On this blog, we've talked about a lot of different traditional herbal remedies and weight loss supplements, but one we haven't mentioned yet is Soursop. It's time to change that!
Soursop, unlike many other herbal remedies, does not come from the Indian subcontinent or from China. Instead, it's a fruit tree found in the tropical areas of the Americas, including the Caribbean.
What Is Soursop?
Soursop goes by a handful of different names. It's also known as Guyabano, Graviola, and Guanabana. Soursop itself is specifically the fruit of the tree, scientifically named Annona muricata.
The soursop plant is used in two ways. The fruit is a culinary treat. It smells similar to pineapple, and the fruit itself has a squishy texture sort of like a ripe banana with a creaminess to it. The flavor is somewhere between sour citrus, apple, and strawberry, and it's quite unique. In tropical areas of the Americas, you can find soursop as a flavor for beverages, smoothies, sorbets, candies, and ice cream, among other things.
The other way it's used is the leaves, which are harvested, dried, and ground up to package in capsules or as a matcha-like tea. "Soursop Matcha" is a tea preparation that does not, in fact, involve Matcha (or the Tea plant at all), but nevertheless uses the term to market itself.
Soursop has a lot of potential benefits, though as with every herbal remedy, it's not actually good for everything people claim it is. Let's talk about its benefits, though, shall we?
Pretty much every fruit and every herbal remedy you encounter these days have one benefit in common, and that's antioxidants. It's almost a joke at this point that everything has antioxidants in it, from chocolate bars to blueberries to tea. Soursop is no exception.
The role antioxidants play in overall health is still not really understood. Oxidative stress is the keyword many people cite, and indeed, it's a real effect that can lead to or exacerbate many diseases. It alone isn't terribly dangerous, but then neither is the beneficial power of antioxidants. They're good for you, but they're not a miracle cure.
There's no research yet to show which specific antioxidants in soursop may have an effect on the human body. That's part of the problem; there are a lot of different compounds that work as antioxidants, and your body doesn't actually use all of them, and many of them have different levels of effect. It's impossible to say how potent the antioxidants in soursop are until it has been studied more.
Potential Cancer Inhibition
Soursop will not cure cancer. Soursop will not prevent cancer. No herbal remedy is going to work as a miracle cure for cancer, for a few reasons. One is simply that there are hundreds of different kinds of cancer, and they all react differently to different chemical compounds.
That said, soursop may have some anti-cancer properties. Concentrated extracts of soursop were shown in some test-tube studies to reduce tumor size and kill some cancer cells.
The are several caveats there if you're sharp-eyed. First, it relies on concentrated soursop extracts. Simply eating the fruit or drinking the tea is not enough to provide these effects. Second, it's a test-tube study. Test-tube studies are not representative of how something like cancer will react inside a living creature, including a human. They're isolated. A test-tube study can give you a preliminary yes/no answer of whether a particular chemical is worth studying, but it's not definitive proof by any means.
Third, of course, is that it can reduce tumor size, not kill tumors entirely. While soursop might work as a supplement that could help reduce some kinds of tumors, it's not going to prevent them from forming or growing entirely, and it's not going to work better than modern immunotherapy, chemotherapy, or other treatments.
If it sounds like we're being harsh on Soursop here, you just need to remember one thing. Cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadly ailments suffered by humanity. Billions of dollars and millions of hours are sunk into research on how to treat it annually. Whenever a chemical in a plant is found to have anti-cancer properties, scientists isolate and extract that compound, and develop it into a more potent (more bioactive) form. That's how medications are made. A pill derived from a phytochemical in soursop might have great anti-cancer benefits, but you're not going to get those benefits from drinking some tea. At best, it will be supplemental.
Now for something that is much more readily available, easier to test and confirm, and more effective on humans: antibacterial effects. Soursop extracts have been shown to kill bacteria, including the bacteria that live in your mouth and cause tooth decay and gum disease. This could make a soursop tea or extract effective as a supplement to (not a replacement for) regular oral care, to help reduce cavities and gingivitis.
The trouble here is similar to the trouble above; the tests that showed these effects were using a concentrated extract of soursop, not just the fruit or the tea. It's possible that eating the fruit or the tea made from soursop leaves could have those kinds of health benefits, but such practical tests haven't been performed.
We can tell you one thing, though; if you're eating soursop candy or ice cream and expecting health benefits out of it, you're likely going to be disappointed. It's not going to replace brushing and flossing, but it's possible an extract of soursop could be produced into toothpaste or mouthwash that would be effective.
