Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ladda (Noni)

Life is not merely to be alive, but to be well. -- Marcus Valerius Martial

Ripe ladda (noni), fruit of the Morinda citrifolia plant. This plant grows abundantly on Tinian in the wild and as a cultivated plant.

Ladda is the Chamorro name for this tropical plant with purportedly astounding medicinal efficacy. It's known as noni or Indian mulberry in Hawaii and Guam (also called ladda there). In Australia they call it, among other things, cheesefruit. In the Philippines, they call it bankoro or nino. In Palau they call it kesengel or ngel, and in Chuuk and the Marshall Islands it is called nen. In Fiji it is called kura. In Singapore and Taiwan it is called luo ling. In Yap it's called mangalweg. In Tahiti it is called mona, monii or nono. Whatever its worldwide name, the name "noni" is the most common reference, thanks to an explosion of research and the global reach by commercial means of various parts (not just the fruit) of this exotic and intriguing plant.

Noni was believed to have come to the Pacific islands from its native origin of Southeast Asia. The ancient islanders were believed to have understood that noni was edible and had medicinal properties. During the Second World War, a field manual instructed U.S. soldiers located in the South Pacific islands that noni was edible.

Source: Emergency Food Plants and Poisonous Plants of the Islands of the Pacific (1943). War Department Technical Manual TM 10-420, by Dr. D. E. Merrill. Dr. Merrill was the Administrator of Botanical Collections and Director of Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.

There is considerable research being conducted on the noni plant that attests to its healing powers. At the same time, there are "quack watches" that caution noni consumers of the clamins by commercial sellers of its health benefits.

A study presented at the American Heart Association's 46th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in March 2006 found that noni juice may lower total cholesterol and triglycerides in adult smokers after one month's use. The author of the study, Dr. Mian-Ying Wang, is a surgeon at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. Dr. Wang's study was funded by the Morinda Corporation in Utah, the makers of the widely distributed Tahitian Noni Juice. Dr. Wang is also a researcher at

The FDA and limits to commercial marketing of noni
Back in August 1998, the Morinda Corporation had entered into a settlement agreement with the Attorney Generals of Arizona, California, New Jersey, and Texas regarding unsubstantiated claims that "Tahitian Noni" could cure or prevent a variety of disorders including diabetes, depression, hemorrhoids and arthritis. The terms of the settlement agreement included, among others, that Morinda Corporation exclude claims that their product can cure, treat or prevent disease until the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved their product for those uses.

The Morinda Corporation is just one of many companies that broke FDA regulations by marketing practices which claim noni can be used to cure, mitigate, treat or prevent diseases, a claim that can only used by FDA-approved "drugs," something which noni has yet to be recognized as. The FDA also categorizes noni as a "new drug." This means that noni products must have a drug sponsor that submits scientific data on the safety and effectivenes of the noni product in order for noni products to get FDA approval.

Current scientific studies and investigations
A study presented in October 2002 at the 2002 Hawai'i Noni Conference by Dr. Eiichi Furusawa of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, Department of Pharmacology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, concluded that noni fruit juice could inhibit cancer tumors in mice.

For further reading, refer to From Polynesian Healers to Health Food Stores: Changing Perspectives of Morinda citrifolia (Rubiaceae) by Will McClatchey in Integrative Cancer Therapies, Vol. 1, No. 2, 110-120 (2002), a literature review of recent studies of potential anticancer activity of noni fruit.

Juice from noni is displayed here at a local store, Blooming in the Tinian Dynasty.

Extracting the juice from the noni fruit
Briefly, the traditional process of extracting the juice from the noni fruit is done through fermentation/aging for about two months (or longer) in an adequate fermentation container. Some prefer no light to exposure, while others use glass fermentation jars which let in direct sunlight. Fermentation requires freshly picked and ripened fruits. Ripe fruits are those that are whitish and soft, almost translucent. The fruits "sweat" and this is the juice you collect.

Juice is drained from a spigot at the base of the containers; the process of fermentation does not use oxygen (i.e., it is an anaerobic process), so you must not let air or oxygen get in contact with the fruit, pulp and remaining juice in the rest of the container. Gas will build up and without a proper fermenation vessel with a pressure-release lock, there could be a build up of unwanted pressure from fermentation gases.

The juice is dark in color and sometimes must be filtered. Aside from the dark color, the most distinct characteristic is the strong taste and smell. Noni juice has a pH of about 3.5, which means it is very sour. As the Australians would say, the odor is probably what rotten cheesy fruit would smell like.

There are other processing methods that do not require fermentation, and which produce lighter colored and/or sweeter-tasting juice. For example, you can probably produce noni at home by fresh-squeezing noni juice. Simply squeeze the ripe noni fruit by hand through a cheesecloth. The juice is not as dark as the juice extracted by the fermentation process. Add water, other fruit juices and/or sugar. Refrigerate immediately.

The home juicer must be very cautious of contamination, or risk unwanted microorganisms! Use sterile equipment and work in a sterile environment. If you think your juice is cloudy or the odor is foul (more foul than rotten cheese!), then it is probably contaminated! If you want to be sure, or your nose can't distinguish from rotten cheese (normal) to really, really rotten cheese (contaminated), then get a pH paper and aim for a pH that is not greater than 3.5.

Status of noni under the FDA
The FDA has not evaluated the noni. You should see this label, therefore, on noni products:

"This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease."

What does it all mean? Nothing conclusive yet. Noni is still being studied and explored. In general, it is probably safe to consider noni juice as safe as other common fruit juices.

U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
+ A product is a "drug" as defined under Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, section 201(g)(1) if it is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. Noni products are not considered drugs under the FDA.
+ A "new drug" is defined under Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, section 201(p). The FDA must approve new drugs before they are marketed in the U.S. Approval of a new drug is based on scientific data from a drug sponsor to demonstrate that the drug is safe and effective. No such demostrations have been made of noni products at this time.

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