Noni (Morinda citrifolia) has evolved from a little-known Polynesian herb to a household name in the Western world in just a few decades. Thanks in part to savvy marketing campaigns, the word has gotten out on this traditional Tahitian remedy. Does the hype stand up to the science? Here’s what the research has found:
Overview of Benefits
“Traditional Tahitian healers believe the noni plant to be useful for a wide range of maladies, and noni juice consumers throughout the world have similar perceptions,” writes a recent article appearing in the journal Foods. According to the same article, a review of published human studies suggests that noni juice may protect against tobacco smoke-induced DNA damage, increases in blood lipid and homocysteine levels, and systemic inflammation.
The same review article indicates that noni juice may improve joint health, support immune activity and physical endurance, help maintain normal blood pressure, inhibit protein glycation, assist weight management, help bone health in women, and improve gum health. These studies also point to the antioxidant activity of noni juice being more supportive than the other fruit juices being used as placebos.”1
Most of the scientific studies that have investigated the properties of noni have been recent. In 2003, it was reported that noni inhibited angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that facilitates tumor growth, in ex vivo cultures of human breast tumors.2 Research has revealed cytotoxic activity for an extract of Morinda citrifolia fruit against human neuroblastoma and breast cancer cells.3 Other research found effects for noni leaf extracts in human epidermoid carcinoma and cervical carcinoma lines.4 Damnacanthal, a compound occurring in noni has also shown anticancer effects in human cells.5 These and other studies have led to experimental and limited clinical studies investigating the use of noni against cancer.
In mice with Ehrlich ascites tumors, treatment with noni and/or the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin resulted in decreased tumor growth due to the induction of apoptosis (programmed cell death).6 A human study of 51 cancer patients published in 2009 found quality of life benefits associated with noni intake at varying doses.7 Improvements in fatigue, pain and the maintenance of physical function were greatest among those who consumed a moderate dose. In another study that included 203 smokers, a month of noni juice extract reduced blood lymphocyte aromatic DNA adducts, a biomarker of carcinogen-caused damage.8 The authors of the report concluded that noni could reduce cancer risk in smokers by blocking carcinogen-DNA binding or removing adducts from genomic DNA.
Another trial involving heavy smokers found that a month of noni juice mitigated cigarette smoke-induced dyslipidemia, as evidenced by significant reductions in serum cholesterol, triglycerides and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), as well as decreases in homocysteine and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.9
A review of 19 studies that evaluated noni’s anticancer activities concluded that a concentrated component in noni juice may stimulate the immune system to fight cancer while killing up to 36% of cancerous cells.10
Pain and inflammation
In mice, orally administered noni fruit puree reduced pain sensitivity to a degree comparable to that of the analgesic tramadol.11 In the same study, an alcohol extract of the fruit tested in human monocytes stimulated with an inflammation-inducing compound resulted in inhibition of matrix metallopeptidase-9 (MMP-9), a member of a family of enzymes that break down the extracellular matrix in normal and disease processes, including arthritis. These effects led the researchers to suggest that noni preparations could help decrease arthritis-related pain and joint destruction11. Damnacanthal from noni has separately shown pain-reducing and anti-inflammatory effects.12
In mice with brain ischemia induced by middle cerebral artery occlusion, noni juice suppressed neuronal damage while improving or completely eliminating related glucose intolerance.13 In mice given a high fat diet, noni supplementation improved glucose and insulin tolerance and fasting glucose levels.14 In another study in which animals were given a high fat diet, those that received noni juice showed a decrease in serum and liver lipids, less liver and visceral fat, higher liver antioxidant capacity and decreased liver markers of inflammation and other factors.15
A combination of ethanol extract and juice pressed from Noni leaves has shown an ability to help protect against ultraviolet B (UVB) light-induced injury when applied topically to human skin.16 Research in mice exposed to UVA and UVB light has also demonstrated skin-protective effects for topical formulations of Morinda citrifolia.17 Compounds in noni have shown a potential to lighten the skin, suggesting a use for uneven skin tone resulting from sun damage.18
Topical noni leaf juice has also shown an ability to improve wound healing, which is one of the traditional uses of the plant in Polynesia.19 Another topical use for noni and noni compounds is against cutaneous Leishmaniasis, a tropical disease caused by a parasite.20 A trial involving 50 patients treated with noni resulted in an excellent response among half of the participants and good improvement among 30%.
Noni has shown potential in numerous other areas of health. Candida albicans is a common fungus in humans that is the source of oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections. In C. albicans cultures, the administration of noni extract halted growth in a dose-dependent manner.21
A compound occurring in noni known as bajijiasu was shown to enhance sexual behavior in mice while increasing testosterone, improving sperm quality and lowering cortisol levels.22
Another promising effect that was recently discovered is an ability for N-butanol extracts of noni to suppress advanced glycation end product-induced inflammation via blocking their interaction with their receptors.23
The Bottom Line
In a Tongan myth, the god Maui was restored to life by having Noni leaves placed on his body. Although this story may be an example of ancient marketing hype, modern research involving noni is promising. Although human studies are limited, the number of positive studies conducted so far should provide the impetus for randomized, controlled trials that are anticipated to reveal more beneficial effects for what has been called the “forbidden fruit.”
- West BJ et al. Foods. 2018 Apr 11;7(4).
- Hornick CA et al. Angiogenesis. 2003;6(2):143-9.
- Arpornsuwan T et al. Phytother Res. 2006 Jun;20(6):515-7.
- Thani W et al. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2010 Mar;41(2):482-9.
- Nualsanit T et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Aug;23(8):915-23.
- Taşkin EI et al. Cell Biochem Funct. 2009 Dec;27(8):542-6.
- Issell BF et al. J Diet Suppl. 2009;6(4):347-59.
- Wang MY et al. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(5):634-9.
- Wang MY et al. Scientific World Journal. 2012;2012:594657.
- Brown AC. Phytother Res. 2012 Oct;26(10):1427-40.
- Basar S et al. Phytother Res. 2010 Jan;24(1):38-42.
- Okusada K et al. Biol Pharm Bull. 2011;34(1):103-7.
- Harada S et al. Yakugaku Zasshi. 2010 May;130(5):707-12.
- Nerurkar PV et al. Br J Nutr. 2012 Jul;108(2):218-228.
- Lin YL et al. Food Chem. 2013 Sep 1;140(1-2):31-8.
- West BJ et al. J Nat Med. 2009 Jul;63(3):351-4.
- Serafini MR et al. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:587819.
- Akihisa T et al. J Oleo Sci. 2010;59(1):49-57.
- Palu A et al. Phytother Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):1437-41.
- Sattar FA et al. Nat Prod Commun. 2012 Feb;7(2):195-6.
- Jainkittivong A et al. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 2009 Sep;108(3):394-8.
- Wu ZQ et al. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Apr 22;164:283-92.
- Ishibashi Y et al. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2017 Mar 4;17(1):137.