Offering the tang of strawberries and pineapples with the sweet twist of bananas and some citrus undertones, soursop is no novice in Latin America, India, and Africa.
Interesting Traditional Uses Of Soursop
- As a juice on the head to prevent fainting
- As a lactation enhancer in nursing mothers
- As astringents, insecticides, piscicides
Also known as graviola, guanabana, guyabano, cherimoya, paw-paw, sirsak, and prickly custard apple, soursop is a clustered fruit of the evergreen tree Annona muricata. Not only have the fruits of this tree found their way into syrups, candies, beverages, ice creams, cakes, sorbet, and shakes, but have also firmly infused themselves into folk medicine.
Annonaceous acetogenins (AGEs), derivatives of long chain fatty acids, seem to be the magic components of this ethno-popular tree. They are present in the leaves, barks, seeds, roots, and fruits and are likely to play a huge part in soursop’s diverse medicinal uses.
Here’s what 100 gm (about half a cup) raw soursop has to offer:1
|Dietary Fiber||3.3 gm|
|Vitamin C||20.6 gm|
Soursop has been used for centuries in the traditional treatment of various conditions. Here are some of them:
1. Kills Cancer Cells
The prime reason for soursop gaining the scientific limelight is its strong anti-cancer effects. AGEs are selectively toxic to cancer cells, including multidrug-resistant cancer cell lines.
Cancer cells depend largely on the breakdown of glycogen to glucose for energy. Deprive them of glucose, and the cells commit suicide. A study on pancreatic cancer cells showed that soursop leaf and stem extracts could take advantage of this dependency as a potential treatment of cancer.2 The extracts depleted the glucose supply in cancer cells, caused free radical damage, and induced cell death.
In another study, soursop leaf extracts deprived colon and lung cancer cells of energy, inhibited their multiplication, and even prevented their migration in the body. Similar results were seen in mice breast cancer cells.3
While most studies have been done in vitro, that is in lab cell cultures and not in living systems, a case study on a breast cancer patient has supported soursop’s anti-cancer effects to some extent.4 Consumption of soursop leaves boiled in water in addition to a regular anti-cancer drug helped stabilize the patient’s condition over 5 years with no side effects.
The huge implications of soursop in cancer therapies – slowing the spread of cancer or helping conventional chemotherapy work better – demands extensive clinical trials. Only then will we be able to determine the dosage, efficacy, and potential side effects of soursop in humans.
2. Supplies Nutrients
Soursop is rich in various minerals like iron, calcium, sodium, copper, and magnesium. Incorporating the fruit in your regular diet can benefit your body craving these essential nutrients.5
3. Discourages Inflammation
Most diseases are linked, one way or another, with an inflammatory response. Damaging free radicals cause havoc in cells and disrupt our body’s systems. Soursop may help counteract inflammation by supplying our immune system with an extra set of antioxidants to neutralize these damaging free radicals.
In one study, it was found that soursop leaf extracts could protect cells from oxidative damage by scavenging free radicals and promoting the production of antioxidants.6
4. Reduces Arthritic Swelling
A study on rats showed that oral administration of soursop leaf extracts for 2 weeks was able to suppress certain inflammatory proteins – TNF-α and IL-1β.7 By doing so, arthritic swelling was reduced by 70%–80%. Similar studies on humans are yet to be done.
5. Prevents Stomach Ulcers
People on NSAID painkillers (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are prone to develop stomach ulcers. The mucus lining your stomach plays a huge part in defending you against ulcer-promoting free radicals. By providing an antioxidant boost, soursop may help preserve your stomach mucus and prevent you from developing stomach ulcers.8
6. Relieves Pain
Soursop has been traditionally consumed as a painkiller. Research suggests it does so by inhibiting pain receptors and other inflammatory molecules.9
7. Helps Manage Diabetes
Extracts of the soursop pericarp (the fruit minus the seed) can keep blood glucose levels in check after a meal.10 The phenols in the fruit do this by inhibiting the enzymes – α-amylase and α-glucosidase – that increase blood glucose levels. In another study, the leaf extract was seen to promote the growth of insulin-producing pancreatic cells.11
Hypertension or high blood pressure, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes, can also be reduced by the phenolic compounds in soursop. By inhibiting the enzyme angiotensin-I converting enzyme (ACE), the phenols encourage the body to become more receptive to insulin. This is an added perk for diabetics and borderline diabetics.
