Noni: A Foul-Smelling Fad or a Polynesian Miracle Plant?
By Terry Willard CLH, PH.D
Published in Vitamin Retailer, May 2000

In the mid-1990’s, I was in the lush tropical environs to interview some Kahunas about Kava, a herb that was starting to receive more recognition. Armed with lots of scientific data. I wanted to find out how it is traditionally used. Besides, Polynesia in the winter sounded perfect for this Canadian boy!

The scent of tropical blossoms in the air, with just a hint of salt coming off the ocean, fulfilled me. The water felt great. This sand bottom hot pool overlooking the beach was as close to heaven as I could imagine. Looking out at the glowing red and orange sunset I could almost hear the sun sizzle as it fell into the water. I felt so relaxed. I just took part in a Kava ceremony, conducted by some local Kahunas. I drank several drafts of the magical liquid, and now every muscle in my body was totally relaxed. Of course the huge ‘natural setting’ hot pool, made of rocks and sand, helped a bit. After the sun had set, a Polynesian chap was walking along the beach blowing a sea shell, a beautiful clear sound; a salute to the ocean as the sun went down. I decided to just roll over to the shallow end and lay there like a beached whale, with my belly resting on the sand and the hot water flowing over my back.

As part of the group enters the pool I noticed this awful smell. Almost embarrassed to say anything at first, I keep my mouth shut. This perfect environment has just gone down a notch. My hosts started arguing among themselves and then one said, “Sorry for that smell, but as a herbalist you might understand. That smell is of one most important herbs, even more important than Kava. There is some fallen ripe fruit over there and one of our party mistakenly stepped on one in the dark, excited about getting in the hot pool.”

This elysian but olfactory-degrading encounter was my first introduction to Noni (Morinda citrifolia), and I was excited to hear more. The strong smell that was something between dirty feet, vomit and Limburger cheese, was an advertisement for the plant’s medicinal properties. I quickly learned that this hand grenade-sized fruit was used by the locals for almost everything including; diarrhea, intestinal worms, coughs, chest colds, TB, eye irritations, sties, fevers, inflamed gums, thrush, toothaches, skin abscesses, boils, wounds, insect bites, jaundice, rheumatism and female discomforts. I would be interested to find out more about this when I got home and could do some research on noni.

When I returned to North America I did some simple inquiries and received only negative responses. Many of my colleagues had heard about it, but felt it was just another current MLM sales fad. I decided to do a little more research myself on the Internet. I soon found several other names for this Polynesian plant that included: hog apple, cheese fruit, Indian mulberry, lada, pain killer and nonu.
It appears that noni was one of the first domesticated plants of the ancient Polynesians. Kahunas, who regarded the fruit as a prime medicine, brought seeds from island to island. This made the search more intriguing for me. Through the course of my investigation, I discovered that there really was substantial research don on this herb.

The search for medicinal activity in noni goes back to the 1950’s, when a study showed significant antibacterial properties for the fruit. (1) This has been since substantiated in several studies. (2,3) Noni’s effect on parasites has been confirmed against Ascaris Lumbricoides. (4)

The research also yielded investigation of noni in the area of cancer; a paper on the subject was delivered at the 83rd, 84th, and 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. The landmark paper on this research was presented at the 83rd meeting in San Diego, CA, in 1992 and titled, “Anti-Tumor Activity of Morinda-Citrifolia on Intraperitoneally implanted Lewis Lung Carcinoma in Mice.” Some 40% of the mice lived 50 days (123%) longer than the control group. (5) This gave good evidence that noni fruit could inhibit tumor growth.

It appears that a group of anthraquinones, alkaloids and alazarin are responsible for this almost adaptogenic action. The antitumor activity of noni fruit has been shown to result from activation of the immune system. By enhancing the response of T cells and/or macrophages, we see increased immune activity. (6,7) Other studies have shown that mixing noni with chemoimmuno-therapy drugs produces an increase in life span. (8)

I continued to find more exciting research. A Japanese team found that damnacanthal, a constituent found in noni, induces normal morphology and cytoskeletal structure to cancerous and precancerous cells. This extract was found to be the most effective among 500 extracts for inhibiting reticular activating system (RAS) function. (9)

I also found studies on the fruit that investigated activity on: diarrhea, analgesic, intestinal worms, chest infections, TB, eye complaints, calming, fever with vomiting, inflamed gums, thrush, abscesses, enhancing immune system macrophage and lymphocyte action, hypertension, diabetes, inhibiting Epstein-Barr virus, abdominal pain, back ache, urinary tract infections, arthritis, diaphramic hernia and regulation of thymus thymocytes (immune cells). It appears that there is much more here than a bad smell, a simple fad or wise tales. (10,11,12,13)

Morinda citrifolia fruit contains: several essential oils (n-caproic acid, which contributes to the distinct odor of mature fruit), antroquinones morindone and alizarin, terpenes, acubin, alkaloids xeronine and proxeronine, damnacanthal, morindone, fatty acids caproic acid and caprylic acid, scopoletin, ursolic acid and sitosterol. (14,15,16)

One of the constituents, scopoletin, shows special promise. It and other unidentified constituents in noni are believed to bind to serotonin. This means that it can influence sleep, body temperature, hunger, mood and sexual behavior. This constituent has been shown to lower blood pressure, acting as a vasodilator. Scopoletin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and histamine-inhibiting quality. (16)
The alkaloids xeronin and proxeronine seem to also have special functions. Our bodies produce xeronin in order to activate enzymes and to regulate and give structure to protein. The xeronin, and probably even more important, proxeronine, activated in the intestine, can supplement the activity or replace our own xeronine. Xeronine activates inactive proteins, or regulates the rigidity and shape of already active proteins.

Since there are a wide range of protein functions in our body, we can see a full spectrum of clinical application for this substance. Some of the physiological responses reported from xeronine include: lowering blood pressure, stopping menstrual cramping, relief from arthritis, elimination of gastric ulcers, promotion of injury mending, preventing depression, slowing senility, reducing atherosclerosis, decreasing pain and again, inhibiting pre-cancerous cell growth. (17)

So, after reviewing the material I started using noni in my clinical practice, as there are no known toxicity effects and it has been used for thousands of years by Polynesians. I acquired both the juice and encapsulated powder and began using them with patients. Now, some five years later, I find that it has become an important part of my medicinal arsenal. I usually suggest the encapsulated form as it is more economical and appears to have equal medicinal value to the juice. Several clients prefer the juice. The normal dosage is two to three capsules, two to three times daily, or one to three ounces of juice, two times daily.

Of course, I have used it with several cancer patients, but since the protocol for these patients is so complex, it is hard to determine what role noni plays in their recovery or longevity. I especially like to use noni for fibromyalgia, a difficult health issue to alleviate. I can’t say that I obtain 100% effectiveness with noni, but a good half of those patients do better on large doses (three to four capsules, two to three times daily). As a pain reliever for fibromyalgia and arthritis, noni works well.

Of course, noni’s ability to reduce colds and flu can be easily demonstrated, but I haven’t tested its many other functions. One thing I can say for sure: this Canadian herbalist finds more uses for the Polynesian Islands than just as a simple winter vacation spot!