The people of the Pacific Islands eat it as a staple food, a famine crop, and a panacea for all manner of ailments. In the last few years, it has become a popular nutraceutical – despite some people calling it the vomit fruit. But beware, many marketing claims about noni are vastly overblown. Read on to learn more.
What Is Noni?
When the Polynesian people left Southeast Asia for the Pacific Islands, they brought noni plants along. They ate noni fruit to survive in times of famine, and their healers used it to treat common illnesses like the common cold and flu [1, 2].
If you travel to the islands of Oceania, you may find noni (Morinda citrifolia) trees growing wild along the lava flows. You can recognize them by their oval-shaped leaves, tubular white flowers, bulbous white fruit – and awful stench. Noni fruit has been described as the most disgusting fruit in the world [1, 2].
The Cheese Fruit
Noni may be called cheese fruit or even vomit fruit; that’s how bad it tastes and smells. This unfortunate aroma may be blamed on compounds called ketones. One such ketone, 2-heptanone, is also partially responsible for the smell and taste of blue cheese [2, 3].
In the modern day, its juice has been sold with claims of treating everything from arthritis to AIDS. Juice and powder supplements may claim to boost immunity, reduce fatigue, improve arthritis, support circulatory health, prevent diabetes, help digestion, and clear skin.
Many of the purported claims found on product labels and promotional websites are deeply unsubstantiated, which prompted the FDA to issue warnings to manufacturers. The warned manufacturers included Hawaiian Organic Noni, Healing Noni, and Puna Noni.
To top that, some manufacturers failed to meet quality standards upon inspection and their products are likely adulterated. One manufacturer went so far as to mislabel nutrition facts, while another did not declare the correct noni capsule ingredients.
Such shady manufacturing and marketing techniques cast a great shadow of doubt on the health benefits of noni. They also undermine some legitimate research efforts. We decided to dig deeper to uncover which benefits are sufficiently backed up.
Snapshot of Noni
- May reduce pain
- Boosts the immune system
- Increases physical endurance
- May lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- May reduce nausea
- Supports skin health
- Has some activity against cancer cells, microbes, and parasites
- High-quality products are safe
- Easily grown and prepared
- Not well-studied in people
- Insufficient evidence for most benefits
- Awful taste and smell
- Supplements and juice preparation are not standardized
- Some manufacturers mislabel nutrition facts and/or ingredients
- Rare cases of liver toxicity reported
- Very high in potassium and not recommended in people with kidney disease
Noni Fruit, Juice, and Extracts
Juice and dried fruit powder are the most readily available forms of noni online. If you live in the tropics, you may be able to find noni fruit. Noni trees also grow readily in hot climates. If you go looking for fresh noni, however, be prepared for the smell.
Traditional vs. Commercial Noni Juice
Noni fruit has a wide range of traditional uses and many methods exist for making noni juice. Traditionally, very ripe fruits were washed and placed in barrels, where the juice seeps out and ferments over the course of two months or more. This produces the very acidic, dark brown juice used in traditional Polynesian medicine and diet [5, 6].
Commercial noni fruit juice may be fresh pressed rather than fermented. This produces a sweeter, less acidic juice that may not contain the same active compounds as the traditional fermented product. Commercial juices are also often pasteurized, which may kill beneficial microbes or destroy beneficial compounds [5, 6].
Plus, the FDA pointed out how many manufacturers do not even have proper facilities to produce high-quality juice or identify its ingredients. The components we list below have been discovered in careful scientific investigations. That in no way guarantees that commercially-available products will contain them.
The chemical components of noni fruit, flowers, leaves, bark, and wood are remarkably different. Certain chemicals are only found in a single part of the plant, while others are widely distributed .
The noni fruit is about 90% water, and most of the remaining solid matter is made of sugars, proteins, and dietary fiber. The fruit is high in potassium, sulfur, calcium, and phosphorus; it also contains vitamin C and provitamin A .
Damnacanthal has anti-cancer potential and is present in the fruit, roots, wood, and seeds of the noni plant .
Scopoletin (a member of the coumarin class) is present in the whole noni plant, including the fruit, and it may kill microbes and reduce blood pressure .
