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Soursop: Weighing the Potential for Cancer Treatment

Personal narratives and initial scientific inquiries suggesting soursop's potential in combating cancer may warrant deeper research into its efficacy.

Sheramy Tsai, The Epoch Times, Nov 21, 2023

The tropical Annona muricata tree, commonly known as soursop or graviola, is hailed in various cultures for its medicinal uses. Yet, despite compelling personal narratives and initial scientific inquiries suggesting its potential in combating cancer, the plant's effectiveness remains a subject of ongoing research and scientific debate.

From Cancer Diagnosis to Recovery

In February 2021, Lynette Hill, a 52-year-old resident of Fresno, California, was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. The aggressive form of the disease had metastasized to various parts of her body, including her stomach, lungs, ovaries, and bones.

Undergoing chemotherapy, Ms. Hill experienced a significant weight loss of 111 pounds-at 5-foot-7, she was down to 125 pounds. She had endured multiple hospital stays. At a particularly challenging phase in her treatment, she started researching alternative therapeutic approaches.

During those explorations, Ms. Hill chanced upon various articles on the National Institutes of Health website about soursop that she remembers reading. Motivated by hope, she traded her chemotherapy sessions for daily cups of soursop leaf tea, supplemented by other dietary changes for a year.

In February, her scans came back clear. Although her doctors hesitate to credit the soursop, Ms. Hill is sure of its effects.

"I don't know what you are doing," she recalls being told, "but you have no cancer cells in your body."

Global Embrace of Soursop

The Annona muricata tree provides more than fruit-it's inspired a repository of traditions and treatments used from Africa to the Americas. Though known primarily for its fruit, the soursop tree's bark and roots have found their way into traditional remedies.

Dee Oye, a pharmacist with a background in naturopathic medicine and founder of Organic Pharmacist, attests to its significance.

"I'm originally from Africa, so utilizing herbs to treat illnesses and diseases isn't exactly strange to me," Ms. Oye told The Epoch Times. "It's well-known all over the Caribbean islands as well."

Globally, the fruit bears many names: custard apple, cherimoya, guanabana, and graviola, among others. Its versatility is evident in its usage-from being eaten raw to being an ingredient in supplements, teas, and confectioneries.

What's inside the soursop? Hundreds of natural substances, with annonaceous acetogenins taking center stage for their potential in cancer treatment. These compounds are being studied for their unique mechanism of action, which might target cancer cells while sparing healthy ones, offering a potential new avenue for cancer treatment. Soursop is also a reservoir of alkaloids, vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids.

Ms. Oye emphasizes the breadth of its benefits.

"Apart from its potential anti-cancer traits, soursop is recognized for its hypoglycemic and hypotensive properties." She also notes its calming effects, with many individuals using it to aid relaxation and sleep. "Unbeknownst to many, it's also beneficial for gut and digestive health."

While the scientists and health agencies of some countries harbor skepticism, individuals in Jamaica and Trinidad routinely use soursoup to treat a variety of illnesses, including cancer. In countries such as Nigeria, Peru, and Mexico, it's cited for its health potential as a complementary treatment to help alleviate cancer-related symptoms.

Ms. Oye points out: "The fruit, contrary to popular belief, surpasses the leaf in strength. In fact, soursop fruit powder is even more potent than the leaves."

Soursop's Anti-Cancer Claims: Lacking Scientific Backing?

The soursop tree, recognized for centuries by indigenous communities in Africa and South America, has been lauded for its potential cancer-fighting attributes. Yet, the global scientific community and major regulatory bodies remain cautious.

In 2008, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission took a definitive stance against claims made about the cancer-treating abilities of soursop, specifically targeting an extract marketed by Bioque Technologies for melanoma treatment. The commission issued a strong statement, firmly refuting the purported benefits of this product in combating melanoma, underscoring the lack of scientific evidence to support such claims.

Nearly a decade later, in 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) firmly opposed companies making unsubstantiated claims about the cancer-curing properties of soursop. The FDA's warning highlighted the importance of validating such health claims and hinted at potential legal consequences for companies that continue to promote soursop as a cancer treatment without scientific backing.

Health institutions, including the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cancer Research U.K., underline the need for comprehensive clinical trials to establish soursop's efficacy in cancer treatment. Cancer Research U.K. highlighted that many online marketers selling graviola lack endorsements from reputable scientific cancer organizations.

While established institutions remain cautious, some scientific studies hint at soursop's potential benefits.

A review published in Cancers looked at research that included hundreds of studies and stated that "the compounds of graviola have shown promise as possible cancer-fighting agents and could be used to treat cancer," and identifies compounds in soursop that might hinder cancer cell growth, induce cell death, and trigger cancer cell self-destruction across various cancers like pancreatic, lung, prostate, and breast.

Initial human trials offer glimmers of hope. One study documents colorectal cancer patients who experienced slowed cancer cell growth after ESFAM, a specific soursop leaf extract, without harm to healthy cells. Similarly, individual case reports detail significant tumor cell reductions after incorporating soursop into daily diets.

Although research suggests that the plant has a positive safety and tolerability profile, enthusiasm is tempered by concerns surrounding potential side effects linked to brain health.

The most common misconception is that soursop causes Parkinson's or Parkinson-like disease or neurological problems. This is untrue," Ms. Oye said.

"Studies show that this concern was noted in one tribe of people, and even in that instance, it was observed when they over-consumed the fruit. This would be equivalent to consuming a sizable soursop daily for a year."

With soursop's availability largely restricted to tropical regions and limited seasons, the probability of overconsumption is low. Nonetheless, the call from experts remains clear: More rigorous human studies are essential to validate soursop's benefits, ensure its safety, and decipher its implications for different cancer types.

From Laboratory to Personal Experiences

As researchers dissect the medicinal potential of soursop, personal narratives paint a compelling picture.

Ms. Hill said, "What's sad is that health care providers told me 'to keep doing what I'm doing,' but not one asked me what I was doing." She believes there's more to health than just prescribed medicine and encourages others to be their own health advocates.

In Knysna, South Africa, Valery Maureen Stander, 76, diagnosed with cervical cancer, turned to soursop due to other health complications preventing conventional treatments. Her son, now her caregiver, told The Epoch Times, "We've incorporated a mix of natural therapies, but soursop leaf powder is central to her regimen."

Obtaining and Using Soursop

Sourcing quality soursop is pivotal, Ms. Oye cautioned.

"Predominantly green leaves signify quality." She points to a saturated online market rife with subpar offerings. Such poor-quality products, she believes, can lead people to dismiss herbal remedies when they don't deliver expected results.

In today's digital realm, while information is abundant, discernment is vital. Ms. Oye calls attention to overblown claims, such as soursop leaves being "100,000 times better than chemo." While acknowledging soursop's potential benefits, she underscores the importance of separating fact from baseless exaggerations.

On consumption habits, Ms. Oye advises moderate, regular intake with periodic breaks. And while soursop leaf tea is popular among cancer patients, she highlights that other herbs, albeit less palatable, can be equally potent.

"Soursop does tend to produce results relatively quickly compared to other natural remedies," she noted.

Ultimately, while the allure of soursop is clear, it's essential to make informed decisions in tandem with health care professionals. As Lynette Hill reflects, "My journey is shared to empower others on their own."

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