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What you need to know about noni

Reading time: 11 minutes

Indigenous healers in tropical regions have long known of a foul-smelling fruit that treats a range of conditions—even cancer. Cate Montana shares how she learned about it and why it works

During a massage session 10 years ago, the therapist working on me casually asked, “Do you know you have a big growth on your back?”

Not having eyes in the back of my head or the ability to explore my upper mid-back, I said, “No. What does it look like?”

She prodded a spot close to my spine. “Well, it moves around. I think it’s just a fatty lipoma.”

“What’s that?” I asked suspiciously.

“It’s a benign tumor made of fat tissue. I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.”

I didn’t. But over the course of the next decade, all it did was grow. And every doctor I went to for a checkup reassured me of its nature. Then, a couple of months ago, it started to hurt. Soon thereafter, it burst—quite grossly.

“It’s an infected cyst,” said the doctor who had assured me of its lipoma status only a year previous. “Let’s get you on some oral antibiotics and an antibiotic ointment, shall we?”

Five days of treatment later, it was only getting worse. I was at a friend’s house when the doctor called with the bad news that the cyst next to my spine held a highly antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria called Finegoldia magna. “There’s one antibiotic ointment that should work,” she said. “I’ll phone in another prescription.”

At that point, my friend Bonnie Blackmore, who overheard the conversation, said, “Let me take a look at your back.”

Blackmore is a self-taught herbalist who lives on the jungle side of Maui, Hawaii, along the north shore. About 10 years ago, she stumbled over a noni fruit on the ground and used the juice to heal a cut on her leg. One thing led to another, and after months of experimentation, she hit on a formula for an effective healing salve made from the leaves of the noni tree.

Not overly impressed with my medical care so far, I agreed to let her to check out the situation. She peeled the bandage off my back, took one look and said, “Oh, the noni will take care of that.”

She cleaned off the petroleum-based antibiotic ointment and replaced it with a small noni leaf cutting smeared with her CocoNoni balm, which she taped to my back. As I was leaving, she handed me a tin of balm and a large noni leaf in a jar of water, telling me to place a small piece of the leaf along with the balm on the cyst once a day until it healed.

Within hours of the noni application, the still-draining cyst stopped hurting for the first time in weeks. Within a couple of days, it was obvious the infection was vastly reduced and the cyst was healing well.

And then I made a mistake. Uncomfortable reporting back to my doctor for a checkup with a jungle leaf taped to my back, I decided to wrap up the healing process by using the prescription antibiotic ointment before my appointment. But within two days, the infection returned with a vengeance.

Shocked, I went back to the noni treatment. Within 24 hours, it was obvious the healing process had been reengaged. Five days after that, I went back to my doctor with the noni leaf firmly in place.

“What’s this?” she asked, looking at the odd “bandage.”

I explained. She peeled the leaf off my back, took one look and firmly replaced the leaf. “It’s healing nicely,” she said. “Just keep on doing what you’re doing.”

A long history

Morinda citrifolia has been used as a broad-spectrum medicine throughout Polynesia and Asia for over 2,000 years. Known by a wide variety of names, including noni, nui, nona, Indian mulberry, hag apple, hog apple and ice leaf, it’s a small, evergreen, glossy-leafed tree that sports an unusual potato-sized, lumpy, foul-smelling fruit. All parts of the noni tree—leaves, fruit, bark and roots—have long been used by native healers.

In India, M. citrifolia is called Ashyuka, the Sanskrit word for “longevity.” It’s a sacred plant in Ayurvedic healing circles, prized for its overall healing, tonifying and balancing effects. In the 1980s in the West, despite its notoriously unpleasant, cheesy odor, noni fruit juice became wildly popular for its nutritional value. Today, noni can be found in health drinks and health foods. It’s commonly sold as a dried “fruit leather” and in capsules.

The number and variety of illnesses and ailments native healers treat with noni is astonishing—infections, flu, coughs, convulsions, asthma, arthritis, tuberculosis, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, anxiety, depression and much more. It seems there is very little noni hasn’t been used to treat.

