The evergreen noni tree has historically served as a source of food, clothing dye and folk remedies in its native South Pacific. And in recent years, overblown claims about potential cancer-curing abilities have made its stinky, knobby tropical fruit a top Polynesian agricultural export. The fruit, which turns yellowish-white when ripe, is also known as the Indian mulberry. It's high in vitamin C, potassium, sugar and a number of plant compounds thought to be at the roots of its reputed medicinal powers.
Uses: Noni supplements are most often used in efforts to prevent and treat cancer, strengthen the immune system and manage menopausal symptoms.
Dose: Manufacturers recommend one to two tablespoons in liquid form or 500 to 1,000 milligrams in powdered form daily, taken on an empty stomach.
Precautions: Noni supplements may cause constipation. People with diabetes or who are watching their potassium intake should take noni supplements with caution. Last year, doctors in Austria reported cases of liver inflammation in three patients who had been taking noni juice for a month or longer.
Research: There's no solid clinical evidence to support the use of noni for cancer treatment or prevention. The bulk of evidence for its healing powers comes from lab and animal studies, in which compounds from the fruit have been shown to kill bacteria and viruses, mitigate pain and lengthen the lives of mice with cancer. Korean researchers are also investigating its potential as an anti-wrinkle agent. Well-designed human studies on the fruit are few. In a small pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2004, University of Illinois researchers concluded that noni shows a hint of promise for improving hearing loss in postmenopausal women. Researchers at the University of Hawaii, supported by the National Institutes of Health, are investigating noni's effectiveness in treating people with cancer.