Santo Domingo - A project has been launched to industrialize nopal, which grows in the Dominican Republic as a wild shrub.
The Institute of Biotechnological and Industrial Innovation (IIBI) and the United Nations Special Nourishment Program sponsor the endeavor in a joint effort.
Nopal contains a high percentage of carbohydrate fibers known as mucilage and pectin. Mucilage is a substance that does not dissolve, but it does absorb water, so it swells up to form a bulky paste when exposed to fluids. On the other hand, pectin does dissolve in water to become a thick, syrupy liquid. The resulting gooey material is thought to coat and protect the gastrointestinal tract, thereby helping to relieve conditions such as sore throat and irritable bowel syndrome. This coating effect also appears to decrease the absorption of fats and sugars from food. Consequently, both blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels may be lowered. Results from animal studies have shown that nopal may have additional effects that decrease blood sugar and blood cholesterol, but these effects are not clearly understood. In addition, pectin attaches to substances in the stomach or intestines, Because of this effect, nopal may be used to treat diarrhea associated with bacterial infection, because it may bind to the bacteria and cause them to be eliminated from the body. This possible use for nopal also needs more study to determine its effectiveness.
Nopal flowers and leaves (pads) may be used topically to treat skin conditions such as burns, cuts, insect bites, rashes, scrapes, and sunburn. A solution made from nopal flowers has an astringent action, which means that it shrinks and tightens the top layers of skin, thereby reducing secretions, relieving irritation, and improving tissue firmness. The leaves may be split open and the cut side applied directly to irritated skin. Not only does the juice have an astringent action, similar to the leaf solution, it is sticky, so it seals and protects the broken skin.
The project in the Dominican Republic as part of the United Nations Objectives of the Millennium, which include elaborating proposals for industrialization.