According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the second leading cause of death around the world, claiming 9.6 million lives in 2018.1 The prevalence of this disease has led to a rise in remedies with supposed cancer-fighting capabilities, with soursop tea being a perfect example.
Soursop (Annona muricata) is a tree native to the tropical region of the Americas. It is known for its fruit, which has white flesh and a taste described as a blend between mango and pineapple. Due to its enjoyable flavor, it’s used as an ingredient for custards, ice cream and drinks. The plant’s leaves have also been touted as a potential alternative to cancer treatments, with soursop tea being one of its most popular derivatives. But is there any truth to these claims?2
Soursop tea is a beverage made by brewing the leaves of the soursop tree. The plant can also be identified as guanabana and Brazilian paw paw.3 In the Philippines, it is commonly referred to as guyabano.4
Soursop has gained popularity around the world due to its long historical use and reputation as a supposed cancer-fighting food. This hypothesis has piqued the interests of scientists aiming to discover if these claims are real or not.
Soursop leaves, the main ingredient in soursop tea, have been studied extensively by researchers around the world. Published scientific research shows the strong potential of these leaves, along with other interesting uses. Here are some possible benefits this plant might offer:
• Lowers your risk of cancer — Soursop’s apparent ability to fight cancer is a major factor in its popularity. The leaves contain acetogenins, which help fight cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.5,6 The following medical journals provide an overview of the plant’s potential in lowering the risk of various types of cancers in both human and animal studies.
◦ Colon Cancer
▪ Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2017) — Thirty patients with colorectal cancer who had undergone tumor surgery were given either a placebo or soursop leaf extract, and their serum was studied for cytotoxicity against colorectal cancer cell lines. Results showed that the soursop group had higher cytotoxicity in their cancer cells compared to the placebo group.7
▪ PLOS One (2015) — In this study, researchers noted soursop leaves have potential in reducing the risk of colon cancer, thanks to a constituent called annomuricin E.8
▪ Journal of Ethnopharmacology (2014) — Researchers discovered that soursop leaves induced apoptosis in colon cancer cells in an in vitro setting.9
◦ Breast Cancer
▪ Advances in Breast Cancer Research (2014) — A retrospective chart review found that a 66-year-old woman who started drinking soursop tea helped stabilize her breast cancer while undergoing chemotherapy.10
▪ Journal of Ethnopharmacology (2011) — Annonacin derived from soursop induced apoptosis in estrogen receptor-alpha-related pathways of breast cancer cells in mice subjects.11
▪ BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2016) — Extracts from soursop leaves may be a potential candidate for breast cancer treatment because they were discovered to induce cytotoxicity toward breast cancer cell lines.12
▪ Current Pharmaceutical Design (2016) — Leaf extracts of soursop exhibited cell inhibition activity in breast cancer cells by as much as 98% in a laboratory setting.13
◦ Prostate Cancer
▪ Carcinogenesis (2015) — Flavonoids and acetogenins found in soursop leaves provide a synergistic interaction that may inhibit tumor growth in prostate cancer cells.14
▪ Phytochemistry (1998) — Results from this study show that two constituents in soursop leaves show significant cytotoxic properties against prostate and pancreatic cancer cell lines.15
◦ Lung Cancer
▪ Journal of Natural Products (1995) — Acetogenins from soursop leaf extracts were found to be toxic against human lung tumor cell lines.16
• Boosts your antioxidant levels — Several studies indicate that antioxidants found in soursop leaves may help eliminate free radicals throughout your body.17,18 In one study published in 2007, soursop leaves had a maximum scavenging activity of 90.05%.19 In another, soursop leaves were shown to have cytoprotective properties against hydrogen peroxide-induced stress.20
• Fights pathogenic microbes — A study published in 2016 notes that soursop leaf extracts were effective in fighting off various bacterial strains such as Streptococcus, Porphyromonas and Prevotella, as well as the yeast Candida.21 In a separate study, soursop helped inhibit the growth of Herpes simplex virus-1.
