Other common name(s): noni fruit, noni juice, Indian mulberry, morinda, hog apple, meng koedoe, mora de la India, ruibarbo caribe, wild pine
Scientific/medical name(s): Morinda citrifolia
The noni or morinda plant is a tropical evergreen tree that grows to about 10 feet tall in Tahiti and other Pacific Islands, as well as in parts of Asia, Australia, South America and the Caribbean. The tree can grow
as tall as 10 feet and bears a fruit about the size of a potato which starts out green and ripens into yellow or white. The juice, fruit, bark, and leaves are used in herbal remedies and Polynesian folk medicine.
There is no reliable clinical evidence that noni juice is effective in preventing or treating cancer or any other disease in humans. Although animal and laboratory studies have shown some positive effects, human studies are just beginning. Research is under way to isolate various compounds in the noni plant so that further testing can be done to learn whether they may be useful in humans.
How is it promoted for use?
Proponents claim the noni fruit and its juice can be used to treat cancer, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, HIV, rheumatism, psoriasis, allergies, infection, and inflammation. Some believe that the fruit can relieve sinus infections, menstrual cramps, arthritis, ulcers, sprains, injuries, depression, senility, poor digestion, atherosclerosis, addiction, colds, flu, and headaches. It is further claimed that the juice can heal scratches on the cornea of the eye.
In India, proponents use noni as a remedy for asthma and dysentery, and folk healers in the Pacific islands use it for many types of illness. In the United States, some noni juice distributors promote it as a general tonic, stress reliever, facial and body cleanser, and dietary and nutritional supplement.
What does it involve?
Parts of the noni plant are used as a juice, a tonic, a poultice, and brewed (infused) like tea. The juice, which has an unpleasant taste and odor, is used on the scalp as a treatment for head lice. Some proponents also advise drinking the juice, mixed with other juices and flavorings to mask its unpleasant taste. The leaves and bark are sometimes made into a liquid tonic for urinary complaints and muscle or joint pain. The unripe noni fruit is mashed together with salt and applied on cuts and broken bones. Ripe fruit is used as a poultice for facial blemishes or as a remedy for skin sores, boils, or infections. Tea-like infusions made from leaves of the plant are used as remedies for tuberculosis, arthritis, rheumatism, and as anti-aging treatments.
In the United States, noni products are sold in various forms including juice, extract, powder, capsules (dietary supplements), facial cleansers, bath gels, and soaps. Noni distributors and Internet sites selling the juice or supplements often recommend that they be taken on an empty stomach.
What is the history behind it?
The noni fruit has been popular for centuries among Polynesians, who introduced the noni plant to Hawaii. During World War II, soldiers stationed in the South Pacific ate the fruit for added sustenance. Over the past few years, products from the noni plant have become available in health food stores and online in the United States.
In 1998, a company that manufactures noni juice and other noni products for distribution was charged with making unfounded claims by the Attorneys General of Arizona, California, New Jersey, and Texas. The company claimed that the juice could treat, cure, or prevent many diseases including cancer, HIV, diabetes, rheumatism, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, psoriasis, allergies, heart rhythm abnormality, chronic inflammation, and joint pain.
The company was ordered to stop advertising these health claims until it could provide scientific evidence of its claims and receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That same year, juice marketed under the name of "Noni" was banned in Finland until claims of the juice's ability to prevent, treat, or cure illness were removed from advertising brochures.
Between 2002 and late 2014, the FDA’s website shows that it has warned several companies to stop making claims that noni could cure, treat, or prevent disease, since proof of such abilities had still not been submitted to the FDA. However, these claims are still widely made on websites and elsewhere.
What is the evidence?
A number of animal and laboratory experiments have been done on different compounds taken from the noni plant. A group of Hawaiian researchers caused tumors to grow in mice and then injected specially prepared noni juice into their abdomens. Mice who received the treatment survived twice as long as the untreated mice. Other scientists studying freeze-dried extract from the roots of the plant found that the substance appeared to prevent pain and induce sleep in mice.
Another team of investigators reported that damnacanthal, a compound removed from the foliage of the noni plant, may inhibit a chemical process that turns normal cells into cancer cells. However, since extracted chemicals or substances differ from the whole raw plant, a study of an extract might not produce the same result as a study using the whole plant. In addition, while animal and laboratory studies may show a certain substance holds promise as a helpful treatment, further studies are necessary to learn whether the results apply to humans. Researchers are working to isolate and purify any compounds in the juice that might be active in humans so that further testing can be done.
A 2008 study conducted at the University of Hawaii looked at people with cancer to find out if there were dose limits to noni extract. They found that people asked to take more than 6 capsules 4 times a day (more than 12 grams of noni each day) were very likely to drop out of the study because of the challenge of taking so many pills. The patients taking 3 or 4 capsules 4 times a day (6 to 8 grams per day) reported better quality of life than those getting higher or lower doses. This study did not have a control group, so it’s uncertain whether the noni was responsible for the improvement.
A study published in 2012 looked at smokers with abnormal lipid profiles (cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.), which are typically linked to higher risk of heart attacks. Patients who took noni juice every day had improvements in these lipid tests after 30 days. The subjects were not followed to find out if they would actually have fewer heart problems. This study didn’t look at cancer risk.
Noni fruit juice and supplements may act as antioxidants in the body; the fruit pulp contains various amounts of vitamin C and A, as well as trace minerals.
More research is needed before it can be determined what role, if any, noni plant compounds may play in the treatment of cancer or other health conditions.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
This product is sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Unlike companies that produce drugs (which must be tested before being sold), the companies that make supplements are not required to prove to the Food and Drug Administration that their supplements are safe or effective, as long as they don't claim the supplements can prevent, treat, or cure any specific disease.
Some such products may not contain the amount of the herb or substance that is on the label, and some may include other substances (contaminants). In a 2013 study, a test of 44 samples found that fewer than half the herbal supplements tested contained any of the herb that was listed on the label. More than half the samples contained ingredients that were not on the label. This suggests that the 2007 FDA rules to assure the proper listing of supplement ingredients are not always followed. Even when they are, the rules do not address the safety of the ingredients or their effects on health.
The safety and long-term effects of noni juice and other noni products are not well known. A few cases of liver problems have been reported in people taking noni in European countries. One of these patients had previous liver damage and required a liver transplant, but the others recovered when noni was stopped.
The juice has a significant amount of potassium, equivalent to a similar amount of tomato juice or orange juice, and may pose problems for people with kidney disease and others who must restrict their potassium intake. It is also high in sugar, which must be considered for people with diabetes and others who are restricting their calorie intake. It may also cause the urine to turn a pink or reddish color. Noni juice and supplements have not been studied in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Noni juice has some risk of interacting with medicines, including a number of chemotherapy drugs, that use the same processing pathways in the body. This can cause certain drugs to build up in the body to levels that might cause problems, and lower the blood levels of others so that they become less effective. In at least one study, it also appears to reduce the anti-cancer activity of certain cancer treatments.
Talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about using noni with the medicines you are taking. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
To learn more
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our website (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
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US Food and Drug Administration. Inspection, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations. Warning Letters 2013. Accessed at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/2014/ucm405018.htm on January 5, 2015.
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Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.
Last Revised: 01/13/2015