What is graviola?
Graviola (Annona muricata) is a small evergreen tree found in the rainforests of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The tree produces a heart-shaped, edible fruit that’s used to prepare candies, syrups, and other goodies.
But it’s more than just a sweet treat. Graviola has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, too. This has led some scientists to explore graviola as potential treatment options for a range of serious illnesses, including cancer.
Although some laboratory studies do indicate that graviola may have anticancer properties, there isn’t any clinical evidence that graviola can treat or prevent cancer in humans.
Keep reading to find out what the research says about graviola and cancer — and what you need to know about graviola supplements.
What the research says
Different studies have shown that graviola extracts have an effect on cell lines of a variety of cancers. This research has only been carried out in laboratories (in vitro) and on animals.
Despite some success, it’s not clear how graviola extracts work. Promising though they may be, these studies shouldn’t be taken as confirmation that graviola can treat cancer in people. There’s no proof that it can do so.
The fruit, leaves, bark, seeds, and roots of the tree contain over 100 Annonaceous acetogenins. These are natural compounds with antitumor properties. Scientists still need to determine the active ingredients in each part of the plant. The concentrations of ingredients can also vary from one tree to another, depending on the soil in which it was cultivated.
Here’s what some of the research says:
A 2016 study found that a crude extract of leaves from the graviola tree had an anticancer effect on a breast cancer cell line. Researchers called it a “promising candidate” for breast cancer treatment, and noted that it should be evaluated further. They also noted that the potency and anticancer activity of graviola might differ according to where it was grown.
Graviola leaf extract may inhibit the growth of prostate cancer tumors. In studies involving cell lines and rats, water extract from graviola leaves was shown to reduce the size of the rats’ prostates.
Another study found that ethyl acetate extract of graviola leaves has the potential to suppress prostate cancer cells in rats.
A 2017 study used graviola extract against a colon cancer cell line. The researchers found that it may have an anticancer effect. They noted that more research is needed to determine which part of the leaves produces this effect.
Possible side effects and risks
Graviola supplements are commonly given to people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer in some Caribbean countries. However, this does carry some risks. Long-term use of graviola supplements is associated with nerve cell damage and neurological problems.
With long-term use, you may develop:
- movement disorders
- myeloneuropathy, which produces Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms
- liver and kidney toxicity
Graviola can also increase the effects of certain conditions and medications. You should steer clear of graviola supplements if you:
- are pregnant
- have low blood pressure
- take blood pressure medications
- take medications for diabetes
- have liver or kidney disease
- have a low platelet count
Graviola has been shown to have significant in vitro antimicrobial properties. If you use it for a long time, it could reduce the amount of healthy bacteria in your digestive tract.
Graviola may also interfere with certain medical tests, including:
Consuming small amounts of graviola in food or drinks isn’t likely to present a problem. But if you begin experiencing any unusual symptoms, stop ingesting graviola and see your doctor as soon as possible.
Talk with your doctor
Beware of any over-the-counter (OTC) products that claim to cure or prevent cancer. Make sure you purchase any dietary supplements from a trusted source. Run them by your pharmacist before using them.
Even if graviola is proven to have anticancer properties in humans, there’s great variation in graviola based on where it came from. There’s no way to know if OTC products contain the same compounds as those that were tested in laboratory conditions. There also isn’t any guidance on how much graviola is safe to ingest.
If you’re considering complementing your cancer treatment with graviola or any other dietary supplement, talk to your oncologist first. Natural, herbal products can interfere with cancer treatments.
The bottom line
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements as foods, not as medications. They don’t go through the same safety and efficacy requirements that drugs do.
Although some research highlights graviola’s potential, it hasn’t been approved to treat any type of cancer. You shouldn’t use it as a substitute for your doctor-approved treatment plan.
If you’d like to use graviola as a complementary therapy, talk with your oncologist. They can walk you through your individual benefits and risks.