It is important to note that soursop can lower blood pressure without affecting heart rate.12
Because of these multiple sugar-soothing effects, soursop shows promise in the management of type-2 diabetes.
8. Protects Against Infections
A growing concern about infections is the development of drug resistance in many microbes. This is when we need to remember that natural remedies can serve us well. Soursop leaf extracts have demonstrated significant toxicity against the bacteria and viruses causing leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis, malaria, and herpes.13 14
9. Supports Liver Health
The liver is responsible for removing the bile pigment bilirubin from the body. Individuals who have jaundice have high levels of this pigment, which gives their skin a yellowish tinge.
In Ghana, natives traditionally use soursop to treat jaundice. Building on its traditional use, researchers showed that soursop extracts can normalize bilirubin levels in adult rats suffering from jaundice.15 In addition to encouraging liver function, soursop has also been shown to protect the liver from chemically-induced damage.16
10. Controls Convulsive Seizures
In an attempt to substantiate the use of soursop leaf decoctions to control fever and convulsions in Africa, a study was conducted in mice. It was found that soursop extracts have a positive influence on chemically-induced seizures and mortality.17
11. Prevents Oral Infections
Sodium hypochlorite is a chemical used to prevent microbial infections during root canal treatment. It may, however, cause other dental problems. Extracts of soursop leaves have been proved to be just as effective as sodium hypochlorite in preventing oral infections, minus the side effects.18 This makes them the safer choice as root canal irrigants.
12. Heals Cuts
Soursop leaves have been used in folk medicine to treat skin diseases and abscesses. We now know that this is because of the anti-inflammatory compounds in soursop. One study on rats showed that topical application of soursop leaf extracts on cuts was able to quicken the wound healing process.19 An accompanying increase in wound healing proteins (Hsp-70) was seen.
Side Effects Of Soursop
There is evidence suggesting that soursop is unsafe for human consumption.
- Annonacin, the predominant AGE, is toxic to neurons in the brain at high doses. Eating the soursop fruit can, thus, result in neural side effects.20 AGEs may cause nerve damage leaving an individual vulnerable to movement disorders like Guadeloupean atypical Parkinsonism.
- The tea brewed using soursop’s leaves and stems may be neurotoxic as well.21
- It is proposed that daily consumption of the soursop fruit or nectar for a year could supply enough annonacin to cause brain abnormalities in rats.
Consume The Soursop Fruit With Caution
While soursop has a lot to offer, it is better we don’t “overconsume” the fruit and exert caution.22
- Eat the pulp, not the seeds: Don’t eat soursop seeds as they are possibly loaded with neurotoxins. Scoop the pulp and eat it after you have removed the seeds. Just like avocado, ensure the fruit is ripe enough (a yellowish green and not a dark green) before you slice it open. You may use the pulp as a sweet-tangy flavoring ingredient in smoothies and desserts. However, limit your intake to half a cup a few days a week.
- Avoid soursop supplements and tea: It is better to hold off soursop supplements and tea, at least till we know for sure that they are safe for human consumption.
- Don’t pair soursop with certain medications: Do not eat soursop if you are on medications to lower blood pressure or blood sugar.
- Watch out for side effects: Steer clear of any form of soursop completely if you notice any health issues – like loss of balance, tremors, or muscle stiffness – and see a doctor.
- Expecting and new moms should not eat soursop: It is not advisable for pregnant or nursing women to consume soursop till we understand more about it.
Some people may be highly receptive to soursop and may benefit more than others. So, be on guard to understand if the fruit can work its magic on you.
