Soursop is a type of fruit said to smell like pineapple and taste like a cross between strawberries, apple, banana, and bitter lemon. The fruit is consumed throughout Latin America, as well as parts of Asia, but the leaves have spread a little further afield thanks to the popularity of soursop tea and the health benefits said to derive from it.
The question is, are the leaves of the soursop plant really as beneficial as many people claim? Can they really help prevent (and even treat) cancer and other chronic diseases?
Benefits of Soursop Tea
A lot of positive claims are made about herbal teas. Some of these, like Greek mountain tea, are supported by a wealth of scientific research. Others, such as moringa, seem to derive their benefits purely from their antioxidant content. Most of them are beneficial in some way and the vast majority of them are safe and very well tolerated, but the same can’t be said for soursop tea.
This tea has some very exciting research behind it, but it has also been connected to some pretty horrible side effects.
To avoid confusion, it’s worth noting that soursop is also known as graviola and may also be referred to as everything from custard apple to Brazilian paw paw, although in the case of the latter two, they are used to refer to the fruit and not to the leaf or the tea it produces.
1. Soursop Tea and Cancer
Much of the positivity surrounding this tea concerns its apparent anti-cancer effects, but while these are promising and will no doubt lead to some interesting research, they are far from conclusive.
In lab tests, soursop was incredibly effective at killing breast cancer cells and was also able to regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation caused by cancer cells. (1) It was also able to kill liver cancer cells in lab tests and has even shown to be effective at killing cells that are resistant to chemotherapy.
However, as promising as all of that is, there have been no human trials and no one has been able to confirm that soursop can have the same impact on cancer cells in the human body.
Soursop is currently being used as an alternative therapy in the treatment of cancer purely because of these laboratory tests. But it’s a huge step for something to go from being able to kill some cancer cells in the lab to being able to kill all cancer cells in the body.
What’s more, soursop is not alone in being able to kill cancer cells in a controlled environment. Turmeric has similar properties, and a lot of positive anti-cancer research also surrounds dandelion. A 2007 study in the United Kingdom found that even capsaicin (found in hot peppers) could kill cancer cells in laboratory tests while common herbs like sage and oregano have also been highlighted for their supposed anti-cancer benefits.
Soursop is promising and might prove to be crucial—we’re not denying that. But it’s important to take these results with a grain of salt as they could mean nothing in the long run.
Soursop is an effective antimicrobial and has shown many positive results in scientific studies. Water extracts have been used to kill a host of bacteria and fungi, including candida. (2) One study reported on its use as a dental disinfectant and concluded that it was effective at cleaning the gums following a root canal. (3)
Soursop may even be an effective at treating herpes and could also be used to kill head lice and other parasites. Unlike the cancer research mentioned above, there is very solid evidence to support these benefits.
It’s a similar story with mastic, another potent antibacterial we recently covered in this blog.
3. Skin and Hair Health
Some claim that soursop can be an effective treatment for a number of skin and hair conditions and that it can help restore vitality to both. Based on what we know about its ability to fight skin and oral infections, it would be safe to assume that there is some truth to this, but advocates suggest using the soursop fruit and not the leaves for this purpose.
The fruit is a good source of antioxidants and is also probably a lot safer than the leaves. Although the taste may take some getting used to.
Soursop tea is used as a relaxant and anti-depressant, and while there is minimal scientific evidence to suggest it is effective, many users swear by it, as well as claims that it has been used for this purpose for a number of years.
However, there are concerns that it may interfere with anti-depressants, so it’s not recommended for anyone taking these medications.
Side Effects of Soursop, a.k.a. Graviola
Soursop tea is sometimes used in large doses to induce vomiting, and it may cause nausea in smaller doses. It should also be avoided by pregnant women, as it may trigger uterine contractions, which can lead to miscarriage.
Caution is advised with anyone taking medication and anyone with liver or kidney disease, as repeated use can cause kidney damage, liver damage, and blood problems. It has also been linked with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
These are not the sort of side effects you would expect to find in a herbal tea, and it’s why we wouldn’t recommend consuming it. That’s not to say that it’s in any way deadly or poisonous, but there are some very serious concerns regarding moderate consumption, and when these are paired with the uncertainty surrounding its health benefits, we believe that it’s best to leave soursop tea alone.
Should You Drink Soursop Tea?
A number of herbal teas out there may help prevent cardiovascular problems and neurological problems, among other things. These teas, including dandelion leaf and root, sideritis scardica, and even white tea, taste great, provide many research-backed benefits, and are safe to consume.
Soursop tea, on the other hand, has a number of very concerning side effects, and while the benefits are promising, it’s too early to say anything with any degree of certainty. We would give this one a wide berth while keeping a close eye on the research to see how it develops.
There might be some benefit to using extracts of this substance to treat certain skin and oral conditions (providing they are applied topically), and there may also be some benefit to eating the fruit, but in both cases there are more easily accessible and equally effective alternatives.