To assess the hypoglycemic effect of the nopal Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire (O. streptacantha Lem.), three groups of patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) were studied. Group one (16 patients) ingested 500 g of broiled nopal stems. Group 2 (10 patients) received only 400 ml of water as a control test. Three tests were performed on group 3 (6 patients): one with nopal, a second with water, and a third with ingestion of 500 g broiled squash. Serum glucose and insulin levels were measured at 0, 60, 120, and 180 min. After the intake of O. streptacantha Lem., serum glucose and serum insulin levels decreased significantly in groups 1 and 3, whereas no similar changes were noticed in group 2. The mean reduction of glucose reached 17.6 ± 2.2% of basal values at 180 min in group 1 and 16.2 ± 1.8% in group 3; the reduction of serum insulin at 180 min reached 50.2 ± 8.0% in group 1 and 40.3 ± 12.4% in group 3. This study shows that the stems of O. streptacantha Lem. cause a hypoglycemic effect in patients with NIDDM. The mechanism of this effect is unknown, but an increased insulin sensitivity is suggested.

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