NONI: A PRELIMINARY REPORT
Copyright 1997 by Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.
What is noni juice and why are so many people taking it?
Noni is Hawaiian for a plant known scientifically as Morinda citrifolia. It is also known as Indian mulberry and is virtually ubiquitous in tropical climes.
Noni grows as a small evergreen tree at elevations of up to 1,300 feet. It has large oblong leaves, white flowers, and a very distinctive grenade-shaped fruit.
This fruit turns a characteristic yellow upon ripening. Noni has been used extensively in both Polynesian and Hawaiian folk medicine as a general health tonic, and especially for diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. It is also rubbed on wounds, cuts and abrasions of all sorts. One Maori has written that traditional Poly-nesians use noni for just about every illness.
"Noni is part of our lives," he said. Noni is also said to have been used as a traditional remedy for malignancies by Polynesians (Proc Annu Meet Am Assoc Cancer Res; 33:A3078 1992).
Since the 1980s some scientists and native healers in Hawaii have been experimenting with the properties and uses of this plant. There are even a number of books on this topic, such as those by W. Arthur Whistler.
CRAZY ABOUT THAT PLANT
Noni has now developed into something of a craze. In 1992, Isabella Abbott, the G.P. Wilder Professor of Botany at the University of Hawaii, reported that in her state "people are crazy about this plant. They use it for diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer," as well as many other illnesses (Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser, 2/9/92). She herself reported getting ten phones call a week on the topic.
The main obstacle to marketing noni as a food supple-ment was esthetic. Again, according to Prof. Abbott:"It smells like something the dog dragged in." The Maori writer says "the traditional juice stinks and tastes terri-bly bitterit's almost unbearable."
According to another scientist, "If one is dying and all other remedies have failed, then and only then will the average person drink noni juice. The flavor of juice made from ripe Hawaiian noni is terrible. None of my colleagues would touch the untreated juice...."
So here was a marketing challenge. But a Utah com-pany called Morinda, Inc. has now mixed noni with water, blueberry and grape juice concentrate and the stuff is now selling briskly. Most alternative clinicians and many cancer patients have heard about it, and many are on the juice, with or without an attendant diet. So, the question naturally arises, is there anything to it?
There is a small amount of experimental evidence to sup-port the use of noni juice against cancer. Morinda citrifo-liaappears to contain some interesting compounds, not just the usual nutrients but exotic compounds such as damnacanthal (Cancer Lett,73: 2-3, 1993 Sep 30, 161-6). In 1993, scientists at the University of Metz found that a freeze-dried extract of noni roots had a "significant, dose-related, central analgesic activity...," one of its tra-ditional uses. The French scientists concluded that "these results are suggestive of sedative properties."
This could be important in cancer, certainly. However, these experiments were conducted with roots, and nobody is selling noni roots. Only the fruit.
If you surf the Net, you will find numerous claims of noni's "proven" anticancer activity in the laboratory. But this is based on a single set of studies. Most of these were carried out by Dr. Annie Hirazumi and colleagues at the Department of Pharmacology, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
She administered pure noni juice to a pet dog when it was dying. The dog recovered miraculously, and she set out to find out more about this fruit.
In 1992, her group reported at an AACR cancer research meeting that when they injected a relatively large amount (750 mg/kg solid)of noni juice into animals with cancer, every other day, the mean survival time was 33.5 days. This was compared to 14.8 days in the controls.
While there were no survivors out of 23 control mice, 9 out of 22 of the treated animals were still alive at the end of the experiment.
They also reported that the juice was not toxic to can-cer cells or to many strains of normal cells, even at high concentration (Proc Annu Meet Am Assoc Cancer Res; 33:A3078 1992).This was promising.
At a Federation meeting in 1995 [FASEB9(3):A93; 1995], they reported in more detail on the use of noni against transplanted tumors. An alcohol precipitation of the fruit juice was shown to give protection against can-cer when it was injected into the peritoneal cavity of the mice. Thirty-four C57BL/6 mice were first implanted with Lewis lung carcinoma cells. Treated mice were given a total of five injections. Again, the mean survival was 32.7 days compared to 14.7 days in the controls.
