Graviola, also called Brazilian pawpaw, soursop, and guanaba, in addition to numerous other names, refers to a particular tree or its fruit. The fruit is green and heart shaped, and about six to eight inches (15.24-20.32 cm) in diameter. The tree is found in South America and on numerous tropical islands and grows best in rainforest climates.
The pulp of the fruit is popular in juices, sherbets, and smoothies, and exhibits notes of tangy and sweet. It can also be peeled and eaten, though some find the taste alone too sour. As a fruit, graviola may not prove exceptional, but it certainly has an extended history of use in ancient and now modern herbal remedies.
In early times, the leaves of this tree were used for tea to reduce swelling of the mucus membranes (catarrh) or to treat liver disease. The black seeds were often crushed and used as a vermifuge. All parts of the tree might be ground and used as a sedative or as an anti-convulsant. The fruit was used to reduce joint pain, to treat heart conditions, as a sedative, to induce labor, or to reduce coughing or flu symptoms.
In modern times, graviola has proven interesting to medical researchers because it contains chemicals called annonaceous acetogenins. These chemicals have been shown to have cytotoxic properties; in other words, they tend to attack cancer cells. Also these compounds may be a helpful insecticide, and several prominent universities like Purdue have patented their studies and work with graviola components, since they may later prove so useful.
Though the Food and Drug Administration may ultimately patent graviola or approve it as a prescribed medication for cancer treatment, studies are still early, and reveal some possible alarming side effects. Many websites on the subject, especially those selling the product as a nutritional supplement, say it has no side effects, as compared to cancer drugs. Certainly it may not cause hair loss, but known side effects exist and should be weighed carefully.
First, graviola can be an emetic. A large dose may make some people throw up, which makes it not that much different than standard chemotherapy. Second, it has a known depressant effect on the cardiovascular system and should be avoided by people with heart conditions or people taking medications for blood pressure or cardiac problems. Third, it can stimulate uterine contractions and should never be taken by pregnant women.
Another side effect is potential interaction with antidepressants. Graviola may also have antimicrobial properties, which kill off beneficial bacterial on the skin, in the vagina and in the gut. Long-term use can lead to yeast and fungal infections. The chemicals present in the fruit have also been found present in people with atypical Parkinson’s disease, though no cause and effect relationship has been firmly established.
While graviola retailers may claim the fruit and plant parts are completely safe in therapeutic dosing, the Food and Drug Administration have not yet evaluated these statements, since this product is viewed as a nutritional supplement. While the plant components have all been used in native medicines, it remains questionable whether it is actually beneficial. At the very least, it should always be used under the supervision of a physician.