Graviola is the Portuguese name for a fruit tree that grows throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico. Its Latin name is Annona muricata, and because of its wide distribution, it has dozens of others, graviola, soursop, and Brazilian paw-paw being among the most common. In recent years, graviola extract has become widely available as a supplement with claims to numerous benefits.
In the places where graviola grows, people use it both as a food and a medicine. The fruit, sweet but with a notable tartness, is a favorite dessert and popular also in the form of a juice. Before it is ripe, the fruit serves in some areas as a means of treating the effects of intestinal disorders such as dysentery. It is, however, the rest of the tree that is a part of most remedies. Indigenous peoples use the bark of the root as a febrifuge, or fever reducer, while they use the leaves in anti-parasitic and antiseptic preparations, as well as in topical applications to diminish muscular pain.
Graviola has been of interest to science since the middle of the 20th century. A number of lab tests have confirmed some of graviola’s purported benefits. A study published in 2001 suggested that graviola extract might curb the development of the herpes simplex virus, while another from 2000, demonstrates that it can be effective against certain parasites. Most impressive, perhaps, was the 1997 study performed at Purdue University that suggested graviola extract possesses a cytotoxic, or cell-killing, effect. The compounds that seem to be responsible for this ability are Annonaceous ancetogenins, byproducts of graviola’s cell metabolism. Because this study appeared to indicate that graviola extract is selective about the cells it kills, sparing healthy cells and going after damaged ones, it suggested great possibilities for graviola extract as a cancer treatment.
Yet this study was not performed on human subjects, but in vitro, literally “in glass:” results were obtained from test tubes. Animal and in vitro studies comprise most graviola extract research, and no large-scale human study has yet been conducted. The conclusions of the Purdue study are particularly problematic as support for the cancer-fighting effect of graviola extract because it examined not Annona muricata, but a similar plant named Annona glabra, which contains the same antigen.
While anecdote supports the benefits of graviola extract, and some studies suggest promising things, the United States Food and Drug Administration has not approved it for medical use. Yet, as an alternative cancer treatment, it has received much attention, and graviola extract is readily available in supplement form. Because these are herbal remedies and not regulated, however, there is no guarantee of their exact ingredients or potency. Further, animal studies have shown that compounds within graviola may cause brain cell damage, and that consuming a great deal of it may contribute to Parkinson’s Disease. Because graviola extract can induce contractions of the uterus, pregnant women should not take it. One of graviola’s applications is as a relaxant; this effect can be harmful to those with preexisting low blood pressure, and the extract is also contraindicated for people taking medication to treat high blood pressure. Graviola extract may also interfere with the serotonin-uptake function of antidepressants. Other significant side effects include possible vomiting and, because it kills good as well as bad microbes, yeast infections. Graviola extract is powerful stuff that holds a promise to do much good; its very potency makes it a supplement best taken under the guidance of a doctor.