Rutin, a flavonoid, is present in the leaves of the noni plant. It may reduce blood pressure and blood sugar .
The leaves and fruit of the noni plant are home to a variety of beneficial fungi. These fungi produce active compounds that otherwise would not be present in the plant or its fruit. In turn, these active compounds have shown the ability to kill lung, prostate, and breast cancer cells .
These fungal species and active compounds were isolated from traditional fermented noni juice. Commercial juice, especially pasteurized juice, may not contain the same beneficial microbes or compounds .
Potential Benefits with Insufficient Evidence
Noni has produced positive results for weight loss in at least one study, but many of these are at serious risk because their funding comes from companies that sell noni. Larger and more robust studies are required to confirm or refute its effectiveness.
Noni and noni juice are considered safe to consume as food, but the FDA has not approved noni for any medical purpose or health claim, and there is no guarantee of the quality of any given product or supplement. Talk to your doctor before using noni for health reasons.
In cell, animal, and human studies, noni juice and extracts activated the immune system. In the single available human study on noni’s immune-boosting potential, twelve participants drank 330 mL of noni juice every day for eight weeks and experienced a 30% increase in natural killer cell activity and IL-2 blood levels [8, 9].
Some researchers speculate that noni’s antioxidant properties are at least partially responsible for this boost. Note, however, that these researchers are employed by Morinda, Inc., which manufactures noni juice .
In mice, noni extract increases the activity of T and B cells, white blood cells involved in the body’s response to infection, by up to 50%. What’s more, this immune boost did not increase inflammation [1, 2].
2) Weight Management
As part of a weight loss program including exercise and calorie restriction, noni juice appeared to help people lose weight. This study did not include a control group, however; it is unclear how much the noni juice contributed to weight loss compared to calorie restriction and exercise. This study was also funded and supplied by Morinda Inc., a noni juice manufacturer, suggesting a high risk of bias .
3) Physical Endurance
Pacific Islanders traditionally ate noni fruit before fishing trips and long ocean voyages, believing that it would keep them going longer than other foods. Modern research may back them up: 200 mL/day of noni juice delayed fatigue by 21% in 40 trained athletes. However, this study was conducted by employees of Morinda, Inc., a noni juice manufacturer [8, 11].
Athletes drinking noni juice also experienced a decrease in blood markers that indicate muscle damage. This result suggests that noni may increase physical endurance by protecting the muscles during exercise .
4) Heart Health
High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. In human and animal studies, noni fruit and extract decreased blood pressure. In the clinical trial, drinking noni juice lowered blood pressure after one month. However, the trial was not blind, meaning that the participants knew that they were drinking noni juice, and there was no control group [12, 8, 7].
Noni fruit and leaf extracts appear to lower blood pressure better than whole fruit or juice. Noni leaves contain high levels of rutin, a flavonoid commonly found in tea and apples; noni fruit contains scopoletin, a coumarin commonly found in fenugreek and other medicinal plants. Both compounds reduced blood pressure in rats [7, 13, 14, 15, 16, 13, 17].
High blood cholesterol is another important risk factor for heart disease. Eating noni fruit or drinking noni juice might lower it .
In humans and rats, noni juice significantly decreased total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and blood triglycerides. This was confirmed in a study of 132 heavy smokers who drank noni juice every day for a month, but those with higher initial cholesterol saw the greatest benefits [8, 18].
In another human study of healthy nonsmokers, noni juice did not reduce cholesterol. The authors suggested that these benefits may, therefore, be limited to people with high cholesterol .
After surgery, some people are at risk of postoperative nausea and vomiting. This illness increases stress and prolongs recovery time after surgery, and scientists do not understand exactly what causes it [19, 20].
In one clinical trial, people at high risk of postoperative nausea were given between 150 and 600 mg of noni fruit extract one hour before surgery. Those who had 600 mg of noni were 40% less likely to experience nausea than the placebo. This is a significant reduction, especially given that all of the participants were considered high-risk [8, 21].
There is currently no clinical research into whether noni prevents other types of nausea.
6) Skin Health
In traditional Polynesian medicine, noni fruit was applied to cuts, ulcers, and other wounds to help them heal. Spreading noni extracts and juices on the skin may reduce inflammation, acne, and signs of aging. Human studies on this topic have, thus far, been small and of relatively low quality [8, 22, 23].
