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Does Guanabana (Fruit, Soursop) Have Health Benefits?

Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Guanabana

Guanabana (Annona muricata) is a fruit tree and member of the custard apple family (Annonaceae). The guanabana leaf has been studied for its anti-cancer properties in the lab, but human studies are lacking. People traditionally used all parts of the tree for pain, inflammation, malaria, diabetes, and parasites. Read on to learn if any of guanabana’s purported benefits have scientific ground and why taking this plant can be a dangerous idea.

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 for conditions such as fever and malaria. Evidence is lacking to back up them up [1].

More than 200 phytochemicals in guanabana have been identified and studied in cells or animals, but human data are lacking [1].

Guanabana supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Components

Guanabana has the following nutrients [3, 2, 4]:

The guanabana seed and leaf contain large amounts of vitamins C and E, responsible in part for its antioxidant effects [5].

The most notable compounds in guanabana are considered to be alkaloids, phenols, and acetogenins [1].

The primary active phytochemicals in the leaf, seed, stem, and pulp of the guanabana are acetogenins. Scientists are researching these chemicals in cells and animals [6, 7, 8, 9, 10].

Mechanism of Action

This section covers hypotheses about the possible mechanism of action of compounds in guanabana. These mechanisms remain unproven as human data are lacking.

In cells and mice, guanabana pulp and skin extracts reduced inflammation by decreasing mediators of inflammation (COX, nitric oxide, TNF-α, and IL-1β) [11, 12].

Guanabana leaf extracts reduced blood sugar levels and increased insulin in rats, which researchers explained by increased antioxidant levels in the liver, reduced fat oxidation, and protection of pancreatic β-cells [13, 14, 15].

Scientists posit that the extracts of guanabana leaves might exert their antioxidant activity by scavenging free radicals. In theory, reducing free radicals helps prevent damage to cells, proteins, and DNA [16, 17].

The effects of guanabana extracts are being investigated in cells. Possible pathways under investigation include:

  • A mitochondrial-mediated pathway with NF-kB and Bcl-Xl [18, 19]
  • The cell’s membrane mitochondrial potential [20, 21]
  • Reactive oxygen species [20, 22]

Remember, however, that many substances have anti-cancer effects in cells, including downright toxic chemicals like bleach. This doesn’t mean that they have any medical value. On the contrary, most substances (natural or synthetic) that are researched in cancer cells fail to pass further animal studies or clinical trials due to a lack of safety or efficacy.

Purported Health Benefits of Guanabana

Insufficient Evidence for:

No clinical evidence supports the use of guanabana for any of the conditions listed in this section.

Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

1) Antioxidant Effects

Antioxidants derived from plants are claimed to have protective effects against free radicals.

However, evidence is lacking to support this alleged benefit. Researchers are investigating antioxidants in guanabana leaves, fruit, and peel against oxidative damage in cells. According to one unproven hypothesis, these compounds might scavenge free radicals and reduce reactive oxygen species [16, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27].

Guanabana flower extracts are being researched as a food oil preservative to prevent spoiling [28].

Antioxidant activity in guanabana is likely correlated with polyphenol, carotenoid, tannin, and anthocyanin content [27, 29].

2) Infections

Scientists are investigating the effects of guanabana peel, leaf, and seed extracts against various microorganisms including parasites, viruses, gram-positive, and gram-negative bacterial strains.

Guanabana is being researched against the following types of infections in cells or animals:

  • Parasites (leishmaniasis, Plasmodium falciparum – the parasite that causes malaria in humans and Haemonchus contortus – a gut parasite in sheep) [30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36]
  • Bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus albus, Vibrio cholerae, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Bacillus subtilis, Proteus vulgaris, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterobacter aerogenes, and Providencia stuartii bacteria) [37, 10, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42]
  • Viruses (herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 ) [43, 44]
  • Fungus (Candida albicans) [45]

We can’t draw any conclusions from these studies. Human data are lacking.

3) Mosquito-Transmitted Diseases

Evidence is lacking to support the use of guanabana for mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Guanabana leaf extracts reduced antimalarial activity and prolonged survival time in mice [46, 47].

Extracts from guanabana leaf and seed were toxic to larvae of 3 species of mosquitoes that are common carriers of tropical diseases like malaria and dengue fever [48, 49, 50, 51].

Scientists hypothesize that isolated acetogenins from guanabana might be toxic to mosquito larvae by inhibiting mitochondrial electron transport, which halts energy production in the cells of the larvae [52].

However, the antimalarial effects of guanabana in humans are completely unknown.

3) Inflammation

Evidence is lacking to support the use of guanabana for inflammation in humans.

The pulp and skin of the guanabana reduced inflammation in mice by reducing chemical mediators of inflammation (COX and nitric oxide) [53].

Researchers are looking into the effects of guanabana leaf extracts and tea on inflammation in mouse cells [11, 54, 55].

4) Diabetes

No human evidence supports the use of guanabana for diabetes.

