Graviola is a rainforest tree found typically in tropical forests across Southeast Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. Chances are that you may know Graviola by other names such as Soursop (English), Guanábana (Spanish), Brazilian pawpaw, or Lakshman phal (Hindi). For centuries, this tree has been prized by native populations for its delicious succulent fruit and therapeutic properties. Different parts of the Graviola tree such as fruit, leaves, bark, roots and seeds have been traditionally used to treat an impressive range of ailments such as fever, arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, insomnia and infections from bacteria, parasites and virus.
All over the world, graviola is used in many ways – as fruit, juice, tea (by boiling the leaves), powdered seeds (for external application) and even as a supplement. And it’s easy to see why it is so popular. Graviola is chock-full of a variety of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and bio-active compounds such as alkaloids, flavonoids, phenols and essential oils – giving the fruit, along with other parts of the tree, some incredible anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Emerging research now suggests that Graviola may have yet another extremely significant health benefit that leaps beyond its commonly known ancient therapeutic uses. Yes, we are talking about its remarkable ability to destroy cancer cells .
Graviola as a potential cancer treatment?
An impressive number of in-vitro studies indicate that the leaves, fruit extract, seeds and stem of Graviola tree contain unbelievably powerful anti-cancer substances. Bio-active ingredients in Graviola have been shown to target and kill malicious cancer cells in 12 different types of cancer – including breast, pancreatic, lung, prostate, liver, colon and skin cancer.
Research from Purdue University, supported by National Cancer Institute, found that Graviola leaf extract destroyed cancer cells "among six human-cell lines" and was shown to have particular affinity to kill prostate and pancreatic cancer cells. A following study showed that the extract from Graviola leaves had the same effect on lung cancer cells. Another 1997 study from Purdue University emphasized that graviola compounds can even destroy cancer cells that have developed resistance to toxic chemicals in chemotherapy drugs.
A 1996 study published in the Journal of Natural Products found a compound extracted from the seeds of graviola fruit to be 10,000 times stronger at killing colon cancer cells than Adriamycin – a chemotherapy drug. The researchers also highlighted that this compound showed remarkable selective toxicity to colon adenocarcinoma cells. In other words, it only targeted cancer cells in colon, while leaving the healthy cells unscathed.
Oncologists agree that pancreatic cancer is possibly the most difficult and lethal types of cancer to treat and manage. A 2012 conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical Center proved that natural compounds in Graviola extract inhibited “multiple signaling pathways that regulate metabolism, cell cycle, survival, and metastatic properties in pancreatic cells” . Many recent studies also point to Graviola’s anti-cancer effects in breast , prostate , and gastric cancer .
Acetogenins: Phytochemicals with anti-cancer properties
So what gives Graviola this cutting edge in selectively destroying cancer cells? Graviola contains an abundance of natural compounds called annonaceous acetogenins, unique to Annonaceae the plant family. There are more than 100 “annonaceous acetogenins” found in the fruit, leaves, seeds, bark, roots and stems of graviola tree. These unique phytochemicals impart this sweet-sour fruit with incredible cancer destroying properties as well as anti-inflammatory, pain relieving and anti-oxidant characteristics. According to the researchers in this field, acetogenins are equipped to differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells (selective toxicity) and can even combat the stubborn, drug-resistant cancer cells.
Restricts the production of ATP molecules in cancer cells
The mitochondria in all living cells extract the chemical energy derived from nutrients and use it to produce Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP molecules – coined by biologists as the energy currency of life. ATP provides the burst of energy to cells to carry out all their simple and complex bio-chemical processes including cellular division.
Cancer cells, with their tendency to divide at an extraordinary rate, require ATP in much higher doses than the normal, healthy cells. What if something can stop cancer cells to produce the amount of ATP they need to grow and multiply with speed? Annonaceous acetogenins, special bio-active compounds present in Graviola, can achieve this.
- Acetogenins interfere with the enzymatic reactions involved in the production of ATP by the mitochondria of the cancerous cells
- Angiogenesis, a process of building new blood vessels, is a hallmark of cancer. These new blood vessels feed oxygen and nutrient rich blood to cancer cells. Acetogenins reduce the growth of blood vessels sprouting in the cancer cells vicinity – cutting off the flow of nutrients and oxygen and basically making them starve. Low production of ATP also impacts the growth of blood vessels.
Cancer cells are known to develop immunity against long-term chemotherapeutic treatment. They learn to recognize and resist the chemicals that are used to kill them, developing multiple drug resistance or MDR. More specifically, cancer cells develop a pumping mechanism to pump out the toxic chemicals, rendering chemo drugs ineffective. And guess what. To be able to push these chemicals require astonishing amounts of energy, which the cancer cell would need to draw from ATP, the energy storehouse.
However, the ability of acetogenins to slow down the ATP production in cancerous cells negatively impact their capacity to thrust out the harsh anti- chemicals – making these cells sensitive to the chemotherapy treatment. This aspect qualifies Graviola to be a potential candidate to use in integrative cancer treatments, and is strengthened by the fact that bio-active ingredients in Graviola nourish the immune system and work with body’s inherent capacity to fight and kill cancer cells. With its selective toxicity feature, Graviola also limits the side-effects commonly experienced with conventional therapies to treat cancer such as loss of appetite, impaired immunity, hair loss and nausea – thus improving the overall quality of life in cancer patients.
Important note: While many studies and research point to Graviola’s anti-cancer potential, these studies were either in-vitro or conducted on animals. In the absence of any double-blind clinical trials on humans, the medical community shies away from confirming anything positive on its role in fighting even the most resistant of cancer cells. From a clinical view that seems reasonable, but interestingly Big Pharma is not likely to invest their millions of dollars in extensive human studies as Graviola is a natural product and can’t be patented – holding no potential to yield handsome profits. And that my dear friends is a sad truth!
At the same time, we would like to emphasize that this article is purely for education and information purposes only while not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any aforementioned disease. It is not in any way intended to diagnose, prescribe or substitute the advice or treatment recommended by your physician or other health care professionals. If you plan to take graviola in any form, it is important to consult your physician or a trusted healthcare professional.
- Paul, Jeno; Gnanam, R.; M. Jayadeepa, R.; Arul, L. Anti Cancer Activity on Graviola, an Exciting Medicinal Plant Extract vs Various Cancer Cell Lines and a Detailed Computational Study on its Potent Anti-Cancerous Leads. Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry. Volume 13, Number 14, July 2013, pp. 1666-1673(8)
- Torres MP, Rachagani S, Purohit V, et al. 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. Oct 1 2012;323(1):29-40. doi: 10
- Dai and Hogan, et al. Selective growth inhibition of human breast cancer cells by graviola fruit extract in vitro and in vivo involving downregulation of EGFR expression. Nutrition and Cancer. 2011; 63(5):795-801.
- Yang C, Gundala SR, Mukkavilli R, Vangala S, Reid MD, Aneja R. Synergistic interactions among flavonoids and acetogenins in Graviola (Annona muricata) leaves confer protection against prostate cancer. Carcinogenesis. 2015 Jun;36(6):656-65. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgv046. Epub 2015 Apr 11.
- Han et al. Annonaceous acetogenin mimic AA005 induces cancer cell death via apoptosis inducing factor through a caspase-3-independent mechanism. BMC Cancer. March 2015