7) Menstrual Cramps
Traditionally, women ate unripe noni fruit, roots, or leaves to prevent or to manage menstrual cramps. Only one clinical study has investigated this claim. In it, noni fruit extract slightly reduced markers of inflammation, but it didn’t affect menstrual pain or bleeding [1, 26, 27].
However, the authors of this study report several limitations to their study; these include a low dosage and participants who may not have followed instructions. The study also used fruit extract rather than unripe fruit, roots, or leaves [1, 26, 27].
Animal Research (Lacking Evidence)
No clinical evidence supports the use of noni or any of its products for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
In a mouse study, noni reduced pain sensitivity nearly as much as tramadol, an opioid analgesic. Other animal studies have supported this result, demonstrating increases in pain tolerance similar to morphine and up to three times the placebo [28, 2].
These benefits came without side effects or dependence. Since the most powerful conventional painkillers (opioids) have a significant risk of addiction and other adverse consequences, further research into natural alternatives would be useful .
But this doesn’t mean we should draw any conclusions yet.
For one, relatively high doses of noni juice (10 – 20% of total diet) or extract (1.6 g per kg of body weight) were required to achieve these results. Scientists have not yet studied noni’s painkilling effect in humans, but it is currently being considered in arthritis research [2, 28].
Researchers don’t fully understand how noni might act to reduce pain. However, a few of its active compounds have been isolated and studied. One protein (called McLTP1) binds to opioid receptors in mice. Rutin, found in noni leaves and fruit, also increases the effectiveness of the painkiller naproxen [29, 7, 30].
Other compounds reduce inflammation and may contribute to pain relief. A polysaccharide molecule from noni blocks inflammation caused by serotonin, histamine, and bradykinin. The specific mechanism of this effect is unknown, though noni extracts containing damnacanthal may directly block the histamine H1 receptor [31, 32].
Noni is far from a proven natural painkiller. More research is needed to fill the gaps and determine its effects on people.
9) Microbes and Parasites
Traditional Polynesian practitioners used noni to fight infections of all kinds, from the common cold to intestinal parasites. People would eat the fruit, drink its juice, or apply it directly to a wound to prevent infection. Modern research has shown that noni has antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-parasitic activity – but only in test tubes [2, 33].
Bacteria & Fungi
In test tubes, noni leaf extract killed several bacteria (Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, Proteus vulgaris, and Staphylococcus aureus). Several of these can become resistant to antibiotics and new antibacterial agents are in high demand [34, 35, 36, 37].
In multiple studies, a freeze-dried extract of ripe noni fruit blocked the growth of Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for yeast infections. The early evidence is promising, but these results have not yet been repeated in animal or clinical studies [38, 39].
Perhaps the most promising potential use of noni are creams with stem extracts for combating drug-resistant leishmaniasis. Leishmania is a parasite spread by sandflies. It invades the host’s white blood cells and causes ulcers in the skin, nose, and mouth; more serious infections can cause “black fever,” which kills around twenty thousand people every year [40, 41].
In both cell and animal studies, noni extracts change the cells hosting Leishmania and kill the parasite. In mice, noni also controlled the characteristic skin ulcers .
Two human trials moved forward from this evidence. Noni extracts were prepared into a cream and applied to the skin ulcers of people with leishmaniasis. All participants using the stem extract experienced some improvement in the size of their ulcers. Leaf and fruit extracts were not effective; only the stem extract shrank the ulcers .
Noni may also kill worm infections. In one study, noni fruit extract killed the majority of roundworms infecting domestic chickens. The alcoholic extract was more effective than the water-based extract .
A Natural Dewormer?
Some veterinarians recommend giving noni to dogs, cats, and horses to kill intestinal worms and heartworm. They warn that noni is not proven to be effective for this application; however, it may support other treatments or preventative measures .
Noni has shown some ability to kill viruses. Noni extracts prevented the hepatitis C and Epstein-Barr viruses from growing in human cells. However, this is very early research that has not been repeated in animal or human studies .
