Graviola, Guanabana and Cancer

View of Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands
The graviola tree is indigenous to warm, humid climates. (Image: DC Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images)

If you visit a tropical country, you may see a large, greenish-yellow fruit covered with soft spines sold in the marketplace. This unusual fruit is called graviola and is used for making nectars, liqueurs and ice cream. Graviola and guanabana are the same fruit. Laboratory research studies show that graviola may be a cancer-fighting food. More research is needed before it can be recommended as a cancer treatment.

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a complicated disease that results when malignant cells develop and proliferate in the body. It can be caused by a defect in your genes or by pollutants that exist in the environment, including pesticides, cigarette smoke and solar radiation, according to Dr. Georges M. Halpern, a physician and author of “Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies for Modern Ailments.” Conventional treatments for cancer include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy drugs. Scientists are now examining graviola as a possible cancer treatment, either to be used alone or with conventional procedures and medications.

Botanical Facts

The graviola tree, Annona muricata, flourishes in tropical environs such as the Amazon rain forest, southern Florida and Mexico. "Graviola" is the tree's name in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, while in Spanish-speaking countries it is called "guanabana." It also goes by other names, including Brazilian paw paw, nangka belanda, custard apple and soursop. According to naturopath Leslie Taylor, author of the 2005 book "The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs," the graviola tree has plant chemicals called Annonaceous acetogenins. These natural plant chemicals are found in the tree's seeds, leaves, root and bark.

Graviola and Cancer Research

Research demonstrates that graviola’s Annonaceous acetogenins may arrest cancer tumor growth and protect your body from developing cancer cells. For example, according to a study published in the November 2010 issue of “Molecules,” the Annonaceous acetogenins in graviola slowed the proliferation of lung cancer and laryngeal cells in the laboratory. In a 2001 study published in the “Journal of Natural Products,” a compound extracted from graviola seeds killed liver cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. Graviola should only be used under a doctor's supervision.

Safety and Considerations

If you have low blood pressure, avoid graviola. It has the potential to lower blood pressure, according to Taylor. If you are pregnant, nursing or have a cardiac condition, it is best to avoid graviola. Large doses of graviola extract can cause nausea and vomiting. Graviola may also strengthen the action of anti-depressant medications, especially MAO-inhibitors, Taylor says.

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