Concurrent treatment with immunosuppressive drugs destroyed the anticancer effects of noni, "suggest-ing the antitumor activity acts via activation of host immune system," they wrote.
They reported that noni demonstrated a protective effect against an experimental leukemia caused by the inoculation of tumor-causing viruses. It prevented the enlargement of the spleen by 51 percent.
Again, they concluded that noni juice "...seems to act indirectly by enhancing host immune system involving macrophages and/or lymphocytes" (The Proceedings of the Western Pharmacological Society (1994;37:145-146).
This is encouraging, even exciting. But several caveats need to be emphatically stated. First, most of these studies were conducted with alcohol extracts of noni. I do not think this is how commercial noni juice is prepared. More to the point, the compound was injected into the peritoneal cavities of the animals whereas obviously human cancer patients are taking it as a drink. The dosage was multiples of what human patients are taking. So, while suggestive, these studies on transplantable tumors in animals (from a single lab) cannot be considered definitive for human anti-cancer effects.
Much of the theoretical interest in noni has been stimu-lated by articles on the value of the fruit by Ralph Heinicke, PhD. Dr. Heinicke is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Minnesota. He lived in Hawaii from 1950 to 1986, and worked for the Dole Pineapple Company, the Pineapple Research Institute, and the University of Hawaii.
Dr. Heinicke has discovered and patented an alkaloid he named "xeronine." Xeronine is an enigmatic molecule which rapidly comes and goes in the body. It is formed from "pro-xeronine," which Dr. Heinicke first isolated from pineapples and then from noni. (He states that it is no longer present in pineapple because of depleted soil.)
Heinicke writes that "identifying the pharmacologi-cally active ingredient of noni has been difficult for an understandably good reason. The active ingredient is not present in the plant or fruit! Only after the potion has been drunk does the active ingredient form. Some-times!" he adds, with some humor.
Heinicke calls xeronine a "relatively small alkaloid...which is physiologically active in the picogram range." A picogram, mind you, is a trillionth of a gram.
Although the xeronine thesis is cited as dogma by noni salesmen, there is reason for caution. We found three patents relating to xeronine. But a search of Medline and CancerLit revealed no published peer-reviewed studies on xeronine or proxeronine. The words do not occur. We found only three papers by Dr. Heinicke on other topics. It is difficult to understand why he has not shared this discovery with the scientific community at large
. And while it is well known that alkaloids are highly bioactive substances, they are often present in much larger quantities in plants. Take for instance one of the best known of all alkaloids, nicotine. This can constitute up to 9.0 percent by weight of tobacco leaves! (Robbers, James, et al. Pharmacognosy and Pharmacobiotechnol-ogy, Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1996, p. 149)
This is an astronomical amount compared to Dr. Heinicke's picogram-range xeronine. Some further explanation of xeronine's mechanism of action is clearly needed.
WHAT'S IN THAT NONI?
None of the distributors of the product have been com-pletely forthcoming with information. But Morinda, Inc. did send me an analysis of the nutritional value of their product. It provides a significant amount of vitamin C, about 6-7 mg of ascorbic acid per ounce, about the same as orange juice. (At about 25 times the cost. The price of noni juice is $30 to $35 per bottle, plus $5 S&H.)
Noni also contains 21 other vitamins and minerals, but in minuscule amounts. As the company itself makes clear, noni is "not a significant source" for any other nutrient. And since the product that was analyzed also contained blueberry and grape juice concentrates, as well as natural flavors, it is impossible to tell how much of the value of the final product is due to noni and how much to these well-known other ingredients.
Noni would just be another health food wanabee if it were not for the intense promotion going on in its behalf. Once again, it demonstrates the power of the Internet as an amplification mechanism for reputed "cancer cures."
Quite a few testimonials are being put forward about nearly miraculous effects from taking the juice.
Once contacted on the Net, a distributor then sent me a four-page tabloid called "Health News." This bore headlines such as "An Ancient Cure from Paradise," "Healing From Across the Seas," and "No More Wheelchair!" On the front page it clearly states that noni is "a healing fruit" that "helps cancer."
