Is Noni Juice drying up?

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Four years ago, in this column, we wrote a scathing expose on Noni Juice and the other "cure-all food supplements" to warn and protect the unsuspecting public of the false claims evidently asserted by the manufacturers of these product in their infomercials. In view of the now more apparent uselessness and potential dangers of Noni and the other similar food supplements on the market which have similar curative claims, we have decided to revisit the issue, if only to remind the public once again that these "miracle cures" have unproven efficacy and carry with them serious potential adverse effects on the blood, liver, brain, kidneys, pancreas and other vital organs of the body.

What is NONI?

Morinda Citrofolia, commonly known as the Indian Mulberry, or Noni in Hawaiian, is a tree that bears Noni fruit, whose juice is claimed by Morinda, Inc. to have beneficial medicinal therapeutic effects on many ailments in humans and in animals. The juice is marketed as Tahitian Noni or simply Noni, "a dietary supplement. Other competing manufacturers sell it under various other names.

Where are the Noni trees grown?

According to information from Morinda, Inc., "Noni trees are grown in the South Pacific islands, Tahiti, Hawaii, Malaysia, French Polynesia, where there is pollution-free volcanic soil." The roots, bark, stem, leaves and fruits, according to the literature from this company, have been used for medicinal purposes for over 2,000 years in Polynesia, China and elsewhere, but there are no scientific evidence that they are effective in curing any illnesses. The early Polynesian immigrants brought the trees to Hawaii.

Do we grow these trees in the Philippines?

Apparently, yes. In Zamboanga City, the fruit is locally known as "apatot" and "bangkuro," which some native folks take daily for its "medicinal effects." Some people say that we may even have these trees in Cebu. Health Undersecretary Milagros Fernandez stated that the Department of Health "is stepping in on the Noni fruit craze, because taking the fruit may result in a fatal disease in the long run."

What diseases is Noni supposed to be good for?

The manufacturer has testimonials from a variety of people, including patients, doctors, chiropractors, other healthcare workers, etc. who stated that Noni juice has helped them treat unlimited number of diseases ranging from Athlete's Foot to Diabetes, High Blood Pressure to Arthritis, and Stroke to Cancer, etc. They make it sound like Noni is good for all diseases, and also effective for boosting the immune system, allergies, aches and pains, depression, fatigue, stress, obesity, smoking, sleep problems, and many others. Testimonials are given by people who are paid to promote the product. They are nothing but paid advertising. They are not scientific, are meaningless, and are out there to dupe the public. Unfortunately, there are some people, including professionals, who would prostitute themselves to earn a few bucks, unwittingly endangering public health.

What are the specific claims on Noni's medicinal value?

The article of Dr. Solomon and the tape-recorded testimonials we received claimed that "Noni helped 78 percent of those who took the juice for one or more problems." The article also claimed that "mice who had cancer who were treated with Noni lived longer, about 119% average increase in survival time," that Noni lowered the blood pressure among people with high blood pressure, that those with Diabetes were better controlled, that Noni alleviates pains, that it helps regulate sleep, that it increases energy, that it has antibacterial properties, that it can protect against digestive and heart damage, that it inhibits pre-cancer function and growth of cancer tumors in humans, etc. To put things in proper perspective, I would like to repeat that none of these claims of curative powers of Noni have been scientifically tested and proven beyond doubt in the medical arena in the United States, Europe or elsewhere at this writing. In view of this, medical ethics forbid physicians from prescribing Noni to their patients as a substance with healing powers on diseases.

Does Noni have any bad side effects?

Morinda, Inc. sent us a pamphlet written by its marketing endorser, Dr. Neil Solomon, who reported that Noni side effects are minimal and include skin rash, belching, and diarrhea in less than 3% of those who ingested the juice. Two Cebu physicians reported stomach bleeding as a side effect in two of their patients. Dr. Solomon's article was based on his "interviews with more than 20 doctors and 20 other health professionals who treated over 8000 people who took Noni." The report does not contain any original scientific laboratory and clinical studies of his own whatsoever. We do not have any medical data on its effects on the brain, the heart, the liver, the pancreas, the kidneys, and other organs of the body.

Are there studies to support these claims?

