Update 7/4/20. Nopalea Juice – also called Prickly Pear Cactus – is said to be a “superfruit concentrate” that “helps put out the fire of inflammation.” Cellular inflammation has gotten a lot of attention lately because research has noted that it plays a role in many diseases. But, does Nopalea work or is it a scam? More specifically, does Nopalea reduce cellular inflammation and reduce the risk of disease? In this TriVita Nopalea Juice review, you'll learn what Nopalea is as well as the research on this supplement and one of its main compounds- betalains. Is Nopalea cactus juice the real deal or a scam? Let's see what we can discover.
Who Makes Nopalea Juice?
Nopalea cactus juice is made by TriVita (TriVita.com), which sells many health supplements such:
The TriVita company has been in business since 1999. The company is located at 16100 Greenway Hayden Loop #950 Scottsdale, AZ 85260 and their phone # is (480) 337-4000.
According to the Better Business Bureau, they give Trivita a rating of A+ as of 7/4/19. The company is a BBB accredited business. See the BBB file for updates and more information.
There are a LOT of ingredients in TriVita Nopalea juice. Just a few include grape seed extract, agave nectar, raspberry and strawberry extracts, and many other things that I won't touch on here. Rather, I want the focus of
this Nopalea review to be on its “main ingredient” – the ingredient discussed most on TriVita Nopalea TV commercials and websites.
That ingredient is the Nopal cactus fruit. They call it “Opuntia concentrate” on the Nopalea bottle but it also goes by the name Prickly Pear Cactus and Nopal cactus. Its scientific name is Opuntia ficus-indica. It is this ingredient on which I will focus in this review.
What Does Nopalea Mean?
Nopalea is not just the name of this TriVita supplement. It's a real word. Nopalea means cactus. In taxonomy, it refers to the genus of the Nopal cactus plant which has deep red flowers.
How Is Nopalea Supposed to Work?
If you watch the Nopalea juice TV commercial, they say that Nopalea is derived from the Nopal cactus and that this plant has compounds (they call them betalains) that reduce inflammation in the body.
By reducing chronic inflammation, Nopalea juice is supposed to reduce the risk of disease and – maybe – improve health problems that people have right now.
Nopalea TV Commerical video
Nopalea Juice Research
On the website nopalea.com there are 12 research studies listed that testify to the benefits of the Nopal cactus (Prickly Pear Cactus) extract at helping chronic inflammation, boosting the immune system, and protecting the brain. One interesting point is none of the studies contained the word “Nopalea.” In other words, it doesn't look like any of the studies were conducted using the Nopalea wellness drink itself.
While Nopalea.com only lists the studies, I want to directly link to them so you can see the research for yourself. They all sound very impressive and technical so I'll also give brief commentary, where needed, to put the research in perspective.
The studies are grouped together as follows:
Anti-toxin Activity Studies
- Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) protects against oxidative damage induced by the mycotoxin zearalenone in Balb/C mice. This is a mouse study.
- Opuntia ficus indica extract protects against chlorpyrifos-induced damage on mice liver. This is a mouse study.
- Opuntia ficus indica (L.) Mill. fruit juice protects liver from carbon tetrachloride-induced injury. This is a rat study.
- An anti-inflammatory principle from cactus.”. This is a mouse study.
- Antioxidant betalains from cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) inhibit endothelial ICAM-1 expression. This is a test tube study.
What About Hangovers?
In one human study researchers noted that extracts of the Nopal cactus seemed to reduce alcohol-induced hangover symptoms. The researchers speculated that the Nopal cactus extract worked because of its anti-inflammatory effects. This study of hangovers appears to be the main study cited to support the anti-inflammation benefits of the Nopal cactus – and hence Nopalea juice.
Immune System Boost Studies
Betalains a betacyanin pigment purified from fruits of Opuntia ficus-indica induces apoptosis in human chronic myeloid leukemia Cell line-K562. Apotosis means “cell death” and K562 cells are a type of cancer cell. This is a test tube study where researchers basically found that extracts of the Nopal cactus destroyed cancer cells in a test tube — not in a human.
When I say “test tube study” I am making a general statement about a study that took place outside of a living organism like animals or humans. Technically they are called “in-vitro studies.” There are some advantages of these types of investigations but they are not as “real life” as those that take place in animals or—especially— in humans. We are much more complicated than what goes on in a test tube.
- Antioxidant betalains from cactus pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) inhibit endothelial ICAM-1 expression. This is basically a test tube study.
- Modulation of intracellular calcium concentrations and T cell activation by prickly pear polyphenols. This is a test tube study.
Brain Protection Studies
- Inhibition of nitric oxide synthase expression in activated microglia and peroxynitrite scavenging activity by Opuntia ficus indica var. saboten. This is basically a test tube study.
