If you watch television late at night, you've probably seen the infomercial for Nopalea (pronounced no-pah-lay-uh). Until I saw it myself recently, I had never 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.
Nopalea is a "wellness drink" which is manufactured and marketed by TriVita. The drink is derived from the fruit of the Nopal cactus (Opuntia Ficus Indica), the prickly pear.
According to the manufacturer's website, the Nopal cactus fruit contains a class of antioxidants known as bioflavonoids (also called flavonoids). More specifically, the 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 for Potential Benefits
The manufacturer claims that Nopalea may help reduce pain associated with inflammation; improve joint health; relieve swelling in muscles; and protect the health of the body's cells. It claims to neutralize the body's inner toxins, and also claims to be the 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 Take?
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.
The manufacturer's website states that there are no known contraindications with Nopalea and medications you may already be taking. But, they do recommend that people who are taking any medications, or have a known medical condition, should discuss Nopalea with their doctor prior to trying the dietary supplement. However, this conflicts with information from the University of Maryland Medical Center, which states that quercetin may interact with corticosteroids, cyclosporine, and several other drugs.
How Much Does It Cost?
A single bottle of Nopalea sells for $39.99, and a 4-pack of Nopalea is priced at $139.99. There is some savings if you sign up for an auto-delivery special. The website also offers a free 32 ounce bottle of Nopalea (plus $9.95 for shipping).
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 infomerical 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 they act the same way in humans—it has not been scientifically proven.
The Bottom Line
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 which 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. Testimonials are found on their 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 into it. Don't get caught up in the hype.
Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. Holden JM et al. 18(2005)829-844.
Roasted Root Vegetables. WEIL. Accessed 9/14/2012.
Quercetin. University of Maryland Medical Center. 6/17/2011.
Quercetin. Possible Interactions. 9/2007.