Written by Karen Pilkington and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated March 15, 2017

Noni (Morinda citrifolia)

Abstract and key points

  • Noni (Morinda citrifolia) is a medicinal plant from Pacific regions
  • Evidence on the effects in cancer patients is lacking
  • Few adverse effects have been reported

Noni (Morinda citrifolia), also known as Ba Ji Tian, Cheese Fruit and Indian Mulberry, is a Polynesian plant that has traditionally been used in medicinal remedies. Noni fruit juice has been the main focus of attention in recent years.

A wide range of indications have been proposed for Noni juice and it has been marketed as a general cure-all for conditions including cancer, depression, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease and obesity. It is also claimed that Noni has general benefits on health.

In vitro and animal studies have shown potential antioxidant action, immune function stimulation, and anti-tumour activity but there have been few trials in humans for any condition and no randomised controlled trials in cancer patients. Preliminary studies have suggested protective effects in heavy smokers.

Few adverse effects have been reported although assessment of safety has been limited to date. Several cases of liver toxicity have been reported but these have not been documented to be caused by Noni juice. The potassium content in some noni juice products may cause problems in people with renal insufficiency, on low potassium diets or taking drugs likely to increase potassium levels.

While apparently widely used, evidence on the proposed benefits in cancer patients is lacking and assessment of safety is limited.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of herbal medicine at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

What it is?

Description

Noni is a small evergreen tree or shrub that grows in Pacific regions including Polynesia, Southeast Asia, India and Australia.1,2 The fruits, leaves, flowers, stems, bark, and roots have all been used in traditional remedies.2 Currently, most interest is in the yellow-green fruit, which produce a pungent odour while ripening (hence ‘Cheese Fruit’) and are used to produce juice.

Scientific and other names

Morinda citrifolia L. (a member of Rubiaceae, the coffee family).3

Morinda bracteata Roxb., Ba Ji Tian, canary wood, Cheese Fruit, Hai Ba Ji, Hawaiian Noni, hog apple, Indian Mulberry, Noni juice, Tahitian Noni.1,2

Ingredients/components

A wide range of components have been identified in the Noni plant. These include alkaloids, anthraquinones, beta-sitosterol, carotene, flavonol glycosides including rutin, iridoids, linoleic acid, ursolic acid and vitamins A and C.4 Two fatty acids, caproic (hexanoic) and caprylic (octanoic) acid may be responsible for the pungent odour of the fruit. New anthraquinones and saccharide fatty acid esters have also been isolated.5 The unfermented juice also contains glucose, fructose, proteins, lipids, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium.6,7 Two novel constituents, xeronine and proxeronine, were apparently identified by a researcher in Hawaii but have not been subsequently characterised or reported.8 Recently five new saccharide fatty acid esters, named nonioside P, nonioside Q, nonioside R, nonioside S, and nonioside T, and one new succinic acid ester were isolated, along with known compounds, from an extract of the fruit. Some of these showed inhibitory activities against melanogenesis in B16 melanoma cells induced with α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH).9

Application and dosage

Noni is administered both orally and topically. The fruit and juice are taken orally for a range of health reasons. The fruit and leaves are used in preparations for topical use in conditions such as arthritis, headaches, burns, sores and wounds. 10 Noni seed oil has also been promoted as a moisturiser for use in skin conditions and joint pain.1 Various dose regimens for the fruit juice are recommended by suppliers but no typical dosage has been established.2 One ounce (approximately 30ml) every 12 hours has been suggested for ‘overall health maintenance’.4 An application to the European Scientific Committee on Food for approval of ‘Tahitian Noni juice’ described the product as a mixture of 89% Noni fruit, 11% common grape and blueberry juice concentrates and natural flavours.11 The suggested consumption was 30 ml/day. Commercially manufactured capsules containing 500mg ripe Noni fruit extract have been used in trials in patients with advanced cancer based on a maximum recommended dose of 4 capsules (2 grams) daily.12

History/providers

Noni has been used by Polynesians for at least 2000 years and is considered one of the more important traditional Polynesian medicinal plants and is still produced locally.8 Preparations of Noni were applied topically, the roots were also to produce a clothes dye while the fruit was eaten as a food.4 The whole plant (roots, stems, bark, leaves, flowers and fruits) has been used in the preparation of medicinal remedies of which around 40 have been recorded.8 These were used to treat a range of common diseases and to maintain overall health.4

Various parts of the plant are still used to make remedies but patterns of use have changed.8 The main focus is on the fruit juice which is now manufactured on a large-scale and can be purchased from health food shops, other stores or via numerous websites.