- Effect of Opuntia ficus indica on symptoms of the alcohol hangover. This is the same study of alcohol hangovers mentioned above.
Interventions for protecting against or treating alcohol hangover: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. This study is basically a review of several previous studies that tried to determine if there was any good way to reduce the symptoms of an alcohol hangover. Researchers concluded that there was no good proof that the Nopal cactus (Prickly Pear Cactus) or anything else helps hangovers caused by drinking too much.
Neuroprotective effects of antioxidative flavonoids, quercetin, (+)-dihydroquercetin and quercetin 3-methyl ether, isolated from Opuntia ficus-indica var. saboten. This is essentially a test tube study of rat brain cells. Extracts of the Nopal cactus reduced free radical damage to isolated rat brain cells.
Summary of Research
I come to the following conclusions:
- None of them used the Nopalea supplement itself
- Most of the studies were test-tube studies and a few mouse/rat studies
- The only human study listed has to do with hangovers
TriVita Nopalea Research
Now let's dig a little deeper into the research on Nopalea juice itself. I searched the National Library of Medicine for “TriVita Nopalea” to see if any studies had been done using this supplement. None could be located.
But what about research on Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ficus indica) —the type of cactus used in the TriVita Nopalea supplement?
TriVita websites and TV commercials say that Nopalea juice is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. In the study of Nopal cactus and hangovers, researchers speculated that it reduced hangovers because it reduced inflammation in the brain. They probably arrived at this conclusion because they noted that Nopal cactus reduced levels of CRP —a compound that indicates inflammation in the body.
Since CRP levels are also elevated in other inflammatory diseases, like arthritis, might extracts of the Nopal cactus also help these other conditions? TriVita hints that it will but they provide no direct proof.
Some research suggests opuntia ficus indica has antioxidant properties. One small human study (only 18 people) noted that consuming the pulp of the nopal cactus was a better antioxidant than vitamin C. The pulp of the cactus fruit has many compounds that likely act together to bring about a better antioxidant effect. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is just vitamin C.
This study used 500 grams (17.8 oz) of Nopal cactus pulp (and compared it to 150 mg of vitamin C). In theory, lesser amounts of Nopal cactus fruit might work too. I say this because I do not know how much Nopal cactus fruit or pulp is in a serving of TriVita Nopalea.
Other research studies suggest Nopal cactus may help diabetes. Some studies noted it might reduce blood sugar levels. The issue here is research often uses another species of Nopal cactus called Opuntia streptacantha and not the type of cactus used in TriVita Nopalea (which uses Opuntia ficus indica). Unfortunately, an investigation posted in 2019 notes a lack of quality human blood sugar research.
If TriVita Nopalea juice does help lower blood sugar, fantastic! Just remember that there is MUCH MORE evidence that exercise —even 20 minutes a day —can lower not only blood sugar but “A1C” levels too.
See the benefits of exercise for diabetes for more insights.
Nopalea And Weight Loss
Some have asked me if Opuntia ficus indica can help weight loss. Since the cactus pulp has fiber, it's possible, just as all-fiber foods can aid weight loss. That said, no human weight loss studies could be located. Like all foods, this cactus may have its place in a healthy diet but until somebody proves it enhances weight loss, be skeptical claims about Opuntia ficus indica (or Nopalea juice) was some magical weight loss secret.
See the XLS Medical review for more information on this topic.
What Are Betalains?
Betalains (bay-ta-linz) refers to a family of colorful phytonutrient plant chemicals. In plants, these pigments/nutrients help provide colors ranging from yellow to purple/violet. Betalines are present in various fruits and vegetables, such as beets and beet juice supplements.
There are 2 main types of betalains:
- Betacyanins: a deep red pigment
- Betaxanthins: a yellow/orange pigment
Where you find betalains, you also usually find other healthy plant compounds called anthocyanins.
Betalains Health Properties
Various studies – mostly involving lab animals and isolated cells – tell us betalains have a variety of health benefits such as:
Betalains and Cancer
Because the betalains of Prickly Pear Cactus seem to act as antioxidants, some may wonder if they might help prevent cancer or if they might be a natural alternative to chemotherapy. I don't recommend this for a couple of reasons:
1. I see no betalain supplement research concerning cancer treatment in humans.
2. Any antioxidant effects of betalains might —in theory —interfere with traditional cancer treatment.
Think about it. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and free radical damage is exactly how chemo and radiation therapy kills cancer cells. If you have cancer, PLEASE talk to your oncologist about this before experimenting with any antioxidant supplements.
Nopalea Juice and NSAIDs?
Various TriVita websites hint that Nopalea juice can be a safer alternative to aspirin and other NSAIDs because of the natural anti-inflammatory effects of the Nopal cactus. But, as far as I can tell, this antiinflammatory effect has only been demonstrated in humans once —in the study of hangovers.
