What is Noni Fruit?
Noni is the Hawaiian name for Morinda citrifolia—a traditional medicinal plant grown in the Pacific Islands, and other tropical regions of the world. Historically, parts of the entire plant have been used to treat a variety of ailments, such as malaria, fever, intestinal parasites and infections.
Nonetheless, it’s the malodorous fruit that’s driving consumer interest in North America and Europe. Noni fruit (also known to Pacific Islanders as “vomit fruit,” “cheese fruit” and “dog dumpling”) is now a well-known component of juice drinks and supplements that are available from health food stores and various web sites.
What Chemicals Does it Contain?
Noni contains a range of phytochemicals and nutrients.
Some of the compounds identified include anthraquinones (such as damnacanthal), caproic and caprylic acids, vitamin C, pro-vitamin A, amino acids, and minerals. It has also been claimed that noni contains the precursor to a pharmacologically-active alkaloid, “xeronine,” but it’s existence is doubtful.
What Does the Science Say about the Claims made for Noni?
Needless to state, many health claims have been made for noni. What does the science say?
Studies conducted in animal models and cell cultures suggest that noni has anti-cancer, glucose-lowering, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, immune-stimulating, antioxidant and wound-healing properties. These studies certainly demonstrate noni’s potential… but their “real world” significance is questionable.
For example, one group of researchers studying noni’s anti-tumor effects injected noni preparations directly into tumors experimentally implanted in mice; vs. feeding the animals fruit or juice.
Unfortunately, experiments like these can’t tell us how well noni supplements will work, since compounds that enter the digestive tract and undergo first pass metabolism may not reach target tissues in amounts large enough to matter.
Is there any evidence that orally-ingested noni products can prevent a serious disease like cancer?
In one study on rats, consumption of Tahitian Noni juice (10% in drinking water) reduced certain markers of cancer formation (7,12-dimethylbenz(a)anthracene-DNA adducts).
A follow-up study on smokers consuming 1oz.–4oz. juice/day suggested it could reduce harmful adduct formation in people, too.
This is an intriguing result, although it should be noted that a) this was a short term study; and b) the ability to reduce adduct formation probably isn’t limited to noni: rosemary extract, quercetin and purple grape juice also show promise.
Unfortunately, the number of peer-reviewed human studies on noni isn’t large, so it’s difficult to find solid evidence to support the extravagant claims made by marketers. So far, the evidence points to more modest effects.
For example, one (unpublished) study suggested that noni could help reduce total cholesterol levels in smokers. Likewise, a Phase I clinical trial determined that noni might improve the quality of life of cancer patients. According to the American Cancer Society:
“An early (Phase I) clinical trial of freeze-dried noni fruit extract was done on 29 patients at the University of Hawaii to learn about its actions and toxicities in people with cancer. This study found no toxic effects on patients even at daily doses of 10 grams, but also found that there was no significant effect on quality of life. It was noted, however, that those who got higher doses reported feeling somewhat better.”
And so it goes… it’s not hard to get the impression from these (and similar) studies that there could be something to noni. But evidence that it can cure or prevent serious disease is lacking.
In addition, it’s unclear whether noni provides any unique benefits, relative to other phytonutrient-rich plant foods/supplements. This question is particularly relevant for expensive products sold via multi-level marketing (MLM) networks. If a premium price is being charged, “good” isn’t good enough: the product should be superior to more ordinary (and less expensive) products.
This point was echoed by “The Berry Doctor,” Paul Gross, Ph.D. In his book “Superfruits,” he wrote:
“Since its inception, the superfruit industry has had such enthusiastic marketing and media hype that fruits with few qualities by the criteria used here have been successfully promoted as super—and only for their juice products! Two such fruits are noni (Morinda citrifolia) and mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), neither of which has significant nutritional value, phytochemical content or medical research activity by comparison to the top-ranked superfruits presented in this chapter… When considering purchase of these juice products, take a dose of skepticism. Instead, applying the use of whole food superfruits provides better nutritional value for your diet and wiser use of your budget.”
The Noni Bottom Line:
Time (and more research) will tell if noni is truly as valuable as promoters insist it is.
On the plus side, noni supplements and juices appear to be non-toxic (although a few random cases of liver damage and hyperkalemia have been associated with it).
In addition, affordable, standardized extracts are available.
So if you’re interested in experimenting with noni, do some comparison shopping first.
Large online retailers such as iHerb.com, Swanson, Vitamin Shoppe or Vitacost are good places to search, and offer a range of alternatives to pricey MLM juice products.
You can buy noni products online at iHerb.com, one of our recommended online merchants.