Claims of efficacy

Manufacturers of Noni juice have claimed a wide range of therapeutic effects.4 Noni juice supposedly ‘helps protect cells from oxidative damage, contributes to the maintenance of normal bones, to a normal energy-yielding metabolism and to the normal formation of connective tissue'.13 There are also claims on various websites of beneficial effects in cancer.8 Traditional use is based on claims of beneficial effects in wound healing and treating inflammation and infection.8

Alleged indications

A wide range of potential indications have been proposed for Noni juice and it has been marketed as a general cure-all for various chronic conditions.14 Among the indications for which Noni is promoted are cancer, depression, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease and obesity. An application for approval of a Noni juice product in Europe did not specify any indications other than general health benefits similar to those of other fruit juices.11

Mechanisms of action

Studies of the pharmacology of Noni and its constituents have focused on three main areas: cancer, inflammation and metabolic diseases although research is preliminary.6 Two constituents, a fatty acid glycoside and an iridoid, were reported to inhibit neoplastic cell transformation in mouse cells.6 A polysaccharide fraction obtained from the fruit juice, inhibited tumour activity and stimulated cytokine release.15 Prevention of the initiation of carcinogenesis, antimutagenic activity, and inhibition of angiogenesis with capillary vessel degeneration and apoptosis have all been reported.6 Inhibition of the growth of several cancer cell types has also been recorded in vitro using high concentrations of the extract.6 An anthraquinone isolated from Noni appears to be a potent inducer of an enzyme, quinone reductase, known to be protective against cancer due to its involvement in metabolism and elimination of carcinogens.16

Prevalence of use

Traditionally used in Polynesia and South East Asia, Noni has been marketed in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Norway and the USA.11 Substantial increases in sales in the USA have been reported but it is not possible to substantiate these claims.6,14 Use has also increased in Western Europe.11 Women in the USA have reported utilizing noni for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer and as a secondary course of treatment following conventional chemotherapy.17

Legal issues

Food or drink products derived from Noni require authorisation in Europe. Several Noni products have been approved as novel food products in Europe. These include Noni juice in various forms: fresh, puree, concentrated, frozen, dried and mixed with other juices.18-20 The dried and roasted leaves have also been approved as a new novel food ingredient for the preparation of infusions.21

Cost and expenditures

The cost of Noni products varies, an average cost for Noni juice (based on online prices April 2017) is approximately EUR 45-47, US$ 40, or GBP 37, per litre. A week’s supply based on 60ml per day (as recommended by the manufacturers) would cost around EUR 20, US$17, GBP 16.13

Does it work?

Systematic reviews, meta-analyses

No systematic reviews of Noni have been published.

Narrative reviews

Several narrative reviews have been published. Of those published recently, one concluded that some research suggested ‘broad potential health benefits’ and promising results had been reported for several constituents but increased use of Noni was probably due to effective marketing.14 A second review of the literature reached similar conclusions, highlighting the fact that knowledge about the chemistry of Noni had increased but there was still a lack of clinical research.6

Clinical trials

No randomised controlled trials have been conducted to assess the effects of Noni in cancer patients.

Two trials assessed the effects of Noni on levels of substances thought to increase the risk of developing cancer. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was conducted to assess antioxidant activity of Noni in smokers.22 A total of 285 heavy smokers were randomly allocated to placebo, 29.5ml (1 fluid ounce) Noni juice or 118ml (4 ounces) Noni juice per day for 30 days. Levels of plasma superoxide anion radicals and lipid hydroperoxide were reported to have decreased in the Noni groups. A second related study assessed levels of aromatic DNA adducts, a surrogate biomarker for risk of lung cancer, again in smokers who drank Noni juice for a month.23 Of 283 smokers recruited for the trial, 203 completed the study. The results indicated that Noni juice daily may reduce cancer risk in heavy cigarette smokers by blocking carcinogen-DNA binding or removing DNA adducts from genomic DNA. Both were preliminary studies. Over 25% of participants did not complete the trial although all patients were included in the analysis. Noni juice and the placebo seemed well matched but contained a mixture of grape and blueberry juice which could have contributed to some of the beneficial effects reported.

A phase 1 dose finding trial was carried out in 29 cancer patients.12 Patients with advanced cancer were treated with capsules containing 500mg of ripe Noni fruit extract. A dose of 2g was used initially then doses were increased by 2g to a maximum of 10g (20 capsules) daily. A minimum of 5 patients were observed at each dose level for 28 days. Quality of life, symptom status, response, toxicity and pharmacokinetics were measured. Effects on several quality of life measures were reported although these did not reach statistical significance, except for decrease in pain. No adverse effects or tumour response attributable to Noni were observed.

