Graviola (Annona muricata), also called soursop, is a fruit tree that grows in tropical rainforests. People have long used its fruit, roots, seeds, and leaves to treat all kinds of ailments, including cancer.
Modern scientists have been studying the plant for 50 years. They see potential promise in graviola. They found it kills cancer cells in test tube and in animal studies. What they don’t yet know is if it works as a treatment for cancer in humans.
How Does It Work?
Graviola contains hundreds of chemicals called acetogenins (ACGs). In lab tests, ACGs kill many types of cancer cells without harming healthy ones. They can even treat tumors that haven’t responded to cancer medicines.
ACGs seem to work in different ways to kill, block, or otherwise fight different types of cancers. The pathways include:
Cell death. Normally, old or damaged cells die naturally, a process called apoptosis. Cancerous cells often find a way to dodge this and to survive. Graviola leaf extracts may force cancer cells to go through normal cell death.
Block metastasis. It’s also called a cancer spread. Lab studies found that graviola extracts stopped cancer cells from growing and metastasizing.
Scramble signals. Cells receive messages from inside and outside the cell. Signaling pathways relay the messages. A mistake in one of these pathways can lead to cancer. Graviola blocks pathways that control the growth and life cycle of cancer cells.
ATP. Every cell in your body uses a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy. When graviola blocks ATP in cancer cells, the cells die.
What the Research Says
Scientists have studied graviola for many kinds of cancers. Findings from lab studies have been promising. But they haven’t tested graviola on people to know if the results will hold up.
Breast cancer. In one study, graviola leaf extract shrank breast tumors in mice. Other studies looked at the effect of graviola fruit extract on a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). This protein sits on the surface of cells and helps them grow and divide. Some breast cancer cells have too much EGFR. The cells grow faster and are harder to treat. Graviola blocked the growth of these cells.
Liver cancer. In several studies, graviola extract caused cell death in liver cancer cells.
Lung cancer. Graviola leaf extract stopped the growth cycle of lung cancer cells.
Pancreatic cancer. A powder of graviola leaves and stems caused cell death in pancreatic cancer cells. Graviola also blocked signaling pathways that help pancreatic tumors spread.
Prostate cancer. In studies, graviola fruit pulp extract stopped prostate cancer cells from spreading.
People in South America and Africa use graviola for food and medicine. The fruit tastes like pineapple. You can also buy graviola pills and liquid online and in natural food stores. No one knows the best dose or how much is safe. Possible harms from graviola may include:
- Nerve damage. Some lab animals got tremors and other movement problems similar to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
- Low blood pressure. Graviola could lead to a drop in blood pressure in animals and humans. This may cause trouble if you already have low blood pressure or on medication to lower it.
- Low blood sugar. Graviola potentially may be dangerous if you’re prone to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or take diabetes drugs.
- Faulty tests. Graviola can interfere with nuclear imaging because it stops your body from absorbing the radioactive drugs used in the test. It also might interfere with your blood pressure reading or blood sugar level tests.
You shouldn’t use graviola in place of your regular cancer therapy. If you’d like to add it to medicine you already take, talk to your doctor.