Soursop is a fruit that may help fight cancer, but human studies are lacking to prove this. It also has some safety concerns.
This article looks at the potential benefits of soursop, including how it might help fight cancer.
It also covers safety concerns and how to consume it. Read on to learn what the research says.
Soursop is a common name for the fruit of the Annona muricata tree. The dark green, prickly, heart shaped fruit grows in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
Some other common names for it include:
- Brazilian paw paw
- custard apple
People describe the flavor of soursop as a combination of strawberry and apple, with hints of citrus. It smells like pineapple and has a creamy texture inside, similar to that of a banana.
People often use the fruit to make beverages, ice-creams, and syrups.
Those in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America use most parts of the plant — including the leaves, fruits, and seeds — in their traditional medicine.
The fruit contains many minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and iron. It also provides 46.4 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C in one cup of pulp, which is over half the recommended daily amount for adults. For context, females need 75 mg of vitamin C per day, and males need 90 mg.
According to one review, “more than 47% of anticancer drugs on the market are natural products, their derivatives, or natural product synthetic mimics.”
Soursop contains a variety of phytochemicals. These are plant compounds that may benefit a person’s health.
In particular, it is a rich source of annonaceous acetogenin compounds (AGEs). Acetogenins inhibit nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, which is contained in the membranes of cancer cells.
The aerial parts of the soursop plant have proven effective against several types of cancer in laboratory and animal studies.
A person can consume soursop raw when it is ripe. It is ripe when the fruit is slightly soft to the touch. When it is unripe, it may taste sour.
To eat the fruit, a person should cut it in half and scoop out the flesh. They should discard the seeds, as these may be toxic.
Depending on the size of the fruit, a person may want to slice any leftovers and store them in the refrigerator. People can also add soursop to smoothies.
Sellers will often market soursop under the name “graviola.” It is commonly available in the following forms:
- fresh fruit
- packaged fruit pulp
- tincture extract from leaves and fruit
- powdered leaf
- capsules and tablets
- dried whole leaves
- tea bags
Average online prices for these products range from $10–30, though imported fresh fruit can be more expensive.
AGEs derived from the leaf of the plant have shown cytotoxic effects on breast cancer cells in laboratory studies. Researchers have found that purified individual AGEs, and combinations of them, work against breast cancer cells in test tube studies.
Laboratory studies indicate that leaf extracts from the plant are cytotoxic to cells in different types of cancer, including:
The researchers also showed that extracts from different parts of the plant were cytotoxic to blood cancer cells. The parts of the plant were:
- the leaf
- the pericarp, which is the part of the fruit formed from the ovary
- the seeds
- the stem
Scientists use different solvents to extract the beneficial compounds from the plant, including ethanol, methanol, and chloroform.
In addition, laboratory research on cancer cells and animal tissue suggests that soursop can:
- suppress prostate cancer cells and reduce prostate size in rats
- cause apoptosis (cell death) of lung cancer cells
- inhibit the migration and invasion of colon cancer cells
- stabilize breast cancer cells
- prevent DNA damage in the breast tissue of mice
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not approve soursop or agree with any claims that it can treat conditions such as cancer.
There are also reports of safety issues associated with cytotoxic drugs, such as hair loss and immune system suppression. Laboratory tests have even revealed that the most abundant acetogenin was neurotoxic.
Researchers say that soursop’s potentially toxic effects can vary according to the part of the plant, the extraction method, the location of the plant, and the time of harvest.
One 2019 review suggests that certain types of diet might alter gut bacteria favorably and be beneficial for cancer treatment and prevention.
Many of the studies have been in animals, but research suggests that the following diets may be beneficial for overall health or certain health conditions:
Fasting may also be beneficial for overall health, but it can worsen cachexia, or weight loss in cancer.
The National Foundation for Cancer Research say that diet and lifestyle are influential enough to significantly reduce the risk of cancer formation and progression. They advise people to:
- avoid carcinogens, or cancer-causing compounds, present in processed foods
- eat a healthful diet comprising whole foods and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
- reduce the consumption of red meat and alcohol, which have carcinogenic potential
- only consume the amount of calories necessary to function well
Different parts of the soursop fruit have uses in herbal medicine to treat various conditions.
Research in animals and test tubes suggests that the plant has the following qualities, which may benefit a person’s health:
It may also:
- improve cholesterol
- protect the liver
- balance blood glucose
- be effective against parasites
However, it may not have the same effects in humans. More research is necessary.
Soursop is not an approved treatment for cancer. A person who has cancer should speak to their doctor about any home remedies they are considering.
Many plants and herbal products can interact with medications or chemotherapy, so it is important for a person to discuss such remedies with a medical professional before trying them.
Some research points to the benefits of soursop in fighting cancer cells. However, this research has mostly been in animals or test tubes, so human studies are necessary to confirm whether or not it has the same effects in people.
The soursop fruit contains phytochemicals, which may help improve a person’s health and potentially prevent or treat disease.
However, if a person is receiving treatment for cancer, they should talk to their doctor about trying remedies or new foods that may interact with their medication.