Nopalea for Arthritis: Benefits, Risks, Effectiveness

Drink derived from the Nopal cactus fruit contains antioxidants

Nopalea is a drink made from the nopal cactus. It's marketed as a treatment for inflammation and joint pain, such as from arthritis. It became popular largely due to late-night television infomercials.

But does it work?

This article looks into the claims behind Nopalea, what science says about them, and the side effects and risks you need to know about.

Prickly pear
Julien Mcroberts / Getty Images

Claims About Nopalea's Benefits

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.

TriVita, the manufacturer, says the Nopal cactus fruit contains a class of antioxidants known as bioflavonoids (also called flavonoids) and that it can protect against inflammation and neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules in the body that are tied to disease).

The company's website mentions a 2020 scientific study, saying it showed Nopalea:

  • Significantly decreases blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a marker of chronic inflammation
  • Increases joint mobility
  • Increases neck and back range of motion
  • Improves quality of life

The TriVita website calls this an "independent" study. However, the study itself contains a conflict of interest statement that says TriVita sponsored the work.

Are the Claims True?

The claims made about Nopalea and the nopal cactus appear to be mostly true, if somewhat overstated.

Properties of the Nopal Cactus

A 2014 study says the nopal cactus has several beneficial properties, including being:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Hypoglycemic (lowering blood sugar)
  • Antimicrobial
  • Neuroprotective

A 2020 study also found the nopal cactus to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer properties.

A 2018 study states that 80% of the polyphenols in the nopal cactus are bioflavonoids. Other studies have had similar findings about the bioflavonoid content and its benefits.

These studies were performed around the world and do not appear tied to the TriVita company. While results have been promising, the body of research is small and evidence should be considered preliminary.

More and larger studies need to be done before any final conclusions can be reached.

The Nopalea Study

The 2020 study mentioned on the TriVita website did, in fact, come to the conclusions the company claims, with one small exception.

The TriVita site says the product caused a "statistically significant decrease" in CRP. That statement should be qualified.

According to the study, the overall difference in CRP between the Nopalea group and the placebo group was not statistically significant. CRP dropped by 13% in the Nopalea group and 4% in the placebo group. The difference between the two groups is small enough that it could be due to random chance.

However, in a subgroup of people with mildly to moderately high CRPs at baseline, they found a 30% drop in the Nopalea group and a 31% increase in the placebo group.

The researcher justified the focus on this subgroup saying "higher CRPs could indicate recent infection or injury, which may skew the results."

Other findings of this study included:

  • Less reliance on pain medications
  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased ability to walk, sit, and lie down without pain
  • Less impact of breathing problems on daily activities
  • Reductions in markers of airway inflammation associated with asthma and bronchitis
  • Reductions of other markers of inflammation and related immune system activity

Again, TriVita sponsored this study, which may raise questions about its validity. It was published in a peer-reviewed journal, though, which means it met contemporary scientific standards.

Nopalea Dosage

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

After that, they recommend between 1 ounce and 3 ounces a day to maintain the benefits.

Nutritional supplements aren't regulated in the United States and official recommended daily amounts of Nopalea, the nopal cactus, and its ingredients are not established.

Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any nutritional supplements or botanical products. Remember that natural products do come with risks and possible side effects.

Risks and Side Effects

Little is known about side effects of nopal cactus juice. Some research suggests it may be linked to:

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 sugar in type 2 diabetes. While this can be beneficial, it's possible for nopal juice to lower blood sugar too much when combined with treatments for diabetes.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about nopal products before using them. You may need to monitor your blood sugar closely until you know how they affect 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 carefully check the ingredients list 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 may come on suddenly and 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:

It may also affect the way your liver processes medications. Your healthcare provider and pharmacist can help you check for potential drug interactions.


TriVita claims that Nopalea juice contains antioxidants called bioflavonoids that can lower inflammation and reduce joint pain.

Studies suggest these claims and others may have some merit. However, research is preliminary and no firm conclusions can be drawn.

Talk to your healthcare provider before starting Nopalea. Watch for side effects, allergic reactions, and drug interactions.

A Word From Verywell

Looking at the company's claims against the available research suggests TriVita's product may in fact be effective, though marketing claims may overstate the benefits.

Other manufacturers sell nopal supplements and other products as well. You may want to look into the alternatives, especially if you may be allergic or sensitive to ingredients in Nopalea.

If you're considering Nopalea or nopal supplements for any medicinal use, talk to your healthcare provider(s), make sure you're familiar with the ingredients and associated risks, and make an informed decision.

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, cancer fighter, 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 between 3 ounces and 6 ounces per day for the first month, then a maintenance dose of 1 ounce per day. The site offers lower prices per bottle for larger orders.*
    *As of July 2022. Subject to change.

  • Does nopal help with inflammation?

    Yes, research suggests nopal cactus juice may help with inflammation. It appears to lower certain inflammatory markers in the blood, reduce pain, and improve range of motion.

12 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.
  1. Jensen GS. Improved joint mobility associated with reduced inflammation related to consumption of Nopal cactus fruit juice: results from a placebo-controlled trial using digital inclinometry to objectively document mobility of all major jointsClin Interv Aging. 2020;15:2341-2352. doi:10.2147/CIA.S267451

  2. El-Mostafa K, El Kharrassi Y, Badreddine A, et al. Nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) as a source of bioactive compounds for nutrition, health and diseaseMolecules. 2014;19(9):14879-14901. doi:10.3390/molecules190914879

  3. Kolniak-Ostek J, Kita A, Miedzianka J, Andreu-Coll L, Legua P, Hernandez F. Characterization of bioactive compounds of Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) mill. seeds from Spanish cultivarsMolecules. 2020;25(23):5734. doi:10.3390/molecules25235734

  4. De Santiago E, Domínguez-Fernández M, Cid C, De Peña MP. Impact of cooking process on nutritional composition and antioxidants of cactus cladodes (Opuntia ficus-indica)Food Chem. 2018;240:1055-1062. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.08.039

  5. Sánchez E, Dávila-Aviña J, Castillo SL, Heredia N, Vázquez-Alvarado R, García S. Antibacterial and antioxidant activities in extracts of fully grown cladodes of 8 cultivars of cactus pearJ Food Sci. 2014;79(4):M659-M664. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12416

  6. Albergamo A, Potortí AG, Di Bella G, et al. Chemical characterization of different products from the Tunisian Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) millFoods. 2022;11(2):155. doi:10.3390/foods11020155

  7. López-Romero P, Pichardo-Ontiveros E, Avila-Nava A, et al. The effect of nopal (Opuntia ficus indica) on postprandial blood glucose, incretins, and antioxidant activity in Mexican patients with type 2 diabetes after consumption of two different composition breakfastsJ Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(11):1811-1818. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.06.352

  8. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Food allergy.

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

  10. University of Maryland Medical Center. Quercetin.

  11. 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. doi:10.29219/fnr.v62.1262

  12. 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

By Carol Eustice
Carol Eustice is a writer covering arthritis and chronic illness, who herself has been diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.