It has anti-cancer properties, is used to make ice-creams, and is also used in herbal remedies and tinctures.
We’re talking about the tropical superfruit soursop, which is gaining popularity in the world thanks to its delicious flavor and impressive list of health benefits.
However, is there any science behind these health claims? Let us find out.
What is soursop?
Soursop is the fruit of a tropical tree known as Annona muricata. Also known as graviola, pawpaw, guyabano, and custard apple, this fruit grows in South America, the Caribbean and parts of Africa.
It has spiky green skin, with white flesh and brown seeds. Its flavor is a mixture of strawberry, pineapple and citrus fruits, and we can eat it raw or cook it like a vegetable. It is also used to make juices and ice-cream.
Nutritional value of soursop
Soursop is low in calories and is rich in many nutrients like vitamin C and fiber. One cup (225 grams) of soursop pulp contains (1) –
- Calories: 148
- Protein: 2 grams
- Carbohydrates: 38 grams
- Fiber: 7 grams
- Vitamin C: 46.4 mg (77% DV)
- Potassium: 626 mg (18% DV)
- Magnesium: 47.3 mg (12% DV)
- Thiamin : 0.2 mg (11% DV)
- Copper: 0.2 mg (10% DV)
Interesting facts about soursop
- Soursop is native to the tropical region of Americas and the Caribbean. It is also grown in Southeast Asia which it is known as Sirsak.
- This fruit can grow as big as 12” long and 6” wide, and it can weigh upto 15 pounds.
- Columbia produces the highest-quality soursop.
- Soursop ice cream is known as guanabana in Spanish.
- Soursop is also used to make syrups which are used in shakes, sherbets, and tarts.
- Soursop is used to make many drinks like champola in Brazil, and carato in Puerto Rico.
Health Benefits of soursop
1. Rich in antioxidants
Soursop is a rich source of antioxidants, which provide this fruit with many beneficial properties.
Studies have shown that soursop contains phytonutrients rich in antioxidant compounds like alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, terpenoids, coumarins and lactones, anthraquinones, tannins, cardiac glycosides, phenols and phytosterols (2).
A 2014 study looked examined the cytotoxicity and cytoprotective capacity of soursop extract against oxidative stress. The results showed that soursop extract could prevent the damage caused by cellular oxidants (3).
In 2015 another study was carried out to characterize the phytochemicals present in the extracts of soursop. The researchers observed a strong positive correlation for the total phenolic contents and radical scavenging potentials of the extracts (4).
2. Kills cancer cells
Many studies have shown that soursop can result in the death of cancer cells. According to recent research, that studied 19 samples of soursop from different locations, soursop extracts can reduce tumor size, kill cancer cells and boost the immune system (5).
According to another study, soursop extracts can stop the growth and proliferation of leukemia cells and also induce apoptosis (6).
Several studies have also shown that soursop leaf extract also has anti-cancer benefits. These leaf extracts block adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, which is the usable form of energy for cells.
When this energy is released, it fosters other activities within the cells. The soursop leaf extract blocks this activity and this reduces the impact of the cancer cells and leads to cell death.
According to the scientists at the Tepic Institute of Technology, the soursop fruit contains acetogenins that have potent chemotherapeutic properties (7).
Another study by the University of Nebraska Medical Centre found that graviola extract can also reduce pancreatic cancer.
During this study when pancreatic cancer cells were treated with graviola extract, it decreased their glucose uptake, making it difficult for them to grow and multiply (8).
3. Improves eye health
Soursop is rich in antioxidants that help boost the eye health. According to research by the National Eye Institute, antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and zinc can help reduce the risk age-related macular degeneration.
This study showed that a combination of various antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin A, and beta carotene, along with zinc reduced the risk of developing the advanced stage of age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent in people who have this disease in intermediate stage or had an advanced stage in one eye (9).
4. Helps reduce inflammation
The extracts of soursop have anti-inflammatory properties. While inflammation is the typical immune response of the body to an injury, chronic inflammation can lead to health problems.
