You wouldn't think people would be rushing out to buy the pressings of a foul-tasting fruit whose price tag is staggering. But that's exactly what's happening with noni juice. Noni is a South Pacific plant (scientific name: Morinda citrifolia) that's being heavily marketed in the West by people who suggest that regular intake will lead to a better life. But before you plunk down up to $80 a litre for a swig of the juice, which is often mixed with other juices to mask its taste, you should know that traditional Hawaiian herbalists are divided over its use.
The most renowned of these, the recently deceased Papa Henry Auwae, whose herbal repertoire included roughly 2,500 plants, considered all parts of the noni tree to be potentially toxic and refused to let his patients use it.
It's true that, as with other fruit juices, squeezed noni does provide antioxidants and appears to have immune stimulant properties, which explains the buzz around noni as a cancer-preventative agent. However, at this stage only animal studies -- and a small number at that -- have been done. One tested a brand of noni juice that's mixed with other juices, including the wonderfully antioxidizing grape and blueberry, so it's hard to know if the positive results were really due to noni.
Canada's Health Protection Branch has received consumer reports of side effects from noni juice, including rashes, tightness in the throat, dizziness, vomiting and difficulty breathing. While it wasn't possible to nail down noni as the culprit in these instances, the symptoms are consistent with allergic reactions.
You might consider sticking with cheaper juices that are known to be safe health enhancers -- orange or grape for instance -- until more research is done.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"(Our experiments show that) noni juice has anti-tumour activity at the animal level; I don't know whether it does in humans, but any agent that works at the animal level can be expected to have some kind of similar activity in humans. But it's an expectation only. Noni juice is a health food, not a drug. Whether put on human cell cultures or animal cell cultures, it shows no cytotoxicity. It cannot harm a tumour at all. Instead, it enhances the immune system."
EIICHI FURUSAWA, professor of pharmacology, University of Hawaii School of Medicine
"Papa Henry Auwae is a renowned Hawaiian master medicinal herbalist. He died on December 31, 2000 at the age of 94. He taught us as his great great grandmother taught him, not to use noni as it is toxic. He chose not to treat anyone who continued to us it.'
BABETTE GALANG, haumana (student ) of Papa Henry Auwae
"In some animal studies, noni juice has been shown to enhance the immune system and to have an analgesic effect. It's an anti-inflammatory, and the fruit has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial effects. We are funding a human clinical trial right now on the effect of Tahitian Noni (this is a brand name) on the formation of cancer adducts (damaged DNA cells associated with increased risk of cancer). We've done acute toxicity studies, subchronic toxicity studies and allergenicity studies. We haven't released these to the public. There are many competing noni companies out there; if we were to publish, they could use the information to their advantage."JARAKAE JENSEN, research and development and BRETT WEST, research chemist and toxicologist for Utah-based Morinda Incorporated, manufacturers of Tahitian Noni Juice
"Noni juice is not something people should spend their money on if they're serious about their health. It's a fad, and it's being put out as a panacea. Where I see a problem is in the indoctrination that you should use it every day for the rest of your life. Even with herbs, people shift and change, and the usefulness of a particularly fabulous remedy can decline because there's no longer a need for it and it can start to set up imbalances."
MARION MARSHALL, medical herbalist
"I was a student of Papa Henry Auwae for four years. Papa says that his great-great-grandmother warned him about noni. It was used in those days primarily as a survival fruit. That was the only use he considered appropriate for noni. In his career, he said he found a lot of damage caused by noni."
ROBERT SMITH, PhD in physiology, president of the Traditional Chinese Medical College of Hawaii
"Noni leaves and roots have medicinal properties. There is a literature that goes back at least a hundred years for noni's use in diabetes and hypertension. I only remember encountering one place where noni fruit is described as toxic, in Hortus Third. No references are given, and I never saw this anywhere else."
CONRAD RICHTER, Richter's Herbs