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Island drink bears fruit

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OREM — Bart the Bear, of Heber City and "Grizzly Adams" television fame, drank five-gallon buckets of Tahitian noni juice puree — a product derived from an odd, bumpy island fruit — and survived 18 months longer with the cancer in his paw than doctors had expected.

Horses in the "Hoofbeats to Healing" program at Saratoga Springs slurp it down daily because owner Tammy Coffman is convinced it cured her stallion of cancer and staves off colic and colds.

Tongan Afa Palu has been drinking the bitter brown juice since he was a newborn. His mother, an island healer, believes it clears the lungs and keeps babies healthy.

The juice, a traditional island staple from a tough-to-eradicate weed, has been a moneymaker for Morinda Corp., based in Orem since the company started selling it five years ago.

"When I first heard about Morinda trying to make noni into a drink, I thought, 'Who'd like to drink that? It's so bad,' " said Palu, who is now a research scientist for the company. "But I like what they've done."

Morinda has added blueberry and grape juice to the bitter extract of a fruit, which, when ripe, smells like dirty socks. The company has developed 38 other noni products, including a pasteurized drink from the fruit that only requires a moderate amount of courage to try.

Company officials say the healthful benefits, for humans as well as animals, outweigh the aftertaste.

"I drink two ounces every morning," said Jason Russell, Morinda's public-relations associate, "especially during the cold and flu season. I think it helps with my energy, my resistance to colds and my sleep.

"And we keep seeing stories about how much it's given to animals. We know there's no placebo effect with animals," Russell said. "It either works or it doesn't."

While officials at Morinda, along with a host of other scientists and medical experts, believe they can verify some of the beneficial effects noni juice appears to have, they're careful not to make specific claims.

"We believe that Tahitian Noni Juice offers many beneficial properties that contribute to a healthy lifestyle," Russell said. "Plus, it's been used for thousands of years."

Guides at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii who've never heard of Morinda swear by the fruit, claiming it has made their people strong for generations.

Morinda is one of 142 companies that market noni juice in various forms. The fruit is brought in from French Polynesia for processing in California, then the bottles are shipped out from Utah.

C. Jarakae Jensen, Morinda's director of research, says the company is looking at developing at least 500 more products. "We've just scratched the surface in the last five years," Jensen said.

Jensen says noni juice has a host of benefits, from killing pain to positively affecting blood glucose levels in those with diabetes. He says it's also good for the skin and hair and strengthens the immune system.

He says preliminary research indicates there may even be a positive effect on cancer.


E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com