According to a 2014 study, when rats were given soursop extracts, it led to a decrease in swelling and lower inflammation (10). Another study showed that the extract of soursop reduced swelling by 37 percent in mice (11).
These studies may prove beneficial for the treatment of inflammatory diseases like arthritis. In fact, according to one study soursop extract decreases the levels of specific inflammatory markers involved in osteoarthritis (12).
5. Treats infections
Soursop can be used to treat infections caused by bacteria and parasites. It is used to treat leishmaniasis (transmitted through the bite of sand fleas), and herpes. Graviola and graviola tea are used to fight these infections.
During a 2016 study, researchers used soursop leaf extracts against oral pathogens. The results showed that this extract has good antimicrobial and fungicidal properties and that the extract was effective against bacteria that cause gingivitis, tooth decay and yeast infection (13).
Another study showed that soursop extracts are effective against the bacteria responsible for cholera and Staphylococcus infection (14).
While these studies are mostly test tube studies, further studies are needed to evaluate the potential of these extracts on humans.
6. Can help manage diabetes
Soursop is also known for its ability to manage diabetes. According to a study by the Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, when researchers injected diabetic rats with extract for two weeks, it lowered their blood sugar levels.
The blood sugar levels of these rats were five times lower than the untreated rats (15). The soursop extracts inhibit the enzymes that break down complex carbohydrates into glucose or block its absorption.
During another study, a single dose of soursop leaf extract reduced the blood glucose levels of diabetic rats by 75 percent (16).
Soursop also helps the pancreas to produce new insulin-producing cells, which can compensate in the case where the cells stop working.
7. Helps lower blood pressure
Soursop has been traditionally used to lower blood pressure. Some studies have also shown that soursop has blood pressure lowering properties.
According to a 2012 study, when soursop leaf extracts were given to rats, it reduced their blood pressure without affecting their heart rates (17).
The hypotensive effects of this extract are due to the peripheral mechanism involving antagonism of calcium ions.
8. Improves the health of the digestive tract
Soursop also reduced the development of ulcers in the stomach and the gastrointestinal tract. Ulcers are painful sores that can develop in the stomach lining, esophagus or the small intestines.
According to a 2014 study, extracts of soursop leaves have promising antiulcer effects. It protects the stomach lining and prevents damage to the digestive tract (18).
Side effects and risks
Though soursop fruit has many health benefits, it also can lead to some severe side effect.
- Long term use of graviola can lead to nerve damage and movement problems.
- The seeds of graviola contain high amounts of annonacin, a neurotoxin that has been linked to Parkinson’s disease and neurological disorders (19).
- According to a 1998 study, tea made from leaves and stems of graviola can cause neurotoxicity (20).
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking soursop supplements as their effects have not yet been studied.
- The effects of soursop extract only been studied through test-tube or animal-based studies. Although many supplements are available on the market, you must check with your doctor before you begin to use them.
People with liver and kidney problems, high blood pressure and diabetes, should always consult with their doctor before taking soursop supplements.
Ways to eat soursop
Soursop has a sweet and tangy flavor which can be enjoyed raw. Pick a fruit that is soft and cut it lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the rind and enjoy the fruit. Avoid the seeds of soursop as they contain neurotoxins.
Soursop can also be used in soups or fried and roasted like vegetables. The leaves of this tree are dried and used to make guanabana tea.
Soursop is also used to make juice, ice-cream, milkshake, smoothies, custard, candies, and soft drinks.
Soursop is a tropical fruit that has many health benefits. Many test-tube and animal studies using soursop extracts have shown that they have cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.
Soursop extracts also help manage diabetes, lower blood pressure, and improve eye health.
However, these studies look at the effects of concentrated soursop extracts, which are much higher than what you get when you eat soursop directly.
Long-term use of soursop can also cause some side effects like nerve damage and Parkinson’s disease.
People with health issues like liver and kidney problems, diabetes and high blood pressure should consult with their doctor before taking these supplements.