The company sent us a couple of scientific papers, one from France and one from Hawaii, on experimental studies in the laboratory mice. We were unable to find independent, randomized, double-blind, scientific studies on humans to convince us (and the entire global medical community) that Noni is indeed a miracle drug effective for all illnesses, or that it is safe and not toxic to the body. We all want to find the "Fountain of Youth" but until it is proven to be genuine by our present state-of-the-art medical technology, I suggest you keep the fountain of money flowing to your own bank accounts and away from the banks of Morinda and other similar companies and their middlemen. More importantly, let us not self-medicate and delay seeing our physician for the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment of whatever illnesses we have. Our health, well-being, and life may depend on it.

How popular is Noni?

Noni has penetrated the Philippine market in December of 1998. Morinda Inc. reported a total global commissionable sales of $5.45 Million for November 1997, compared to $2 Million for November 1996. For November 1999, the predicted sales was over $30 Million. It has achieved a debt-free enterprise in just 2 years, according to its ads. The company's economic incentive is obvious.

Is Noni Juice drying up?

In spite of some news that Noni juice was phasing out in view of the controversy about its obviously unproven medical claims and the dangers it apparently poses, we still see them in "heath food stores," and in some vendor's shops. A thirty two ounce-bottle of Noni costs around $45.00 (P1800). It is not cheap. As long as gullible and nave consumers continue to dole out money to buy these useless, and evidently dangerous, products, their manufacturers will continue to produce them and rake in more "donations" from the public.

Would you recommend Noni?

No, I would not recommend Noni or any other so-called food supplements which claim to have medicinal or curative action. We do not have convincing information that they are safe (devoid of dangerous side-effects) as a beverage, or when taken or used in any other form. I would only recommend them if they are proven effective and safe by stringent scientific randomized, double-blind, clinical studies.

How about Noni for cancer or AIDS patients?

We have been asked if Noni could be used as a last resort treatment for non-operable cancers, or full-blown AIDS. Obviously, the patient will have to discuss this with his/her attending doctor, but personally, as a practical measure, I would not have any quarrel with this approach, so long as the case has been diagnosed as hopeless and the doctors have given up. Then, there's nothing to lose, so to speak. If it will make the hopeless patient happier, as long as he/she is well-informed about it, I have no personal objection to its use.

So what is the final verdict on Noni?

This is a brewing controversy. What is needed at this time are extensive scientific researches, exhaustive randomized, double-blind studies, in the animal laboratories and then clinical trials in human subjects, done by sectors that have no vested or financial interest in Noni, like the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, independent university research centers and laboratories around the world, etc.

There is no question that all of us, including physicians, will welcome a cure-all miracle drug with no adverse side effects. However, we should be very wary and careful in evaluating marketing information about any such "cure-all" products or items that have not been thoroughly, tested, proven and accepted by the medical community. Testimonials and anecdotal reports are not scientific enough. Anyone can claim anything. And this is dangerous.

Remember the popular "cure-all snake oil" con-artists made hundreds of millions of dollars from in the 1800s and early 1900s? Todate, we do not have any scientific evidence in the medical community that Noni, or the other similar "curative food supplements" on the market, are efficacious and safe. Therefore, as prudence would dictate, the keywords are: buyers beware! This could be a mirage (where your money and your health disappear) and not really a miracle.

How do I feel about Noni?

As a physician and scientist, who has been in practice for 30 years, this writer is objectively skeptical about any one product or substance that claims to be a cure for all diseases and conditions. Since the evolution of medical science over the past centuries, no one drug or chemical (alone and by itself) has been discovered to have a cure-all effect. If Noni products were properly assayed, analyzed and scientifically proven to be efficacious and safe for short term and chronic use, I would be among the first to use it and prescribe it. At the present, I would not prescribe nor recommend Noni and others like it. I would even advise people against taking them. The yet unknown possible serious side-effects scare me.

As a human being, however, who is subject to all possible infirmities, I, like you, am praying, against all odds, for a miracle drug, or drugs, that can finally cure all infirmities and diseases on earth. But, until then, I will stick to the conventional medications approved for specific ailments by the US-FDA and RP-BFAD that I have proven for three decades to be effective and safe for my patients, for my family and for myself.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.