Graviola (Soursop): Anti-Cancer Superfood?
Cancer treatment has always been a topic of debate. Given the harmful side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, over the years more and more focus has shifted to various natural and holistic approaches to treatment. The aim of these approaches is to minimize the pain and suffering associated with conventional therapy, and, if possible, effect a natural, lasting cure. A well-maintained diet consisting of cancer-fighting superfoods can actually reduce the risk of various types of cancer and can also prove to be beneficial in treatment. One such superfood is graviola, which some scientists argue has strong anti-cancer properties and is a potential breakthrough in cancer treatment.
What is Graviola?
Many of you reading this might be aware of graviola while many others might not. For all those who are hearing this term for the first time, let me define in brief what graviola is all about. The little known graviola fruit is obtained from an evergreen tree that grows in the rain forests of Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. The scientific name of the fruit-bearing tree is Annona muricata. While all parts of the tree can be used medicinally including the fruit, roots, and bark, the leaves themselves contain the highest concentrations of the active ingredient, acetogenin. Also known as soursop, custard apple, guanabana and Brazilian paw paw, graviola has been extensively used to treat stomach ailments, hypertension, arthritis, fever, and parasitic infections. Soursop has shown positive effects as a sedative, helps with endocrine system problems, and supports the liver, kidneys, thyroid, pancreas, intestines, gall bladder, ovaries, and prostate gland. Graviola even appears to have anti-cancer properties.
Graviola and its Role in Cancer Treatment
The anti-cancer properties of this fruit have
been a topic of research over the past 40 years. Since the 1970s, more than 20 laboratory studies have been conducted on graviola-derived compounds.
These studies have shown that graviola may have the potential of destroying malignant cells in 12 different types of cancer including prostate, breast,
lung, colon and pancreatic cancers. Although test-tube and animal research demonstrates that graviola may be an anti-cancer agent, there have been
no clinical trials or studies in humans, and therefore the use of graviola for cancer treatment remains a topic of debate.
In 1996, research published in the Journal of Natural Products showed that compound 1 (one of five extracted from the seed of the graviola fruit) was "selectively cytotoxic to colon adenocarcinoma cells (HT-29)” and “10,000 times stronger” in inhibiting cancer growth than the chemotherapy drug adriamycin. In 1997, a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggested that graviola showed better results in destroying breast cancer cells than chemotherapy. Studies conducted at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have proved graviola extract to be effective against both breast cancer and liver cancer. A cell study in 1999 showed graviola had anti-prostate cancer and breast cancer activity; another 2002 cell study showed that graviola exhibited anti-hepatoma (liver cancer) activity. Studies performed at the University of Nebraska found that graviola inhibited the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.
In 2011, the journal Nutrition and Cancer revealed highly promising research on graviola and breast cancer. Researchers found that graviola fruit extract (GFE) suppressed expression of a breast-cancer causing oncogene known as epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in animal models. According to the researchers, “a 5-wk dietary treatment of GFE (200 mg/kg diet) significantly reduced the protein expression of EGFR in breast tumors by 56%.... Overall, dietary GFE inhibited tumor growth, as measured by wet weight, by 32%.”
Perhaps the best finding from the studies is that graviola extract acts only upon cancer cells and does not harm the healthy growth of normal body cells. This finding is also supported by Leslie Taylor, author of The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs, who stated that the inhibitory action of graviola was found to be effective only in the cancerous cell membranes and not on the healthy ones.
Many of the health benefits of graviola are thought to be derived from its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiviral effects; however,
before you go out and buy the product, keep in mind that consumption of graviola has also been associated with adverse effects. Because the plant has
not yet been researched in humans, we don’t know much about how graviola affects the body. Graviola is a very strong natural fruit that should be ingested
If you are considering taking graviola, be aware that the plant can dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure, so those whose blood pressure is already low, or are already on medication to reduce hypertension, should consult their physician before taking graviola. Laboratory research has found that some substances in graviola can cause nerve damage and that these substances can cross into the brain from the bloodstream. Alkaloids extracted from graviola may cause nerve dysfunction and degeneration, leading to symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. Graviola may also lower platelet counts and decrease the uptake of radiopharmaceuticals used in nuclear imaging. While eating the fruit may be okay in moderation, until we learn more, we caution especially against taking a concentrated graviola supplement.
The use of graviola to fight cancer has been strongly debated. Medical experts have warned about the use of the fruit to treat cancer while scientific researchers have been trying to prove its efficiency in cancer treatment. Though graviola research is still in the nascent stage, its promising anti-cancer properties cannot be neglected and will hopefully encourage pharmaceutical companies to conduct more research to prove its worth and efficacy.
 Coothankandaswamy V, Liu Y, Mao SC, Morgan JB et al. The alternative medicine pawpaw and its acetogenin constituents suppress tumor angiogenesis via the HIF-1/VEGF pathway. J. Nat. Prod., 2010, 73 (5), 956–961, April 27, 2010