To Your Health

Are the claims that Proxenol will make you look and feel younger too good to be true?

Q. I keep getting hyped-up ads in my mailbox for Proxenol, claiming to make me look and feel much younger. Usually I throw such stuff out right away, but this sure sounds tempting. Is there anything to the claims?

A. Proxenol is the brand name of an herbal tablet that is mostly an extract of the Polynesian plant morinda citrifolia, or noni fruit, combined with an enzyme known as protease and some homeopathic ingredients. Noni is usually sold as juice, but it has an inherently strong taste that is disagreeable to many. The maker of Proxenol now makes another tablet he calls Proxecine, with less noni extract and more of the secret ingredients that show up on the label as a "proprietary blend."

The noni fruit has been used by many Polynesian cultures for centuries in the treatment of a wide variety of illnesses. Recently the juice from the noni plant has been aggressively marketed in the United States for the treatment of some of our most dreaded diseases including HIV, cancer, diabetes, rheumatism, arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraine headaches, psoriasis, allergies, heart rhythm abnormality, chronic inflammation, depression, and hemorrhoids. The claims of benefits are largely based upon traditional Polynesian uses, since rigorous human and animal studies are just getting under way. Many of the companies that sell noni have been in trouble with the Food and Drug Administation over the years for making unsubstantiated claims about its health benefits, and although there are indications of some positive effects, a good bit more research is needed before we can be sure that its benefits outweigh any risks.

For some years after its introduction in the 1990s there was no hint of toxicity in noni juice, but in 2005 there were two published reports indicating potential problems. One report pointed out that noni juice is very high in potassium, so people with severe kidney problems who are using certain diuretics should avoid it as well as other high potassium foods. The second report told of a 29-year-old man with a history of hepatitis who developed liver failure after drinking noni juice and required a liver transplant. It was not certain that noni was the root cause of the liver failure, but a possible mechanism for liver damage from noni was described, and the authors felt that the possibility of serious liver problems from noni should be known. It is very likely that substances in noni known as anthraquinones, powerful antioxidants, are beneficial. Although the mechanism is still unknown, animal experiments indicate that noni juice may reduce the growth rate of newly developing capillaries. Cancer cells amplify this process, known as angiogenesis, in the early stages of their development, which has led to the claims that noni prevents cancer.

Research described on WebMD on March 2, tells of 106 smokers who drank 1 to 4 ozs. of a mixture of noni juice, blueberry juice, and grape juice every day for a month. Their blood cholesterol levels dropped from 235 mg/dL to 190 mg/dL, and their triglycerides dropped from 242 mg/dL to 195 mg/dL. In a control group of 26 people drinking a mixture without noni juice, the cholesterol and triglyceride levels did not change significantly. The study was financed by one of the largest distributors of noni, so these results need to be confirmed by independent laboratories.

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