No Diabetes Supplement like Noni

Patient Expert

When the captain of the skiff who took me snorkeling off South Water Caye, an island of Belize in the Caribbean Sea on Thanksgiving Day, told me about the benefits to people with diabetes of a local fruit, I listened. While I was theoretically on vacation, I always think about my diabetes and how I can help other people who have this disease.

The captain, Ismael Usher, said that his grandmother had diabetes and managed it by drinking the juice of the noni tree. After we got back to the island, he picked a noni fruit from a tree there and gave it to me.

I Study the Fruit of the Noni Tree after Snorkeling

Noni was new to me, so I ate it. It didn't taste good. But I expected that after trying several other traditional remedies, like bitter melon and gymnema sylvestra.

Now that I'm back home I have had a chance to research noni to see if it works better than it tastes. I have my doubts.

I write about it reluctantly. When I wrote "The Mangosteen Myth" in 2004 about another fruit that supposely helps us to manage our diabetes, hundreds of people -- many of whom sell the stuff -- attacked me. Negativity begets negativity.

But so many people still believe in the unproven benefits of thousands of supplements like noni that this is a story that I have to tell. I found that dozens of companies sell Noni here for diabetes and many other conditions.

It does sound like it will cure anything, according to the encyclopedia of "Natural & Alternative Treatments":

"Noni has been heavily promoted for an enormous range of uses, including: abrasions, arthritis, atherosclerosis, bladder infections, boils, bowel disorders, burns, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, circulatory weakness, colds, cold sores, congestion, constipation, diabetes, drug addiction, eye inflammations, fever, fractures, gastric ulcers, gingivitis, headaches, heart disease, hypertension, improved digestion, immune weakness, indigestion, intestinal parasites, kidney disease, malaria, menstrual cramps, menstrual irregularities, mouth sores, respiratory disorders, ringworm, sinusitis, skin inflammation, sprains, stroke, thrush, and wounds."

This sounds like good old fashioned snake oil and makes me immediately suspect it. And the encycopedia goes on:

"However, there is no real evidence that it is effective for any of these conditions...There have been no meaningful human trials of noni."

Noni, technically Morinda citrifolia, grows in many tropical areas. People in traditional cultures around the world use it to treat diabetes and many other conditions.

Noni, like many supplements, is natural, and many of us prefer natural products to prescription medicine. That makes sense to me too, but the only safe natural remedy that I know for managing ur diabetes is the very low-carbohydrate diet that I follow.

But natural isn't necessarily safe. Think of all the poisonous mushrooms, to say nothing of strychnine and curare. Eating poisonous mushrooms can cause liver failure and death. Strychnine, which comes from the seeds of a tree, kills from asphyxiation caused by paralysis of the pathways or by exhaustion from convulsions. Curare, which comes from some plants grown in South America, kills by asphyxiation.

Supplements are drugs. Yes, they are natural drugs. But generally no impartial experts have tested them for their efficacy and safety (cinnamon is a partial exception). And supplements are never standardized, so anyone using them just has to guess how much to take.

Any drug that does anything for us, whether natural or prescription, has both a therapeutic dose and a toxic dose. Even too much aspirin can cause unwanted side effects.

Still, I won't be surprised to hear from many of you that you use noni with great success to manage your diabetes. Anything that we or our therapists believe in can help at least weakly, temporarily, and subjectively. The name for this is the placebo effect.

We can also fool ourselves in other ways. The Hawthorne effect basically means that people get better when they know that others are studying them. A disease also naturally gets better or worse during the course of an illness whether or not we treat it. Since we also commonly start treatment when the disease is at its worst, when it naturally gets better, we credit the treatment -- instead of our body.

So you might go ahead and use noni, if you or your practitioner believe that it will help, if someone is studying how you are doing, and if your diabetes management is really bad. It could help a bit. But remember that we don't have any proof that it works or if it is safe.