Soursop or prickly custard apple – an adjunct to chemotherapy from tropics

Prickly fruit contains actogenins that scientists say demonstrates selective toxicity to tumour cells.

Written by Ishi Khosla | Updated: July 6, 2015 1:21:33 pm
Soursops-759 Prickly fruit contains actogenins that scientists say demonstrates selective toxicity to tumour cells.

Soursops or prickly custard apple have dark green skin, are pear-shaped and have a white juicy flesh with tangy flavour. Also called Graviola at local markets, the tree bearing the fruit is prized in the tropics for its medicinal properties.

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All parts of the Soursop tree are used in natural medicine in the tropics. The fruit and its juice are taken to expel parasites and to increase mother’s milk after child birth while the leaves are known to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Soursop tea is used in traditional medicine to heal wounds, for soothing knee pain and for reducing mucous in colds and in sinuses.

The roots are known for their sedative effects. In the United States and Europe, sour sop is increasingly sold as a popular adjunct to chemotherapy for cancer patients. This use has stemmed from scientific studies and published research on its naturally occurring compounds and anticancer action, rather than folk medicine.

Scientists who have been studying its properties since 1940’s have found a compound called acetogenins in the leaf stem, bark and seeds. They demonstrate selective toxicity to tumour cells at very low dosages, without harming healthy cells.

So encouraging were the results that in 1997, Purdue University published news that several acitogenins are not only effective in killing tumours that have proven resistant to anticancer agents, but also have special affinity for cells which are resistant to conventional therapy. Studies on Soursop shows benefits in 12 types of cancers including pancreatic cancer.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), Soursop is 10,000 times stronger in slowing growth of cancer cells compared to chemotherapy without the side effects of the latter. The association, however, makes it clear that the fruit is not a substitute for medical advice.

Cancer patients and health care practioners are adding the natural leaf and stem of Soursop as a complimentary therapy to the cancer treatments. After all Soursop has been a long history of safe use as a herbal remedy for many other conditions.

There is, however, a word of caution. A study published in 2006 in the journal of neural transmission showed that it contains compound that may also damage the neurons ( brain cells) that control movements. The study linked their discovery to the high occurrence of Parkinson’s-like disease in the Carribean Islands where the fruit is commonly consumed. Other contra indications and precautions include its interaction with other drugs in pregnancy, in low blood pressure and its effect on gut flora.

So Soursop certainly exhibits anti-cancer activity but consult a medical professional before you add it to your daily diet.

Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of and Whole Foods India

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