Studies show noni’s effectiveness

About 160 phytochemicals are available in the noni plant. Anthelminthic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibacterial, anti-ulcerogenic, anti-tumor and immunostimulant, noni has officially been found effective for treating skin diseases, respiratory illnesses, fevers, diabetes, urinary tract infections and venereal diseases.1

Consumption of noni juice causes a “significant decrease” in blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose levels.2 And noni’s anti-melanoma and skin-protective activities make it effective as a sunscreen.3

Noni leaf extract has been shown to upregulate genes that significantly increase cancer cell death while downregulating pro-tumor genes in mice.4 It also enhances the body’s immune response to lung cancer.5

Noni leaf extracts have antibacterial effects specific to several bacterial strains, including Staphylococcus aureus,6 and are effective for wound healing.7 They also have an antidopaminergic effect—making them effective as an antipsychotic and useful for treating psychiatric disorders.8

Ingesting noni juice is known to aid immune function, assist with weight management, and support joint, bone and gum health.9 Studies show that ingesting noni fruit juice inhibits the binding of the Covid spike protein to receptors, retarding infection of the host cells by approximately 69 percent.10

A protein called Mc LTP1 found in noni seeds has shown “important healing action” in a burn study conducted on mice.11 Blackmore has found it works on humans, too.

“If you have a burn, put CocoNoni balm on it right away,” says Blackmore. “It’ll stop the anaphylactic reaction that sends pain signals to your adrenals, which then send stuff to the burn to make a blister. The skin has to heal from the damage, but if you keep the noni on there, it will heal from the inside out.

“There will be new, pink skin underneath, and there will not be a scar. I scalded myself terribly the other day, and that’s exactly what I did. Two days later, I couldn’t even see where I’d burned myself.”

Many applications

The traditional way Hawaiians use noni is by drinking the fermented juice. But there are different uses for different parts of the plant, such as using the bark and roots as sources of dye. Polynesians use noni leaves as a poultice to treat infections, wounds and countless other conditions, including cancer.

“The tradition is to take a leaf and heat it up and then put it on the wound or area of the body that needs healing,” says Blackmore. “This works. But heating the leaves releases all the medicine at once, and then the leaf’s phytochemicals and other healing properties are gone.

“Back in 2015, I started experimenting with noni as a medicine. At first, I used the fruit. Unfortunately, it stinks and it stains. That’s why I started working with the noni leaves to see what kind of healing properties they had. Early on I realized that using fresh leaves instead of heated leaves seemed to work as a sort of time-release drawing compound.”

She tells the story of a friend who’d been exposed to agent orange in Vietnam and had stage 4 cancer in his lungs and one kidney as well as skin cancer. He’d been given six months to live, had refused chemo and was looking for natural alternatives.

She gave him an experimental mix of fresh noni leaves, organic coconut oil and local beeswax to use as a poultice over his lungs and kidneys, topped with a fresh noni leaf.

“He’d do a poultice at night, and in the morning the fresh leaf would be black,” she says. “After 30 days, the leaves weren’t turning black anymore, and he went back to the doctor and had scans done.

“Turns out the tumors in his lungs had shrunk 30 percent, and his kidney, which had had only 5 percent function, was operating at 49 percent. And all his skin cancer lesions had healed up. He lived for four years with this and was active doing yoga and other things the whole time.”

Although it is expensive, Kendra Cabral, a licensed massage therapist from Florida, uses Blackmore’s noni oil on her clients. She says it’s especially effective for clients suffering from chronic pain.

“I used to use CBD oils with lidocaine (an anesthetic) in them,” says Cabral. “My clients felt great temporarily when I used them. But when the lidocaine wore off, the pain would come back, showing them that the problem still existed.

“With the noni oil, they don’t get immediate relief like with the CBD oil and lidocaine. But when they wake up the next day, their muscle pain is actually reduced because the noni has helped the tissues heal rather than simply covering up the symptoms.”

Cabral says she’s been amazed at the healing properties of both CocoNoni balm and noni oil. She says the oil has an “alive feel” to it that almost seems intuitive. “It’s like the plant knows what to do,” she says.

