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Table of Contents > Articles > Hawaiian plant may be effective in ...
Hawaiian plant may be effective in treating tuberculosis

The Hawaiian plant Morinda citrifolia (Indian mulberry), known as noni among Hawaiian natives, may be effective in combating Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB). Scientists at the 2000 International Congress of Pacific Basic Societies in Honolulu, Hawaii, reported on studies that identified certain active chemicals in the noni plant that were effective in eliminating the TB bacteria in the laboratory setting. The noni plant is a small evergreen shrub whose leaves have been used in traditional cultures to treat respiratory conditions, including tuberculosis. It is found in the Pacific Islands, Polynesia, Asia, and Australia. Interestingly, these are areas with a high incidence of TB.

The conventional medical treatment for TB consists of a regimen of antibiotics taken over the course of several months. Effective treatment requires strict adherence to the treatment plan. The drugs used to treat TB may cause side effects such as gastrointestinal upset, hepatitis in some, drug interactions, hearing loss. But for the time being, antibiotics remain the only proven effective treatment for TB. Nevertheless, scientists continue to search for effective alternative approaches.

Researchers from the Philippines have tested a variety of plants, including the noni, for antimicrobial activity in the presence of the tuberculosis bacteria. These tests were designed to determine whether chemicals in plants such as the noni could destroy the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. What the researchers found was that extracts from the noni plant killed 89% of the tuberculosis bacteria, which compares favorably with one of the currently prescribed drugs for TB, rifampicin. The researchers identified the active compounds in the noni plant to be plant steroids, or phytosterols.

The significance of these research results is two-fold. First, the phytosterols in the noni plant may help resolve the serious health problem of antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis, and increasingly, multi-drug-resistant TB (MDR TB), by attacking the bacteria through a different mechanism than antibiotics. Treating MDR TB is challenging; some drugs are not effective in combating drug-resistant strains of TB, and they often cause side effects. The research on the noni plant may offer an effective alternative treatment, especially for those in Hawaii, which has one of the highest rates of antibiotic-resistant TB in the United States.

The research on the noni plant represents an important breakthrough in the continuing search for plant compounds capable of effectively combating M. tuberculosis and its various strains. Still, however hopeful the research on the noni plant may be, there is no conclusive evidence of the curative powers of the noni plant. More research is needed to evaluate its healing properties. For now, effective control of TB depends on the use of conventional antibiotics. Indeed, while there are known side effects to antibiotics, they are still considered relatively safe, whereas the potential health risks or side effects of the noni plant are unknown.


Saludes J, Garson M, Franzblau S, Franzblau S, Aguinaldo A, Aguinaldo A. Potential antimycobacterial agents isolated from the leaves of noni. Presented at: 2000 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies; December 18, 2000; Honolulu, HI.

Review Date: January 2001
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

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