Guanabana (Annona muricata) is a fruit tree and member of the custard apple family (Annonaceae). The guanabana leaf has been studied extensively for its anti-cancer properties, but traditional medicine has used all parts of the tree for pain, inflammation, malaria, diabetes, and parasites. Read on to learn about the benefits and side effects of guanabana.
What is Guanabana?
Guanabana, also known as soursop or graviola, is native to tropical areas of Central and South America and the Caribbean. It is part of the custard apple family and is now widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas worldwide, including Africa and Southeast Asia [1, 2].
The guanabana is most known for its creamy, tangy fruit pulp. But, traditional practices have used all portions of the guanabana plant to treat conditions from fever to malaria .
More than 200 phytochemicals in guanabana have been studied for their ability to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases .
The guanabana seed and leaf contain large amounts of vitamins C and E, responsible in part for its potent antioxidant effects .
More than 200 chemical compounds have been identified and isolated from the guanabana plant, the most notable being alkaloids, phenols, and acetogenins .
The primary active phytochemicals in the leaf, seed, stem, and pulp of the guanabana are acetogenins. These chemicals act against cancerous tumors parasites, inflammation, microbes, and insects [6, 7, 8, 9, 10].
Mechanism of Action
Guanabana leaf extracts protected against diabetes in rats by reducing blood sugar levels and increasing insulin. This was explained by increased antioxidant levels in the liver, reduced fat oxidation, and protection of pancreatic β-cells [13, 14, 15].
Cell models suggest that the extracts of guanabana leaves exert their antioxidant activity by scavenging free radicals. Reducing free radicals helps prevent damage to cells, proteins, and DNA [16, 17].
Extracts from guanabana leaves can reduce the number of cancer tumor cells by:
- Blocking energy (ATP) production in cancer cells 
- Selectively increasing programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells [19, 20]
Guanabana extracts increase apoptosis in cancer cells by:
- Activating a mitochondrial-mediated pathway with NF-kB and Bcl-Xl [20, 21]
- Changing the cancer cell’s structure 
- Disrupting the cancer cell’s membrane mitochondrial potential [22, 23]
- Preventing cell division of cancer’s cell cycle [22, 23]
- Creating reactive oxygen species [22, 24]
Health Benefits of Guanabana
1) Anti-Cancer Effects
Acetogenins in the guanabana are the most promising molecules to protect against and kill cancer cells. These phytochemicals are produced in the guanabana fruit, leaves, stems, bark, and seeds [25, 9].
The compounding effects of multiple phytochemicals in guanabana extracts, including acetogenins, may be the underlying reason for their potency in cancer treatment .
In a study of 28 patients with colorectal cancer, blood samples from patients treated with guanabana leaf extracts were toxic to colon cells .
Guanabana leaf extracts reduced cancerous tissue in the colon of rats by inducing apoptosis in cancer cells .
Mice injected with acetogenins from guanabana leaves had 50% fewer pre-cancerous colon cells .
Acetogenins extracted from guanabana seeds were selectively toxic to colon cancer cells and were 10,000 times more potent than chemotherapy medication .
Almost daily use of guanabana tea for 5 years stabilized breast cancer in a 66-year-old woman following chemotherapy treatment .
The acetogenin and annonacin increased apoptosis (cell death) in breast cancer cells and reduced breast tumors in mice through estrogen-related pathways .
Guanabana fruit extract reduced breast tumor growth in rats by 32% after 5 weeks .
Acetogenins extracted from guanabana leaf decreased breast cancer cell growth by 98% .
In rats, guanabana leaf extract reduced prostate size, possibly through apoptosis .
Guanabana leaf extracts reduced prostate tumor growth in mice but fractions containing only acetogenins killed mice due to toxicity .
Guanabana leaf extracts reduced the growth of cervical cancer cells by 80% .
Annonacin, an acetogenin extracted from the seeds of guanabana, increased apoptosis in endometrial cancer cells by 65%. The mechanism was linked to DNA damage of the cancer cells .
Leaves, twigs, roots, and seeds of the guanabana induced apoptosis in leukemia cancer cells by decreasing the ability of cancerous cells to survive and function, disrupting the membrane of the mitochondria .
2) Antioxidant Effects
Antioxidants derived from plants can have protective effects against free radicals involved in the development of diseases such as cancer.
According to several studies, the high antioxidant concentrations of guanabana leaves, fruit, and peel prevented oxidative damage in cells by scavenging free radicals and reducing reactive oxygen species. Reactive oxygen species production can result in DNA damage and cell death [16, 58, 59, 60, 61, 27].
Guanabana flower extracts also exhibited high antioxidant activities and could have used as a food oil preservative to prevent spoiling .
3) Combats Pathogens
Guanabana peel, leaf, and seed extracts show antimicrobial activity against various microorganisms including parasites, viruses, gram-positive, and gram-negative bacterial strains.