In diabetic rats, guanabana leaf extracts decreased blood glucose and/or increased insulin. The authors suspect these effects may have occurred by increasing antioxidant levels in the liver, reducing fat oxidation and protecting pancreatic β-cells [13, 14, 15, 56, 57].

Other research teams are investigating whether phenols in guanabana extracts (fruit, skin, and leaf) and guanabana tea can suppress enzymes relevant to type 2 diabetes (αamylase and α-glucosidase) [58, 59, 60].

5) Repelling Insects

Evidence is lacking to support the use of guanabana as an insect repellant in humans.

Extract of the guanabana leaves killed snail adults and egg masses, meaning it might have some pesticide-like properties [61, 62, 63].

Acetogenins from guanabana were toxic to agricultural pests including the potato beetle, green peach aphid, and African cotton leafworm [64].

6) Liver Health

It’s unknown how guanabana affects liver health in humans as clinical data are lacking.

Guanabana leaf extracts reduced liver bilirubin and liver damage in rats [65, 66].

Stem bark from guanabana was protective for the liver and increased bile flow in male rats with liver damage [67, 68].

7) Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

Evidence is lacking to support the use of guanabana for anxiety, depression, or high stress levels in humans.

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 [69, 70].

Pretreatment with guanabana stem bark extracts protected rats against cold-induced stress as measured by changes in brain neurotransmitters [69].

Guanabana leaf extracts had sedative and antidepressant-like effects in rats by decreasing anxiety-related behavior such as environment exploration and increased mobility, respectively [71].

No human trials have investigated the effects of guanabana on mental health in humans.

Additional Research/Lacking Evidence

8) Cancer Research

Guanabana has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer.

It showed some anti-cancer effects in lab studies, but human data are lacking.

Scientists are researching acetogenins in the guanabana in cancer cells. These phytochemicals are produced in the guanabana fruit, leaves, stems, bark, and seeds [72, 9].

Other phytochemicals in guanabana extracts are also under investigation [20].

However, many substances have anti-cancer effects in cells, including downright toxic chemicals like bleach. Phytochemicals from guanabana damaged nerve cells in dishes and animals. According to some animal studies, long-term use may increase the risk of neurological diseases.

Overall, guanabana is being researched on the following types of cancer cells in dishes and/or experimental animals:

9) Healing Wounds & Heart Health

It’s unknown how guanabana affects wound healing and heart health in humans as clinical data are lacking.

Extracts of the stem and bark of guanabana increased wound healing in rats [104].

Topical application of guanabana leaf extracts to rat wounds increased wound healing, antioxidant activity, and heat shock proteins (HSP 70), suggesting an anti-inflammatory effect [105].

Leaf extracts from guanabana reduced blood pressure in rats by blocking calcium channels [106].

Guanabana fruit extracts reduced a key enzyme (angiotensin-I converting enzyme) involved in increasing blood pressure [58].

10) Stomach Ulcers

Ulcer lesions were reduced in rats pre-treated with guanabana leaf extracts. Scientists suspect the extract’s antioxidant content reduced oxidative damage and protected the stomach wall, though this remains to be determined in clinical trials [107, 108].

11) Immune Function & Pain

Scientists are investigating the effects of guanabana leaf extracts on immune activity in macrophage cells and its involvement in the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway. They are also researching the extracts in human liver and red blood cells exposed to arsenic [109, 110].

The effects of this fruit on pain in humans is unknown. Guanabana fruit extract reduced chemical and thermal pain in mice, likely by interacting with the opioid pathway [53].

12) Other

The effects of guanabana on fertility and allergies in humans are completely unknown.

Doses of 80, 400, and 2,000 mg/kg of guanabana juice per day for 60 days in rats increased sperm count and movement [111].

Guanabana leaf extracts reduced symptoms of skin allergies in rabbits [112].

Guanabana Side Effects & Dangers

Guanabana’s acetogenins can be toxic to nerve cells and cross the blood-brain barrier [113].

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 [114, 115, 116].

After 12 months, guanabana juice consumption in mice increased the production of reactive nitrogen species, molecules that can damage cells [117].

Dietary supplements, including guanabana and other Annonaceae plant species, increased cell death in human brain cells [118].

Guanabana juice and leaf extracts may intensify the effects of the venomous pit viper snake [119].

Supplementation

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 tea made from the leaves is readily available from suppliers but caution is advised due to potential neurotoxicity [114, 115, 116].

Guanabana supplements are available through suppliers but have not been evaluated for potency, effectiveness, or toxicity in humans.

Dosage

Recommended dosing of guanabana fruit, leaves, stems, or bark has not been established due to the lack of human trials.

User Experiences

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.

The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of the users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.

About the Author

Ana Aleksic

Ana Aleksic

MSc (Pharmacy)
Ana received her MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade.
Ana has many years of experience in clinical research and health advising. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana spent years working with patients who suffer from various mental health issues and chronic health problems. She is a strong advocate of integrating scientific knowledge and holistic medicine.

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