Recently, exotic “super fruits” such as acai and muntrie berries have captured the attention of health enthusiasts and researchers alike. Their unparalleled antioxidant content accounts for their miraculous health benefits. Some of the most astonishing health claims, however, have gone unsubstantiated. Farmers and manufacturers of fruit, such as noni, have reaped billions in profit from a public eager for the latest anti-aging, weight loss cure-all.
The latest member of this botanical line-up is the noni fruit. It flourishes in Hawaii and other Polynesian climes and is used by traditional healers from these islands. Hawaiian Kahunas applied noni leaves as a topical salve for burns, skin conditions and joint pain. The fruit helps cure digestive disturbances and urinary tract infections. Local islanders continue to consume the fruit today, reporting it to be beneficial for more serious chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
Those who want to follow suit and partake of noni may find they have a bitter pill to swallow. Eating the fruit itself can be truly repugnant. Noni has earned the nickname “vomit fruit” because of its foul smell and tastel! But modern processing has sweetened it up into a palatable juice. It can also be made into tea or dehydrated into odorless, tasteless powder in the form of capsules. With these more appealing options, noni has become widely accessible. It has won over celebrity adherents from Marc Jacobs to Meg Ryan. Manufacturers laud the juice as a health panacea for everything from cancer and hypertension to sinusitis, ulcers, depression, lupus, herpes, hepatitis and heart disease. Yet is noni truly the next miracle fruit, or just the latest overblown fad?
Laboratory research has confirmed the benefits of some of noni’s traditional uses. In animal studies, noni extract was shown to be a natural analgesic, explaining its efficacy for aches and pains. Having antimicrobial properties against bacteria such as E. coli, may account for the fruit’s usefulness in healing wounds and resolving digestive disturbances.
Though more research is needed, early findings suggest that noni can fight cancer. In one study, noni juice suppressed tumor growth and prolonged the life of experimental mice with lung cancer. The researchers concluded that noni curbed cancer cells indirectly by stimulating the immune system. Currently, studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine are underway to investigate noni’s effects on prostate cancer cells and on breast cancer prevention and treatment.
Noni fruit, rich in antioxidants, may lower the risk for infection, heart disease and cancer. However, sweetened noni juice may not pack an antioxidant punch as high as the whole fruit since juice processing typically involves pasteurization and filtering out the pulp.
Consume the Right Way
Also, to reap the most benefits, you should consume noni juice on an empty stomach, according to Dr. Ralph M. Heinicke, a prominent biochemist known for his extensive noni research at the University of Hawaii. Heinicke discovered that the fruit contains a compound called prexeronine. Under the right conditions, prexeronine converts into an alkaloid known as xeronine. He believed that xeronine acts at cell receptor sites to confer a variety of benefits. It can slough off dead tissue from burns, aid the absorption of endorphine, and improve digestion. However, the acids in the stomach will destroy the enzyme needed to convert prexeronin to xeronine if taken on a full stomach, which eliminates the benefits of the fruit.
Heinicke’s conclusions bear a striking kinship to ancient Polynesian legends. In numerous myths, heroes and heroines survived periods of famine by eating noni, lending a mythic dimension to the hypothesis that the fruit’s benefits come from consuming it on an empty stomach. So, if you want to try noni, drink a glass of juice half an hour before your breakfast. While the jury is still out on noni’s veracity as a cure-all, you’ll be getting a heaping helping of potassium and Vitamin C, the potential for considerable health benefits and a sip of Polynesian paradise to boot.