In the lab, the guanabana peel was more effective in the treatment of leishmaniasis disease than the chemical commonly used for its treatment .
Extracts of guanabana leaf exhibited anti-parasitic activity against the eggs, larvae, and adults of Haemonchus contortus, a gut parasite in sheep .
According to several lab studies, extracts from guanabana seeds, roots, leaves, and/or bark had antibacterial activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus albus, Vibrio cholerae, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Bacillus subtilis, Proteus vulgaris, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterobacter aerogenes, and Providencia stuartii bacteria [71, 10, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76].
Guanabana leaf extracts showed antimicrobial properties by inhibiting the growth of oral pathogens (Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus mitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis) with 20 to 85% effectiveness when compared to prescription antibiotics .
Guanabana stem extracts suppressed herpes simplex virus 1 in the kidney cells of monkeys .
Guanabana extracts reduced the replication of herpes simplex virus 2 in human throat cells .
Guanabana leaf extracts inhibited the growth of Candida albicans .
4) May Help Prevent Mosquito-Transmitted Diseases
Isolated acetogenins from guanabana were toxic to mosquito larvae by inhibiting mitochondrial electron transport, which halts energy production in the cells of the larvae .
5) Reduces Inflammation
6) May Benefit Diabetes
Treatment of diabetic rats with guanabana leaf extracts decreased blood glucose and/or increased insulin. These anti-diabetic effects occurred by guanabana extracts increasing antioxidant levels in the liver, reducing fat oxidation and protecting pancreatic β-cells [13, 14, 15, 90].
Guanabana leaf extracts regenerated pancreatic β-cells in diabetic mice .
7) May Be Toxic to Insects
Acetogenins from guanabana were toxic to agricultural pests including the potato beetle, green peach aphid, and African cotton leafworm .
8) May Improve Liver Health
9) May Alleviate Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Guanabana fruit and leaf extracts reduced stress and showed anti-depressive effects in rats. Phytochemicals in the guanabana fruit and stem influenced the brain by binding to serotonin receptors [103, 104].
10) May Help Heal Wounds
Extracts of the stem and bark of guanabana increased wound healing in rats over 12 days .
11) Guanabana Fruit May Reduce Blood Pressure
Leaf extracts from guanabana reduced blood pressure in rats by blocking calcium channels .
Guanabana fruit extracts reduced a key enzyme (angiotensin-I converting enzyme) involved in increasing blood pressure .
12) Guanabana Leaf May Prevent Stomach Ulcers
Ulcer lesions were reduced in rats pre-treated with guanabana leaf extracts. This action was likely due to the extract’s high antioxidant content, which reduced oxidative damage and protected the stomach wall [109, 110].
13) May Improve Immune Function
14) May Reduce Pain
15) May Decrease Arsenic Toxicity
16) May Boost Male Fertility
Doses of 80, 400, and 2,000 mg/kg of guanabana juice per day for 60 days in rats increased sperm count and movement .
17) May Protect the Heart
Guanabana extracts improved heart muscle contractions in guinea pigs following oxygen deprivation .
18) May Help Reduce Symptoms of Allergies
Guanabana leaf extracts reduced symptoms of skin allergies in rabbits .
Despite their remarkable anti-cancer potential, guanabana’s acetogenins can be toxic to nerve cells and cross the blood-brain barrier .
Studies on populations in the West Indies suggest a potential relationship between high consumption rates of guanabana fruit and tea, and a higher incidence of movement disorders like atypical parkinsonism [117, 118, 119].
After 12 months, guanabana juice consumption in mice increased the production of reactive nitrogen species, molecules that can damage cells .
Dietary supplements, including guanabana and other Annonaceae plant species, increased cell death in human brain cells .
Guanabana juice and leaf extracts may intensify the effects of the venomous pit viper snake .
Limitations and Caveats
Most of the benefits of guanabana were only studied in animals and cells. While the findings are significant, these benefits may or may not apply to humans, and these extracts need to be further evaluated for effects, optimal dosage, long-term safety, and potential side effects.
Guanabana fruit is typically eaten raw and ripened and can be incorporated into drinks, smoothies, and desserts. The fruit may also be jarred as a puree or as a juice. Seeds should be avoided due to their toxic nature. Guanabana can also be roasted or fried like a vegetable.
Guanabana supplements are available through suppliers but have not been evaluated for potency, effectiveness, or toxicity in humans.
Recommended dosing of guanabana fruit, leaves, stems, or bark has not been established due to the lack of human trials.
Doses of up to 2 g/kg of guanabana juice per day for 60 days were not toxic to rats based on vital organ weight and blood parameters .
Several users found that guanabana supplements helped boost their immune system.
Another reviewer found the supplement improved skin boils, digestive health, and energy.
A woman going through menopause found guanabana supplements to be highly effective in regulating mood, stress, hormones, and blood pressure.
One user reported that guanabana tea and supplements caused severe headaches, tinnitus, and tremors.
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