Tahitian Noni Blues

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Noni Juice Might Lower Smokers' Cholesterol
(Company-funded research shows benefit, but skeptics call for larger, independent trial)
-By E.J. Mundell HealthDay Reporter

We stumbled into this news report at the healthfinder® during our Google-research into Noni presentation for this year. The cnfession of our critics can only promote the truth we have always professed about Morinda Critifolia.

THURSDAY, March 2 (HealthDay News) -- Claims that it can ward off any number of ailments have helped boost annual sales of Tahitian noni juice into the billions, and now a new study suggests the drink may, in fact, help lower cholesterol.

But skeptics note that the small study -- like most others looking at the product -- was funded by the maker of the juice, and they are calling for a larger, independent clinical trial.

The findings were to be presented Thursday at the American Heart Association (AHA) annual conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, in Phoenix.

"Are the findings a reason for people to drink noni juice? I don't think that there is an answer to that," said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired psychiatrist and founder of Quackwatch, which has investigated the unfounded claims of noni juice distributors in the past.

While not dismissing the idea that the juice, made from the bumpy fruit of the Polynesian noni plant, might have some heart-healthy effects, Barrett added, "You'd want to have someone who's independent, at some point, do the study."

The study's lead researcher, Dr. Mian-Ying Wang of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, defended her team's work. She pointed out that the study was a double-blinded, placebo-controlled effort that met the standards of the college's Institutional Review Board.

Wang drinks noni juice daily. She claims it helps her feel more energized and concentrate better, and has even thickened her hair. "I do recommend it," she said, "and several of my coworkers drink noni juice for their cholesterol -- it controls it very well."

Noni juice does have an ancient history among the peoples of the South Pacific, where Wang said, "it has been used for over 2,000 years as a traditional medicine." She said her previous research has found the juice does contain a very high level of disease-fighting antioxidants.

However, the bitter-tasting beverage has had a more checkered history in the United States, with some distributors having claimed it cured everything from arthritis to cancer to AIDS. In 1998, unsubstantiated claims led attorney generals in Arizona, California, New Jersey and Texas to levy a $100,000 fine against one major noni juice maker, Utah-based Morinda Inc., ordering it to cease making such claims.

Morinda owns Tahitian Noni International (TNI), which funded Wang's study. However, according to the company's Web site, the company now claims only that the juice is "rich in antioxidants that promote wellness." They go on to say that "TNI and its distributors do not claim that noni cures cancer or any other ailments." In a statement, TNI said its global sales had reached $3 billion by 2005.

In the Illinois study, Wang's team compared blood levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in 132 smokers. Twenty-six of the participants drank a harmless placebo mixture while 106 drank one ounce to four ounces daily of TNI's brand of noni juice (mixed with grape and blueberry juice for palatability).

Wang said the study focused on smokers because their cholesterol levels tend to be higher than those of nonsmokers, and they are at higher risk for heart disease.

At the end of the month-long study, noni drinkers saw their total cholesterol drop from an average of 235.2 mg/dL to 190.2 mg/dL, while their triglycerides declined from 242.5 mg/dL to 193.5 mg/dL.
Although the data was not included in the heart association meeting data, Wang said levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol showed a "trend toward decreasing" in noni drinkers, while levels of HDL "good" cholesterol rose 17 percent to 20 percent.

However, not everyone was impressed with the findings. Dr. Jeffrey Galpin is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles who has investigated claims made by noni juice distributors in the past.

Like Barrett, he said that the remedy "may well have benefits, but somebody -- and not the company -- is going to have to do studies that are well-controlled with no conflict of interest."
He also pointed to one small, independent study that found that overindulgence in the juice could actually be dangerous. "A couple of people used this juice for a few months and drank a ton of it -- one of them ended up needing a liver transplant and the other had some kind of related hepatitis," he said.

He and Barrett also noted that the four-week study says little about the juice's ability to benefit users over the long term.
Then there's the juice's expense.

"If there are antioxidants in noni juice, prove to me that it's worth $35 for 24 ounces -- instead of just eating some [antioxidant-rich] blueberries," Galpin said.

Barrett agreed, noting that drinking three to four ounces of noni juice a day would cost consumers the same as taking a prescription statin medication, "which we know works." Beyond that, Barrett said, "we know that if you simply eat a healthy low-fat diet, your cholesterol level drops really fast."
Galpin also questioned the AHA's decision to promote the small, company-funded study in its press kit for this week's meeting. "That shocked me," he said.

But Dr. Barbara Howard, vice chairwoman of the AHA's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Council, defended the association's choice. "There's a huge focus on these kinds of supplements nowadays, and the AHA has made it clear that these are all basically unproven and need a lot more research," she said. "This [choice] doesn't in any way reflect our judgment of the quality of the study."

According to Wang, skeptics may soon get what they wish for, anyway.
"Based on this data," she said, "I'm going to submit a [proposal for a] bigger clinical trial to the AHA, to try and get funding." At the same time, the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is currently recruiting participants for its own federally funded, phase 1 clinical trial focused on the juice's effectiveness against cancer.

More information
For more on herbals and dietary supplements, head to the
U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine..

(SOURCES: Mian-Ying Wang, M.D., assistant research professor, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Rockford; Stephen Barrett, M.D., founder, Quackwatch.org; Jeffrey Galpin, M.D., associate clinical professor, medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and president, Shared Medical Research Foundation, Tarzana, Calif.; Barbara Howard, M.D., vice chairwoman, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Council, American Heart Association; March 2, 2006, presentation, American Heart Association annual conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, Phoenix)

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