Close to 26 million people in the United States -- or 8.3 percent of the population -- have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Various prescription medications and lifestyle modifications have been investigated to treat the condition and prevent complications like heart disease, strokes, blindness and organ failure. In traditional Polynesian medicine, noni fruit has been used to treat diabetes, and research on lab animals is verifying noni’s potential to help diabetics.
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Noni (Morinda citrifolia) is an evergreen shrub native to tropical regions in the Pacific Ocean. The leaves and fruit of the noni have been used for medicinal purposes, although the juice from the fruit may be the most popular form. In laboratory research, noni is being studied for its properties as an antioxidant and an immune system booster, as well as for its ability to fight tumors and treat diabetes.
A study published in the “Nigerian Quarterly Journal of Hospital Medicine” in 2008 found that noni juice added to insulin treatments was more effective in controlling blood sugar in laboratory rats than either component alone. A team at the University of the West Indies studied fermented noni juice in diabetes-induced rats that were given 2 ml/kg per body weight of the juice daily for 20 days. Both the noni-fed group and a group treated with the prescription hypoglycemic drug glibenclamide showed a significant reduction in blood sugar. The researchers concluded that the effects may be due to compounds in noni known as triterpenes and saponins. The results were published in “Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” in October 2010.
High blood sugar levels caused by diabetes cause the lens of your eye to swell and may lead to vision problems that include cataracts, a clouding of the lens. A study from India published in May 2011 in the journal “Food and Chemical Toxicology” studied eight different plants including noni on a sugar-induced lens opacity model in the lab. The noni extract showed the most potential of all the plants to keep the eye lens clear, and it even demonstrated a moderate toxicity to cancer cells.
Diabetes can increase your risk of certain types of liver conditions, such as fatty liver disease, which causes scarring. In addition to looking at noni’s effects on blood sugar levels, the University of the West Indies study published in 2010 also examined noni’s effects on the livers of diabetic rats. The researchers discovered that diabetic rats treated with noni juice had reduced fatty degeneration in liver cells, with smaller and less numerous fatty globules, than in the diabetic untreated animals.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to wounds that heal poorly. A study published in the “Journal of Wound Care” in February 2007 conducted research to see if noni had any effects on wound healing in diabetic rats. In addition to controls, a group of animals was given 100 ml/kg body weight of noni juice in their drinking water for 10 days. The diabetic rats given noni juice had a 73 percent reduction in the wound area compared to controls, and fasting blood glucose in the rats was reduced by 29 percent.
Noni is high in potassium, so if you have kidney disease and are on a low-potassium diet, you should avoid noni. Even though research shows potential protections for the liver in diabetics, there have also been a few reports of liver damage from using noni. Several preparations of noni juice may also contain added sugar, which may affect your blood glucose levels. Check with your doctor before adding noni juice or extracts to your diet.