And what is "Health News"? It looks like an objective newspaper. But it is produced by a company that specializes in "Third Party literature for network marketing distributors." It is sold wholesale to network marketers who use direct mail to find and recruit new customers to become salesmen in their growing pyramid.
You will not find a single cloud in the blue Polynesian skies of Noni-dom. Noni, it appears, cures bowel obstruction, chronic fatigue, severe back pain, menstrual problems, sinus congestion, knee blow-out and water on the knee, and severe arthritis. It can also be useful in incurable cancer, they say.
"In Polynesia," a Utah man just returned from the tropics is quoted as saying, "anytime someone has an `untreatable' or terminal illnesswhen it seems that everything else has been tried but nothing has worked they reach for noni." Who are we to contradict him?
He tells how a Polynesian woman who "became a believer in noni after her friend's cancer went into remis-sion after only two weeks of using the juice." You're hearing that from me, who read it in a newsletter, from a guy who heard about it from a woman whose friend, etc. Yet this is the way that the word of noni's "miraculous" effects spreads. As the distributors will tell you, success in this field is dependent on telling great stories.
The noni sales force also maintains an "888" hot-line where both company officials and gratified patients tell their stories. I listened to one of these sessions and heard a cancer patient state that he stopped getting chemotherapy-associated infections when he took noni juice for just a few days. Another cancer patient declared that he felt remarkably better.
Let's hope these people are not deceiving themselves.
Noni is mainly sold by a multi-level marketing com-pany in Utah. (They claim sales of $1.5 million in October, 1996 and anticipate monthly sales of $2.5 million by end of that year.)
"Do you have a problem with that?" a company spokesperson asked me, aggressively.
I replied that I might, because some of the "cured patients" heard on the tape now had a vested interest in the financial success of the product. They therefore might be tempted to exaggerate the benefits they received. The spokesperson was irate at this response.
He accused me of disloyalty to the capitalist system and made me sit through a lecture on the evils of the FDA and the glories of medical freedom of choice.
He also told me that his company "was not interested" in a story about noni and cancer right now. When I said that I didn't need their permission to write such an arti-cle, and that I wasn't looking for a relationship with his company of any sort, he was astounded.
"You just made my day. You're the first writer I've spoken to who hasn't wanted money to write about noni." Now there's a fine commentary on the state of medical journalism at the end of the 20th Century!
PULLOUT BOX: STRANGE FRUIT?
Noni juice appears to be non-toxic. All of the animal and cell-line experiments I have seen so far have found no evi-dence of toxicity. The company has repeatedly assured me that noni is on the FDA's Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list. They also assure me that noni was listed as an acceptable food for US troops in the Pacific during World War Two. I haven't seen either list, but am ready to believe that they do in fact exist.
However, I think some caution and common sense is in order. Just the fact that noni has been consumed in Polynesia for various medical emergencies cannot be considered de factoproof that it is without any potential harm, especially for long-term use.
Everyone knows that some traditional herbs have proven quite dangerous upon closer inspection.
The main distributor is to be commended for having Corn-ing Hazelton Laboratories run tests for gamma isotope radia-tion, heavy metals, pesticide residues, yeasts and molds. Their juice product passed all those tests with flying colors.
But what peaked my curiosity was the fact that a well established reference work in botany, "Hortus Third," states that Morinda citrifoliafruit "has been reported to be poisonous" (p. 742). Hortus gives no references for its cau-tionary statement. When I asked the "scientific director" of the noni company about this his response was not reassur-ing. He proceeded to lambaste me for daring to cite an out-of- date work from 1902. It was futile to point out that the edition I was citing dated from 1976 and that "Hortus Third" is an authoritative work, published by the Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, a division of Cornell Universit y. He has failed to send me any more recent data, however. (Any new devel-opments in this regard will be reported at our Web site.)
One small manufacturer of noni pills gave the most entertaining response. He claimed on the Net that his prod-uct was "FDA Approved." Knowing a little about the FDA, I found that hard to swallow. When I wrote to him requested substantiation for this claim, he sent me this classic reply:
"About the being toxic, I wouldn't be in business today. Noni is like a apple or orange that you on the fruit stand. Because it has be put in a capsule that don't make a drug."
Well, I guess that about settles it.