• Helps manage inflammation — According to a study published in the Journal of Natural Remedies, soursop leaf extracts inhibited various inflammatory mediators.22 Two other studies show similar results.23,24
• Helps manage diabetes — In a 2008 study, researchers determined that soursop leaf extracts have protective effects on serum lipid profile and oxidative stress for diabetic rats.25 Two other studies note that the leaves helped lower blood glucose concentrations in hyperglycemic or diabetic rats.26,27
• Improves pancreatic health — A study published in the African Journal of Biomedical Research found that leaf aqueous extracts of soursop may enhance the production of antioxidants that can help promote pancreatic health.28
• Eliminates insects — If you’re growing your own produce, extracts of soursop leaves may protect your produce from insects and other pests. For example, in one 2006 study, the leaves were shown to be toxic against snails and brine shrimp.29
Annonacins of soursop have also been found to be effective against the Spodoptera littoralis (Egyptian cotton leafworm), Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Colorado potato beetle) and Myzus persicae (green peach aphid).30
• Boosts your liver health — A mouse study published in 2012 notes that soursop leaf extracts have bilirubin-lowering potential in jaundiced rats.31 Bilirubin is a yellow-orange substance produced by the liver as it breaks down red blood cells, which is excreted from the body. If it is not expelled, it can cause jaundice.32
• Helps manage your mental health — Soursop leaf extracts may help lower stress, as shown in a rat study published in the Journal of Natural Remedies. Researchers found that soursop can inhibit the production of neurotransmitter stressors in the central nervous system.33 A different study notes that soursop may help manage depression as well.34
• Improves wound healing — Topical application of soursop leaves may help accelerate wound healing, as noted in a rat study in the International Journal of Surgery (London, England).35
• Manages your blood pressure levels — Mice injected with soursop leaf extract had lowered blood pressure. Researchers observed that soursop has hypotensive effects by blocking Ca(2+), or calcium ions that resulted in lowered blood pressure without affecting heart rates.36
• Boosts your digestive health — Antioxidants in soursop leaves have been found to reduce gastric ulcers in rats, as well as preserve the gastric wall mucus.37
• Boosts your immune system — A study published in 2016 shows that soursop leaves may help boost your immune system by triggering mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling pathways.38
One of the most popular methods of benefiting from soursop is by brewing the leaves as tea. It’s a fairly simple process and requires few ingredients. Try this recipe from the Times Caribbean:39
Soursop Tea Recipe
- Boil the water in a pot, and place the leaves and stem in the pot.
- Turn the heat to low and continue to boil for 30 minutes or until the water evaporates by half the amount.
- Filter the tea and place in a teapot. You can drink up to 3 cups a day.
- You can add either mint, lime or honey to help improve the taste.
Note: The Times Caribbean recommends drinking soursop tea 30 minutes before eating.
While soursop tea may benefit your health in many ways, there are some caveats you should be aware of. You should avoid soursop if you are taking blood pressure and diabetic medications, as soursop may increase the effects of these drugs.40
In addition, soursop may cause movement disorders and myeloneuropathy, which may imitate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.41 Examples include limb tremors, rigid muscles, loss of automatic movements and speech changes.42
While soursop’s benefits sound promising, it’s not wise to rely on it as your sole method for lowering your risk of cancer. The majority of published soursop studies were conducted on animals in a laboratory setting, which necessitates more studies on humans to ascertain the true potential of this plant and its leaves for human use.
Don’t take this to mean that you should disregard soursop entirely; you can still add it to your healthy diet to help boost your antioxidant profile and support your overall well-being.
Q: What is soursop leaf tea good for?
A: Studies — a majority done with animals — show that soursop leaves may have potential in helping lower the risk of cancer, fighting bacteria, boosting your antioxidant profile and helping promote digestive health, among others.
Q: How do you take soursop tea?
A: According to the Times Caribbean, you should drink soursop tea 30 minutes before eating a meal.43
Q: Is soursop tea good for high blood pressure?
A: Soursop tea may help lower blood pressure in humans, as the same effects were found in rats administered with soursop leaf extracts.44 However, you should not take soursop if you are taking blood pressure medications, as the soursop may increase the effects of the medications.