglycemia, or other blood-sugar abnormalities, you should talk to your healthcare provider about Nopal products before using them. You may need to monitor your blood sugars closely until you know how it affects you.

Allergic Reactions

It's possible but rare to be allergic to the Nopal cactus. Allergies to other ingredients in Nopalea are also possible. If you have known allergies, be sure to check the ingredients list carefully and discuss it with your heathcare provider.

When you first take Nopalea, be alert to possible symptoms of an allergic reaction. These may include:

  • Stomach cramps, possibly with vomiting
  • Hives
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Tight, hoarse throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Tongue swelling
  • Weak pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired blood circulation
  • Anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction involving shock and impaired breathing)

Severe Allergic Reactions

Anaphylaxis is always a medical emergency. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Hives
  • Swollen throat
  • Wheezing, trouble breathing, and chest tightness
  • Hoarse voice
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Passing out
  • Stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Pale, red, and/or inflamed skin

Drug Interactions

The Nopalea manufacturer's website states there are no known negative interactions between Nopalea and other medications.

However, this conflicts with some research, which suggests quercetin, an ingredient in Nopalea, may interact negatively with:

Your healthcare provider(s) and pharmacist can help you check for potential interaction problems.

Skeptics Put off by Hyped Marketing

The first issue that jumps out at skeptics is TriVita's statement that Nopalea's Nopal cactus fruit contains "a very rare and powerful class of antioxidants called bioflavonoids." Rare? In addition, the infomercial states that "The Nopal fruit is scientifically proven to contain an extremely potent class of antioxidants known as betalains, bringing a wide range of benefits." Scientifically proven?

Bioflavonoids are not rare. According to the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, more than 5,000 different flavonoids have been identified. Foods that contain appreciable amounts of flavonoids include the following raw fruits: apples with the skin, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, grapefruit, dark grapes, and raspberries. Flavonoids also are appreciable in raw red onions, raw hot peppers, fresh dill weed, fresh thyme, tea, buckwheat flour, and chocolate.

Betalains are antioxidants that give beets their color, ranging from red-violet to yellow. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, betalains are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Quercetin is a flavonoid. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, quercetin has strong antioxidant properties in test tubes (in vitro), but researchers are not sure that they act the same way in humans—it has not been scientifically proven.

A Word From Verywell

There is little question that antioxidants are considered healthful as part of your diet. But, there is little to no conclusive evidence from scientific research that tells us how much is required to prevent or treat disease—or simply to cut inflammation.

With regard to Nopalea specifically, a search of PubMed.gov turns up no human studies that were done on TriVita's Nopalea. There are Nopalea reviews on the company's website, but we've been taught to put credence into scientific studies and not into testimonials. Beware of the lure of unproven remedies, and be sure you learn about a product before buying it. Don't get caught up in the hype.

Read the label which lists the ingredients in Nopalea. Talk to your healthcare providers. Decide for yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Nopalea good for?

    Research suggests the Nopal cactus juice in Nopalea may be an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral/antibiotic, nerve-cell protector, cholesterol reducer, and blood-sugar regulator. It may also help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • What is the price of Nopalea?

    According to the seller's website, a 32-ounce bottle of Nopalea is $34.99.* The recommended dosage is one ounce per day. The site offers lower prices per bottle for larger orders.
    *As of May 2022

  • Does Nopal help with inflammation?

    Yes, research suggests that Nopal cactus juice does help with inflammation. It appears to lower certain inflammatory markers in the blood.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology: Allergist. Food allergy.

  4. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Anaphylaxis.

  5. Colombo D, Lunardon L, Bellia G. Cyclosporine and herbal supplement interactions. J Toxicol. 2014;2014:145325. doi:10.1155/2014/145325

  6. Kozłowska A, Szostak-wegierek D. Flavonoids--food sources and health benefits. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2014;65(2):79-85.

  7. Attanzio A, Tesoriere L, Vasto S, Pintaudi AM, Livrea MA, Allegra M. Short-term cactus pear [Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill] fruit supplementation ameliorates the inflammatory profile and is associated with improved antioxidant status among healthy humansFood Nutr Res. 2018;62:10.29219/fnr.v62.1262. Published 2018 Aug 20. doi:10.29219/fnr.v62.1262

  8. Remes-Troche JM, Taboada-Liceaga H, Gill S, et al. Nopal fiber (Opuntia ficus-indica) improves symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome in the short term: a randomized controlled trialNeurogastroenterol Motil. 2021;33(2):e13986. doi:10.1111/nmo.13986

Additional Reading
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. Quercetin.