In a study funded by the Orem, Utah-based company Tahitian Noni International and conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois College of Medicine, 38 heavy smokers drank half a cup of the company's noni juice every day and 30 other smokers drank a placebo juice. After one month, the researchers found lower levels of two types of free radicals in the blood of the noni-drinkers compared with those of the placebo juice-drinkers. The study was presented at a meeting of the Society for Free Radical Research International in 2002.
Members of the same research group published evidence last year in the journal Circulation that drinking noni juice leads to lower levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides in smokers' blood; both are risk factors for heart disease. The studies focused on smokers because smoking greatly increases the concentration of free radicals in the blood, giving the researchers something tangible to measure, says Brett West, director of research for the company. Similar studies are now underway with nonsmokers.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, March 13, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Superfruit: An article in Monday's Health section on tropical superfruits identified a photograph as an acai palm. The image was that of a fan palm. The article also said the word "acai" is pronounced "ah-SIGH-ee." The word is pronounced "ah-sigh-EE."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, March 17, 2008 Home Edition Health Part F Page 4 Features Desk 1 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Superfruit: A March 10 Health section article on tropical superfruits identified a photograph as the acai palm. In fact, the image was that of a fan palm. The article also said that the word "acai" is pronounced "ah-SIGH-ee." The word is pronounced "ah-sigh-EE," with the emphasis on the final syllable. (You can hear the word pronounced at www.acai-health.org/acai.mp3.)
Tahitian Noni-funded studies have also found a boost in endurance for both mice and treadmill-running athletes after regular consumption of noni juice, though some of that work has yet to be published, West says. And some new work, he adds, suggests that the fruit can stimulate the immune system.
Published human studies sponsored by Pom Wonderful have linked the company's juice with a variety of health benefits, including increased blood flow, reduced markers of heart disease, clearer arteries, and maybe even reduced symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
Cancer is another target. In a two-year study of 46 men who had been treated for prostate cancer, UCLA researchers found evidence that drinking one cup of pomegranate juice daily slowed the increase in levels of prostate-specific antigen. Raised PSA levels are a risk factor for recurrence. The study, published in 2006, lacked a placebo group, so some experts have questioned its significance. A larger, more controlled study is now underway, says Mark Dreher, a biochemist and chief scientist at Pom Wonderful.
Better studies needed
Despite such suggestive studies, many experts remain unconvinced of the clout of superfruits because the studies are mostly small, short-term, aren't conducted on humans, lack adequate control groups, are funded by industry -- or all of the above.
They say they would like to see data from big population studies that follow people for decades and correlate what they eat with how healthy they are -- or even better, studies that objectively compare a large group of people that get the juice with a large group that doesn't.
For now, most independent experts say that exotic produce can add to the recommended variety of fruits and vegetables that most of us are lacking in our diets anyway, but only if you can handle the price -- and the taste.
Pomegranate juice is famously tart. Goji berries have been compared to stale raisins. And noni (considered a weed throughout Hawaii, McClatchey says) tickles the palate with notes of blue cheese.
"If you're paying extra, and you don't like the stuff, save your money," says Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn. "Buy orange juice instead."