Pre-clinical studies

Pre-clinical studies have shown a range of actions potentially beneficial in cancer. Several of these are described under Mechanism of action. Preventative effects based on anti-carcinogenic activity via inhibition of TPA,5 tumour cell-selective anti-proliferative effects,24 anti-angiogenic activity,25 and stimulation of the immune system26 have all been reported. A recent report describes that Noni Juice was useful in suppressing tumour growth in a mice model for HER2/neu breast cancer in amounts equivalent to human dosages below 90 ml/day.27 Other actions not directly related to cancer have also been reported.

Is it safe?

Adverse events

Limited assessment of safety has been carried out but there have been few adverse effects reported after using Noni and the fruit has been consumed as food for many years.1,2,11 In 2002, a review of safety of one Noni juice product by the European Scientific Committee on Food concluded that there were no indications of adverse effects from animal studies on subacute and subchronic toxicity, genotoxicity and allergenicity.11 A double-blind safety study of Noni fruit juice sponsored by a manufacturer carried out in 96 healthy volunteers did not reveal any significant adverse effects with up to 750ml noni juice daily for 28 days.28

Between 2005 and 2011, 7 cases of hepatotoxicity in previously healthy people were reported, 2 involving a tea or other herbal product, 4 involving a Noni juice and 1 involving an energy drink.2 It is unclear whether Noni juice was the cause of liver toxicity. Liver function tests improved once the Noni product was stopped but other ingredients or treatments may have been responsible. The possibility of product contamination during production was also raised as the root and bark contain anthraquinones.10 Subsequent analyses did not detect anthraquinones in the juice and several studies did not reveal toxicity.28-30 A review of the first 4 cases by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2006 concluded that there was ‘no convincing evidence for a causal relationship between the acute hepatitis observed in the case studies reported and the consumption of noni juice’.19 In 2008 an EFSA Panel concluded that, on the basis of data provided, the use of dried Noni leaves for preparation of infusions was safe.21

Noni contains relatively high levels of potassium (similar to levels in orange and tomato juice) and a case of hyperkalaemia was reported in a patient with chronic renal insufficiency.7 Mineral content of commercial noni juices has been shown to vary widely.31

Contraindications

It is recommended that Noni is avoided in people with liver dysfunction.1,2 It is also suggested people with hyperkalaemia, kidney dysfunction, on low potassium diets, taking potassium-sparing diuretics or other drugs that increase potassium levels such as ACE inhibitors avoid using it.1,2 Toxicity tests in animals did not find evidence of toxicity from Noni juice to developing embryos and foetuses.32 However, large amounts of the fruit have been reported to cause an abortion and historically Noni root bark has been used as an abortifacient indicating it may be unsafe in pregnancy.

Interactions

Due to the potassium content of some Noni juice products, there is a potential for interaction with drugs causing increased potassium levels.7, 31

One case has been reported of resistance to the anticoagulant, coumadin, due to the vitamin K content of the particular Noni product being used by the patient.33

A single-dose, randomized, open-label and 2-period crossover study in 20 healthy volunteers showed that the aqueous fruit extract influenced the motor activity of the gastrointestinal tract. The fruit extract enhanced the rate and the extent of ranitidine absorption, partly due the ability of its active component scopoletin to stimulate the 5-HT4 receptor.34

 

Other problems or complications

Commercial preparations of Noni occasionally contain Morinda officinalis as well as Morinda citrifolia which have been reported to stimulate the kidneys and can exacerbate urinary difficulties.

Citation

Karen Pilkington, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Noni [online document]. http://www.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Noni. March 15, 2017.

Document history

Assessed as up to date in March 2017 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in April 2016 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in January 2015 by Barbara Wider.
Assessed as up to date in August 2013 by Barbara Wider.
Summary first published in September 2012, authored by Karen Pilkington.

References

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  2. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Noni monograph. [online]. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed 15th March 2017.
  3. Kew Royal Botanic Gardens. Scientific Research and Data. Rubiaceae. Available at: http://www.kew.org/science-research-data/directory/teams/rubiaceae/index.htm. Accessed April 2012.
  4. Wang MY, West BJ, Jensen CJ, Nowicki D, Su C, Palu AK, Anderson G. Morinda citrifolia (Noni): a literature review and recent advances in Noni research. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2002 Dec;23(12):1127-41.
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  33. Carr ME, Klotz J, Bergeron M. Coumadin resistance and the vitamin supplement "Noni". Am J Hematol. 2004 Sep;77(1):103.
  34. Nima S, Kasiwong S, Ridtitid W, Thaenmanee N, Mahattanadul S. Gastrokinetic activity of Morinda citrifolia aqueous fruit extract and its possible mechanism of action in human and rat models. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2012; 142: 354–361.