Blood Sugar Stabilization
One of the most well-researched benefits of soursop is that it helps lower blood sugar. Diabetic rats who are given a soursop extract were shown to have significantly lower blood glucose levels, by up to a magnitude of 5. Other studies showed similar reductions.
The one flaw in these studies is, again, the high concentrations of soursop needed to produce these results. Soursop on its own may be able to help lower and stabilize blood sugar, but it's not going to be a cure-all for diabetes.
In practical applications, soursop tea might be a good supplement to diabetic medication, a healthy diet, and an active lifestyle. Reducing sugary junk foods, increasing daily activity levels, losing weight, and taking medication as prescribed by your doctor can all help with diabetes.
The goal is to reach a weight point and activity level, with a health diet, where you no longer need medications. Soursop can help with this by helping to control blood sugar more naturally as part of your diet. Whether or not this is convenient or effective enough for you depends on a lot of unique biological factors that are personal to you. It's not going to be harmful as long as you're careful.
Now let's talk about the main event; weight loss. There are a few different ways that soursop might be able to help you lose weight.
As a tea, soursop helps you drink more water, and it has some vitamins and nutrients that can help you feel more satiated than mere water alone. As a fruit, soursop has vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your health, and it's relatively low in calories and high in fiber.
Fiber, of course, helps you fill up and feel full for longer, which makes you eat less, which helps you maintain a caloric deficit require to lose weight. Eating less is one of the best things you can do when you want to lose weight, so that's a very tangible benefit that doesn't rely on some over-the-top huge concentration of soursop extract to achieve.
Soursop also includes a handful of dietary acids, including linoleic acid and other acids. These help stimulate your metabolism and encourage your body to burn fat for energy. You may recognize linoleic acid as a common ingredient in weight loss supplements.
As an herbal remedy, soursop is pretty healthy. It doesn't have very many calories as a fruit, and the tea basically has none, unless you add sugar or a sweetener to it. There's basically no downside to it, other than the warnings we'll mention later.
Soursop as a tea or capsule is also caffeine-free. This may mean it's not as effective as a caffeine-based weight loss supplement, but it is less harsh on the system than taking caffeine supplements. Caffeine can help with weight loss, but it can also lead to jitters and negative health effects if you take too much.
As long as you're able to carefully monitor your health, and you're willing to put in the work to exercise and maintain a healthy diet, there's no reason that a soursop extract wouldn't help you lose weight. It's certainly worth a try, as long as you have the budget to add a supplement to your routine.
As with many herbal remedies, there's always going to be a warning attached. In the case of soursop, there are two remedies specifically that are worth mentioning.
The first is related to how soursop has blood sugar reducing effects. That alone is fine, but it's something you need to know when you're taking other blood sugar-regulating medications. Low blood sugar is just as bad as high blood sugar, so if you're taking medication to bring your blood sugar into normal levels and then start taking soursop, you could push yourself into dangerously low levels.
If you want to try soursop as a supplement to medications for diabetes, that's fine. You just need to let your doctor know and make sure you monitor your blood sugar carefully, to make sure you're not overdoing it and pushing yourself into dangerous territory.
The other potential warning is that in some mouse studies, soursop extract induced what is called "atypical Parkinson syndrome." This is a symptom of neurotoxicity. Essentially, concentrated soursop might have some chemical in it that attacks the myelin sheath in the brain, which leads to dysfunction in neurons, which can cause tremors and other neurological symptoms.
If you're taking capsules of soursop powder or drinking some tea, chances are you're not going to be at risk of this. This is, again, observed in mouse trials with high levels of the extract. To get a comparable dose, you'd have to be drinking soursop tea 24/7, and that's not likely.
A third warning is about the anti-cancer properties of soursop, namely, that there probably aren't any at the kinds of doses you get just drinking tea. Frankly, it's not something truly worth worrying about, but there's always that one person who decides that megadoses of an herbal remedy are a good idea, and they'll never be a good idea, don't do it. Let scientists extract the active ingredients and turn them into safe, tested concentrates first.
While there's one major potential downside to soursop, which is potentially inducing hypoglycemia in yourself if you take too much of it in conjunction with diabetes medications, otherwise it's a beneficial and healthy herbal remedy. The benefits may be a bit overblown, but that's true of every herbal remedy and supplement out there. People have a habit of taking a single study and extrapolating it into some major health breakthrough when the reality is a lot harder and a lot more boring.
Is guanabana going to cure all that ails you? No. Is it going to help you lose hundreds of pounds? Maybe, but a lot of that effort will come from you, not from the tea. Is it something worth trying, to see if it has a beneficial effect on your body? Sure, why not? Everyone is different; it might work well for you when it doesn't work for other people. There's no harm in trying.