|↑1||National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. United States Department of Agriculture.|
|↑2||Torres, María P., Satyanarayana Rachagani, Vinee Purohit, Poomy Pandey, Suhasini Joshi, Erik D. Moore, Sonny L. Johansson, Pankaj K. Singh, Apar K. Ganti, and Surinder K. Batra. “Graviola: a novel promising natural-derived drug that inhibits tumorigenicity and metastasis of pancreatic cancer cells in vitro and in vivo through altering cell metabolism.” Cancer letters 323, no. 1 (2012): 29-40.|
|↑3||Minari, J. B., and U. Okeke. “Chemopreventive effect of Annona muricata on DMBA-induced cell proliferation in the breast tissues of female albino mice.” Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics 15, no. 4 (2014): 327-334.|
|↑4||Hansra, Damien Mikael, Orlando Silva, Ashwin Mehta, and Eugene Ahn. “Patient with metastatic breast cancer achieves stable disease for 5 years on graviola and xeloda after progressing on multiple lines of therapy.” Advances in Breast Cancer Research 3, no. 03 (2014): 84.|
|↑5||Gyamfi K., Sarfo D., Nyarko B., Akaho E., Serfor-Armah Y., Ampomah-Amoako E. Assessment of elemental content in the fruit of graviola plant, Annona muricata, from some selected communities in ghana by instrumental neutron activation analysis. Elixir Food Sci. 2011;41:5671–5675.|
|↑6||Son, Yu-Ra, Eun-Hye Choi, Goon-Tae Kim, Tae-Sik Park, and Soon-Mi Shim. “Bioefficacy of Graviola leaf extracts in scavenging free radicals and upregulating antioxidant genes.” Food & function 7, no. 2 (2016): 861-871.|
|↑7||Chan, P., R. Ah, and K. Mh. “Anti-arthritic activities of Annona muricata L. leaves extract on complete Freund’s adjuvant (CFA)–induced arthritis in rats.” Planta Medica 76, no. 12 (2010): P166.|
|↑8, ↑11, ↑12, ↑13, ↑22||Moghadamtousi, Soheil Zorofchian, Mehran Fadaeinasab, Sonia Nikzad, Gokula Mohan, Hapipah Mohd Ali, and Habsah Abdul Kadir. “Annona muricata (Annonaceae): a review of its traditional uses, isolated acetogenins and biological activities.” International journal of molecular sciences 16, no. 7 (2015): 15625-15658.|
|↑9||Hamid, Roslida Abd, Chan Pit Foong, Zuraini Ahmad, and Mohd Khairi Hussain. “Antinociceptive and anti-ulcerogenic activities of the ethanolic extract of Annona muricata leaf.” Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia 22, no. 3 (2012): 630-641.|
|↑10||Adefegha, Stephen A., Sunday I. Oyeleye, and Ganiyu Oboh. “Distribution of phenolic contents, antidiabetic potentials, antihypertensive properties, and antioxidative effects of soursop (Annona muricata L.) fruit parts in vitro.” Biochemistry research international 2015 (2015).|
|↑14||Adeyemi, David Olawale, Omobola Aderibigbe Komolafe, Olarinde Stephen Adewole, Efere Martins Obuotor, and Thomas Kehinde Adenowo. “Anti hyperglycemic activities of Annona muricata (Linn).” (2009).|
|↑15||Arthur, Fareed KN, Eric Woode, Ebenezer O. Terlabi, and Christopher Larbie. “Bilirubin lowering potential of Annona muricata (Linn.) in temporary jaundiced rats.” (2012).|
|↑16||Arthur, Fareed, Eric Woode, Ebenezer Terlabi, and Christopher Larbie. “Evaluation of hepatoprotective effect of aqueous extract of Annona muricata (Linn.) leaf against carbon tetrachloride and acetaminophen-induced liver damage.” Journal of Natural Pharmaceuticals 3, no. 1 (2012): 25-25.|
|↑17||N’gouemo, P., B. Koudogbo, H. Pambou Tchivounda, C. Akono‐Nguema, and Minko M. Etoua. “Effects of ethanol extract of Annona muricata on pentylenetetrazol‐induced convulsive seizures in mice.” Phytotherapy Research 11, no. 3 (1997): 243-245.|
|↑18||Mathew, J., R. George, R. Theruvil, T. C. Padavil, L. Tomy, and A. Kurian. “Antibacterial Activity of Leaf Extract of Annona muricata and Simarouba glauca on Enterococcus faecalis.” The journal of contemporary dental practice 17, no. 8 (2016): 650.|
|↑19||Moghadamtousi, Soheil Zorofchian, Elham Rouhollahi, Maryam Hajrezaie, Hamed Karimian, Mahmood Ameen Abdulla, and Habsah Abdul Kadir. “Annona muricata leaves accelerate wound healing in rats via involvement of Hsp70 and antioxidant defence.” International Journal of Surgery 18 (2015): 110-117.|
|↑20||Caparros-Lefebvre, Dominique, and Alexis Elbaz. “Possible relation of atypical parkinsonism in the French West Indies with consumption of tropical plants: a case-control study.” The Lancet 354, no. 9175 (1999): 281-286.|
|↑21||Román, Gustavo. “Tropical myeloneuropathies revisited.” Current opinion in neurology 1, no. 5 (1998): 539-544.|