On 2/3/12 on the TV show “The Doctors” model, Cheryl Tiegs lists Nopalea cactus juice as one of her anti-aging secrets. Cheryl says she drinks Nopalea to help reduce inflammation. Cheryl Tiegs, definitely looks great but I wonder if she knows where the anti-inflammation research actually comes from?
Here is The Doctors TV segment:
On 3/29/12 Nopalea TV commercials featuring Ceryl Tieges started appearing.
Who is Doctor Becky Maes?
Dr. Becky Maes was featured on the Nopalea TV commercial I saw on 1/18/12. Back then, her Facebook page, stated she is an “an MD, Gastroenterologist, Entrepreneur, Author, Mother, and Nutritional Expert.” She is indeed a board-certified physician.
At one point, her Linkedin page stated she was affiliated with TriVita as a nutrition coach and One Star Director. Currently, her LinkedIn page states she is the medical director at ForeverGreen International Inc.
The Nopalea Wellness Challenge
You may have heard of The Nopalea Wellness Challenge. This is how it works. You drink 3-6 oz of Nopalea juice per day for 30 days and track your progress —how you feel ect. —on a form that TriVita gives you. The wellness challenge is free, but you do need to pay $9.95 for shipping and handling.
Each bottle of Nopalea has 32 oz so if you drank only 3 oz per day, 1 bottle of Nopalea would only last you only about 10 days.
But, during the Nopalea TV infomercial, some of the testimonials noted that it might take 3 months before any differences were noticed. If this is typical for most people, it means that you would need 3 bottles of Noplalea per month or about 9 bottles of Nopalea per 3 months.
How Much Does Nopalea Juice Cost?
Nopalea is not sold in stores. So I called TriVita and asked them how much Nopalea juice cost and this is what they told me.
There are several options:
- 5 Pack. Buy 4 get 1 free. Cost: $139.99 + 14.95 S/H = $154.94
- 3 Pack. Buy 2 get 1 free. Cost: $ 79.98 + 14.95 S/H = $94.93
- 2 Pack. Buy 1 get 1 free. Cost: $39.95 +$14.95 S/H = $54.90
- 10 Pack. Buy 8 and get 2 free. Cost. $279.98 + $29.90 S/H = $309.88
So, if you really wanted to do the Nopalea Wellness Challenge and were willing to give it 3 months, it would cost you about $300 to do it.
Most of these options have an auto-ship program where TriVita will send you a new batch of Nopalea juice every 30 days. You can “customize” the auto-ship so that they send it to you at intervals that work best for you, so be sure to do this if you order Nopalea to avoid stockpiling it.
Trivita vs. The Competition
There are also several other brands of Nopalea juice on Amazon such as:
Because researchers usually don't compare one brand to another, it's difficult to say if either is better than another. A hunch is quality made brands may work similarly to each other although it will take clinical studies to know for sure.
Nopalea Side Effects
Nopalea juice is likely safe in most healthy people. It's been around a long time. Here are some basic things to keep in mind before using. This list is not complete:
- Start with less than recommended for the first week to see how you respond
- Stop taking Nopalea juice at least 2 weeks before having surgery
- Ask your pharmacist and doctor first if you take any prescription drugs, like blood thinners or diabetes medicine
- Speak to your doctor if you are receiving cancer therapy like chemo or radiation
- To be safe, avoid take if pregnant or breastfeeding until more research is available
Some evidence hints Nopalea extract may lower blood sugar. In theory, this could mean it may interact with diabetes medicine but the degree to which it might do this needs more study.
One woman appears to have suffered obstruction of her airway after replacing her prednisone for Nopalea. This does not mean the cactus juice caused this condition. It's more likely this problem was because she stopped taking her medicine and because of her pre-existing sarcoidosis which can also obstruct breathing.
Nopalea and the FTC
In July 2014 the Federal Trade Commission reported the several Nopalea juice companies, including TriVita had agreed to refund consumers 3.5 million dollars stemming from claims that Nopalea juice could treat various diseases. Here is the FTC letter for those who want to read it. A May 2015 FTC Press Release offers further details on refunds being given to Nopalea customers.
To be fair, just because the FDA or FTC takes action does not mean something is a scam. Rather it may mean the company overstates what its products/supplements can do. In the US, supplement companies are not allowed to say their products treat/cure disease. This is true, even if there is evidence something works.
Does Nopalea Work?
I honestly don't know if Nopalea juice works or not. If you are really curious about it – and on a budget – try to get the free bottle of Nopalea from a distributor and see if that works before paying for the more expensive options. If you want to go the extra mile, you get your blood work done first – including CRP levels – by your doctor. Then, after a month or so, get your blood work done again —including CRP —to see if anything has changed.
What do you think?