She relates the experience of a client in her 70s who had fallen off her bike and gouged her leg badly. “I gave her some noni oil to put on the cut, and it blew my mind how fast it healed and how good it looked afterward.” As well, she had a client use the oil on a large, hard, infected cyst on his chest. She said within a couple of weeks it turned from angry purple to a soft pink, then just melted away.

Blackmore, who continues to make small-batch CocoNoni balm and oil at home to sell at farmer’s markets and to give away to people in need, says her formula is a simple one—a combination of fresh noni leaves, organic coconut oil and local wild beeswax.

“It’s such a gentle yet powerful healer,” she says. “Pregnant mothers use it on stretch marks. But they can also use it on their babies to stop diaper rash and heal eczema, which is a huge problem right now.”

She shakes her head and sighs. “It’s a harsh environment for babies coming out of the womb. I believe all of the preservatives and junk they put in laundry detergents—even the so-called pure ones—still have stuff in them that’s petroleum-based and damaging to the skin.

“Petroleum,” she snorts. “How could that cyst on your back ever heal with a petroleum-based antibiotic smothering the wound that was trying to drain and heal? If you’d used CocoNoni on the cyst before it exploded, it would’ve sucked all that stuff out before it got infected. It’s slow, maybe, and not a quick fix. But I know it would’ve healed that cyst before it ever got bad.”

Oh, if I’d only known. But then I wouldn’t have had such an interesting healing journey or a story to tell.

Noni chemistry

Unfermented noni juice contains:

  • Glucose and fructose
  • Protein
  • Lipids
  • Phenolic compounds including flavonoids, phenolicacids such as caproic and caprylic acid, tannins, lignans
  • Dietary fibers
  • Amino acids
  • Sulfur, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, traces of selenium
  • Potassium in a particularly high concentration, 30–50 ppm
  • Vitamin C, 30–155 mg/kg

How noni works

Wound healing: Noni leaf ethanol extract (NLEE) assists wound healing by helping the wound contract. It aids the growth of new tissue; increases the production of hydroxyproline, an amino acid that boosts collagen production; and supports cell and tissue structures.1 Noni also supports platelet-derived growth factor receptors (PDGF receptors) that expedite wound healing.2

Infections: Studies show that noni leaves contain six phenolic compounds, products of metabolism that play specific roles in the body, such as stimulating enzyme activity and providing energy, cell signaling, and structure and inhibitory effects. These compounds exert powerful antimicrobial activity against a wide variety of pathogens, many of which are multi-drug and antibiotic resistant.3

Burns: Noni’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects stimulate the rapid healing of burns by

  • reducing the production of myeloperoxidase (MPO), a pro-inflammatory enzyme secreted by some cells
  • reducing the production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF-α)
  • reducing interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), cytokine proteins that regulate inflammation and immune responses to infections and wounding
  • increasing interleukin-10 (IL-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine, three days after a burn
  • regulating vascular endothelial growth factor, a protein that stimulates the formation of blood vessels4

Cancer prevention: The juice of Morinda citrifolia inhibits early-stage cancer formation. In one study, adding noni juice to rats’ drinking water for one week prevented the formation of a biomarker of toxic environmental exposure and indicator of cancer risk, a DNA adduct, which is a portion of DNA bound to a cancer-causing chemical. In this study, it lowered DNA adducts by 45 percent in the heart, 46 percent in the lungs, 56 percent in the liver, and 85 percent in the kidneys.5

Cancer treatment: Studies show that Morinda citrifolia has a variety of anticancer properties effective for a variety of different cancer models, via “multiple mechanisms including antitumor, antiproliferative, pro-apoptotic, antiangiogenesis, antimigratory, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory activities.”6

Mood modulation: The methanol extract of noni fruit is attracted to receptors of gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABAa), which lessens nerve cells’ capacity to create, send or receive chemical messages to other nerve cells. The extract seems to contain ligands, molecules or atoms that bind to proteins and inhibit GABAa receptors, creating anti-anxiety and sedative effects.7

Noni products and dosages

Since the plant’s initial explosion of popularity in the 1980s, noni products have settled down into several major categories. Its juices are best known and used, and its powder is often used in drinks and smoothies. There are noni fruit soft chews, fruit leathers, supplements and pain-relief lotions and a wide variety of noni skin repair creams.

