While in a quasi-alternative health care profession for 28 years, I got used to the next “miracle cure” being hyped every few years. Most of them were plugged in multi-level marketing schemes, and in later years promoted with ample spam e-mail. Whatever the newest herb or extract was, the claims for it were shrilly incredible: Cures cancer! Cures diabetes! Makes you lose weight while eating donuts! Brings your dead relatives back to life! One learns to tune it out, hit “delete,” and ignore the invitations to a “free lecture.” These solicitations began to feature the word “noni” or “Tahitian Noni Fruit” a few years back. I deleted them, along with the promises of Herbalife™, Garcinia Cambogia, Acai, etc., etc.
So, here I am in an equatorial country, diagnosed with a chronic disease (gout), and unable to take the standard medication for it (allopurinol) due to a life-threatening reaction. There is an alternate medication, febuxostat, but it is not available in Ecuador yet, and Ecuador’s customs is notorious for delaying international packages for days, weeks, months, or forever, seemingly at random. Besides, any new medication is a crapshoot until it’s built up a long enough track record for previously unknown side effects to come to light. I made radical dietary changes for the gout, but on repeat testing after a couple of months, the changes hadn’t budged my uric acid levels at all (my cholesterol dropped 30 mg/Dl, though!).
Then, in one of those serendipitous moments, I made a new friend who had discovered noni on a trip to Peru. She said it was used, among other things, by the shamans of indigenous tribes for gout. To say I was skeptical was an understatement, but the internet, used properly, gives us research resources that used to be available only in University medical libraries. (You youngsters don’t realize how fortunate you are to live in the time you do.)
To my surprise, I discovered an article which found that noni had the same biochemical effect (inhibiting xanthine oxidase) as both allopurinol and febuxostat.
More research review showed this fruit, known scientifically as Morinda citrifolia, has numerous biochemical and biological effects: it retards the growth of several types of cancer cells (breast, cervical, lung, and melanoma) in culture and in mice. It lowers blood pressure (apparently by ACE inhibition); it protects mice against memory loss induced by strokes and by Alheimers-like amyloid plaques. It is full of potent antioxidants and appears to be antihistamine, antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral. As far as adverse effects, there have been a few reported cases of temporary liver damage from it, but there have also been cases of reversal of liver damage reported. A mouse liver-toxicity study concluded that it is not hepatotoxic. My doctor is monitoring my liver enzymes anyway, as I recover from the allopurinol reaction, so I can stop it promptly if it looks like a problem. Unlike febuxostat, this drug (for I can’t call it a food after experiencing the flavor) has been used for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years by traditional herbal medicine people. I called my friend and said, “I want to try noni!” She was delighted to meet me at the mercado and introduce me to her vendor.
The fruits I bought were extremely soft and mushy, like overripe peaches. The fruit doesn’t grow up here in the mountains; it is a tropical fruit which came from Polynesia originally but is now grown in hot, moist climates the world over, including the nearby Pacific coastal regions of Ecuador and Peru. They are harvested and shipped green but continue to ripen. She told me that this was the stage at which the fermentation to make the clear, dark product sold in bottles as “noni juice” begins. The “noni juice” is essentially the fluid that runs off as the fruit disintegrates. But I’d read that for gout, a purée of the whole, ripe, unfermented fruit was more effective. She gave me some tips on preparing it, and off I went to try it! I hopped on the city bus with the noni fruits in a plastic bag inside my shoulder tote. I detected a certain aroma emanating from the fruit. Kind of a parmesan-cheese, dirty-socks sort of smell. My seat mate seemed to notice it too and kept giving me the side-eye until getting off at his stop.
When I got up to the apartment, the fruits were definitely the worse for the ride. I picked out the most crushed ones to blend and put the more intact ones in the refrigerator in a sealed container. Into the blender they went! I’d heard the seeds can be difficult to blend and might need straining, but my blender was up to the task and the whole fruit, seeds, skin and all were soon whirred into a thick slurry. Now to taste it!
Hah. Hmm. Umm. “That’s really awful.” I tried blending in a banana. Still bad enough to gag a maggot. I put a spoonful of white sugar on top of the glass, stirred it in, and was able to choke down two swallows. Partly it was the thick texture, so I stirred in a good bit of water and another teaspoon of sugar. My goal was 2 cups. I held my nose and chugged it. I did it! I kept it down! Yay, me!
Did I feel a little better immediately? There are supposed to be analgesic and sedative compounds in the fruit too (note to self: don’t drive a car or fly an airplane immediately after taking). I also hadn’t slept well the night before, though, so the deep nap I took an hour later might have been due to that. I decided take it at night in the future just in case. I got up and walked the two miles to my language exchange class. The first thing I had noticed when I took allopurinol (before it made me run a fever, rash, and diarrhea, and feel like I wanted to die) was that I could feel my feet on the sidewalk comfortably, with no pain when I stepped on bumps and divots in the pavement. I felt the same way walking this evening to el Centro. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Steve and I will experiment with healthier things than white sugar to blend it with, to mask the taste: pineapple is popular, as are other fruits and ginger. I will continue to report on the results of this uncontrolled, n=1 experiment. I’m my own guinea pig (although here in Ecuador where rotisserie guinea pig is a traditional delicacy, perhaps I should find a better way to say that). How’s this: I am trying something new. Here’s hoping it’s worth it!