10) Withdrawal Therapies
According to some early research, noni may help people with addictions manage their withdrawal symptoms. In a mouse study, the animals given noni were much less likely to seek out heroin. Its potential to reduce cravings and help people avoid relapse should be researched further .
As with most of noni’s benefits, noni’s anti-cancer potential remains to be determined in humans.
In one study, mice with terminal cancer were given noni juice or a placebo, and those that had the noni juice lived more than twice as long .
Cell and rat studies suggest this strange fruit may prevent carcinogenic chemicals from binding to and damaging DNA. Noni and its components prevented the growth of malignant tumors and improved survival rates in rats [8, 2, 46].
Damnacanthal may be the most promising anticancer compound in the noni plant. In test tubes, it blocked several pathways that cause tumor growth and metastasis (including c-Met and NF-κB). It also activated cancer-fighting pathways (p53) [47, 48].
Quality of Life
Noni fruit capsules also improved physical function, pain, and fatigue in people with advanced cancer. In a study aiming to uncover the correct dosage, 51 people with advanced cancer took varying doses of noni extract. A dosage of 8 g per day reduced reported fatigue and pain and improved physical functioning [50, 8].
Noni might support quality of life during cancer treatments, but high-quality studies are lacking .
Noni Side Effects & Safety
Noni fruit is likely safe. Some people around the world eat noni as a staple food with no adverse effects. Noni is considered unlikely to produce allergic reactions. However, its safety in pregnant women and children is unknown due to a lack of high-quality research. [51, 1, 52].
There have been four cases of serious liver toxicity associated with noni juice. However, in all four cases, other factors (such as multiple sclerosis medication) could have been involved; the juice may also have been poorly prepared. If you are taking drugs that stress the liver, you may wish to avoid noni juice or supplements [52, 7].
People at risk of high potassium levels (hyperkalemia), such as those with kidney disease, should also avoid noni. Noni juice has a potassium concentration of 56.3 mEq/L, similar to orange or tomato juice [53, 54].
Limitations and Caveats
As with many traditional medicines, modern research on noni is lacking. Many benefits have only been demonstrated in cell or animal studies. Meanwhile, many studies on noni juice do not specify which type of juice (traditionally fermented, commercially fermented, fresh squeezed, pasteurized or not, etc.) was used for the study.
Unfortunately, the true benefit (or not) of noni fruit, juice, and extract is unclear because of the high risk of bias in many studies. Much of the collected evidence on noni comes from very few, small, poor-quality studies by a handful of researchers. The foremost of these researchers is employed by Morinda Inc., which manufactures noni juice and has an obvious financial incentive to publish only positive results.
Noni fruit has a strong cultural history of use among Polynesian and Southeast Asian peoples. Hopefully, modern science will soon shine a light on the precise mechanisms of noni’s beneficial effects.
There is no safe and effective dose of noni or any of its products because no sufficiently powered study has been conducted to find one.
Commercial supplement labels recommend between 450 and 1300 mg of supplement or about 2 tbsp of noni juice per day.
In clinical trials, 30 – 118 mL (2 – 8 tbsp) of juice per day improved cholesterol. A larger dose of 120 – 200 mL per day improved physical endurance in athletes. 300 mL per day improved immune function .
In a phase I clinical trial of noni extract capsules, 8 g per day was selected for further research since it improved pain, physical function, and fatigue in cancer patients. All of the participants tolerated the extract well up to the maximum tested dose of 14 g per day .
Noni is a small tropical tree that produces egg-shaped, foul-smelling fruits. Polynesian and Southeast Asian peoples traditionally prepare juice from the fruit as a remedy for a variety of ailments.
Unfortunately, most of the published research about noni is either low-quality or biased. Plus, several manufacturers have been warned by the FDA for making false health claims, failing to meet quality control standards, and incorrectly labeling noni products.
Despite these drawbacks and the awful taste, high-quality noni products are safe and contain important nutrients. The fruit juice and extract may relieve pain, boost the immune system and kill microbes. Noni may also increase endurance, reduces blood pressure and cholesterol, and support skin health.
However, pregnant women, children, and those with liver or kidney disease should avoid noni. For all the rest, noni juice is safe and possibly healthy, if you can stomach it. Make sure to buy noni only from reputable manufacturers.
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