Considering the diverse locations where noni is commercially grown and the many variations in commercial processing methods, noni products contain vastly different phytochemical and nutritional compositions. Carefully study the labels and look for organic products raised in noni’s indigenous climates (tropical regions and lava fields). Also look for products that contain high levels of organic noni extracts and few or no additives.

Dosage: 30 up to 750 mL/day or 500 mg extract

Contraindications: No contraindications have been identified, but due to high potassium content, people with renal dysfunction should beware of overconsumption.1

Mark’s CocoNoni stories

Mark Simmons, 66, first heard about noni from a surfer gal on Maui who used Bonnie Blackmore’s CocoNoni balm to heal a bad reef cut on her foot. He met Bonnie and asked if the balm might help with a mole-like growth on his cheek that just kept getting bigger.

“She told me to put it on the mole twice a day, and within a month, it was gone,” he says. “It just fell off and has not come back since.”

After that, Mark used the noni oil to heal a long surgical wound on his shin. “I had 33 stitches in my shin and a wound that looked like a centipede was walking up my leg,” he says. “I used the oil on the stitches, and in two weeks I was totally healed up.

“Within a month, my shin barely looked a little scuffed up. When I went back to the doctor, he was astonished. You couldn’t tell I’d recently had a major operation!”

When his wife took a bad fall and her fibula shattered, breaking through the skin of her leg, Mark says he massaged her scars twice a day with noni oil. Again, the doctor was amazed at how fast the wound healed.

“I have so many stories,” he says. “My dentist once cut his hip with a chainsaw. I gave him some CocoNoni balm, and the cut healed up so well, he kept asking me for more to give to other people.

“I gave some to a flight attendant whose daughter had acne. She couldn’t keep any for herself—her daughter kept taking it to school because it worked on her acne so well.”

He says he also knew a food vendor who had a knee replacement. “I hadn’t seen him in weeks, and he showed me that both sides of his knee had dark black scars. It looked horrible.

“I gave him some balm to put on the scars twice a day, and he came back a week later with this big smile on his face. He pulled his shorts up, and his knee looked 10 times better. He was so happy!

“Those are just a few of the CocoNoni stories I have.”

CocoNoni balm is available from cocononi.com. Use the site’s contact form for orders outside of the US. See ‘Noni products and dosages’, above, for what to look for in alternative noni products

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References
  1. P. Pandiselvi, M. Manohar, M. Thaila and A. Sudha, “Pharmacological Activity of Morinda citrifolia L. (Noni),” in Pharmacological Benefits of Natural Products (JPS Scientific Publications, 2019), 213–37
  2. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2019; 2019: 6076751
  3. Malays J Fundam Appl Sci, 2018; 14(1–2):164–67
  4. Mol Cell Biochem, 2016; 416(1–2): 85–97
  5. Food Funct, 2016; 7(2): 741–51
  6. J Food Sci, 2016; 81(5): M1192–96
  7. Jurnal Teknologi Laboratorium, 2022; 11(2): 52–59
  8. BMC Complement Altern Med, 2012; 12: 186
  9. Foods, 2018; 7(4): 58
  10. J Biosci Med (Irvine), 2021; 9(11): 42–51
  11. bioRxiv, 2023; doi: 10.1101/2023.02.04.527120
How noni works
  1. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2009; 6(3): 351–56
  2. Phytother Res, 2010; 24(10): 1437–41
  3. Future Pharmacol, 2022, 2(4), 460-498
  4. bioRxiv, 2023; doi: 10.1101/2023.02.04.527120
  5. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 2001; 952: 161–68
  6. Integr Cancer Ther, 2022; 21: 15347354221132848
  7. Phytomedicine, 2007; 14(7–8): 517–22
Noni products and dosages
  1. Drugs.com, “Noni,” Nov 30, 2022
NOV/DEC23
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