If you've never heard of soursop, also called guanábana, you're not alone. I only discovered this whacky-looking fruit at a market in the Caribbean recently, but since you can buy this tropical wonder on Amazon, it's actually available everywhere.

Soursop has been shown to fight cancer cells in the lab (more on that below), as well as enhance a good night's sleep, reduce inflammation, and kill bad bacteria. Learn how this tropical "hidden gem" can help you overall your health and satisfy your taste buds.

What is Soursop?

Soursop grows on the Graviola tree, native to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, and tropical climates. Depending on where you are, the prickly green fruit is also commonly called guanabana and Brazilian paw paw.

"The miracle tree, as it is widely known," according to a study in the National Library of Medicine, has a reputation of being a "natural cancer killer that is 10,000 times stronger than chemotherapy," according to one study, but the FDA and the UK government both have banned such claims. Potential cancer claims aside, soursop has other health benefits that can positively affect the well-being of people of any age and lifestyle. "Based on these miraculous claims, the leaves of these plants were used as an extract at varying concentrations as an antibacterial agent against oral pathogens."

Where Can I Buy Soursop?

The fruit comes in different sizes but is typically large enough that you can chop it up and make it a meal, especially since the sweet flavors, like a cross between starch and pineapple, allows it to be used in lots of different ways. Inside the prickly dark green skin, the meat of the fruit has a thick consistency, not unlike jackfruit.

Soursop tastes similar to pineapple but isn't as tangy, and can be enjoyed cut in half, scooped out and eaten raw, added to smoothies, and teas, or used in baking as a natural sugar substitute. Soursop is also sold at your local health store or on Amazon in capsules that claim to deliver powerful antioxidant properties.

fruta guanabana o batido de guanabana
Getty Images

The Health Benefits of Soursop (Graviola)

1. Soursop is High in Antioxidants

This tropical fruit is full of antioxidants, or compounds that help neutralize free radicals which can damage cells and lower the risk of disease.

In one study, researchers looked at the antioxidant properties of soursop and discovered that the fruit was able to "effectively protect against damage caused by free radicals."

In another study, researchers measured the antioxidants in soursop extract and the results showed that the extract can help prevent damaged cells. Furthermore, soursop contains plant compounds that act as antioxidants like luteolin and quercetin

Researchers concluded that "the soursop extract can prevent damage caused by cellular oxidants."

2. Soursop Fights Bacteria

Soursop contains anti-bacterial properties that may help prevent disease. In a study, researchers note that soursop was able to kill multiple kinds of bacteria including gingivitis, tooth decay, and yeast infections.

In yet another study, "extracts of soursop showed an antibacterial effect against S. aureus [also known as food posining] and V. cholera," a bacteria found in contaminated water and food which can lead to dehydration and death by an infection in the intestines. Cholera is a prominent bacteria found in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Haiti.

3. Soursop and Sleep

Soursop leaves are used by people in the Caribbean as a natural remedy to get a better night's sleep. The leaves are made into teabags and sold at local health food stores or on Amazon. "The leaves are brewed to make a beverage that enhances sleep. The leaves can also be put into one’s pillowcase to enhance sleep," according to Dr. Christopher Winter, Medical Director and neurology specialist at Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center who reported on soursop's sleep effects.

4. Soursop Reduces Inflammation

Soursop is used to fight inflammation because it contains "more than 200 chemical compounds ... the most important being alkaloids, phenols, and acetogenins," which help to reduce inflammation, according to a study by the National Library of Medicine.

Alkaloids derived from plants are an excellent source of antioxidants and help to reduce inflammation. "These alkaloids have been reported to reduce the colonic inflammation and damage in a range of colitic models," according to a study. If you're looking for a new way to reduce inflammation, try eating soursop.

5. Soursop and Cancer

In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission in the United States stated that the use of soursop to treat cancer was "bogus", and there was "no credible scientific evidence" that extract of soursop "can prevent, cure, or treat cancer of any kind." Also in 2008, a UK court case relating to the sale of Triamazon, a soursop product, resulted in the criminal conviction of a man offering to treat people for cancer. A spokesman for the council that instigated the action stated, "it is as important now as it ever was that people are protected from those peddling unproven products with spurious claims as to their effects."

Then eight years later in a study, the Annona muricata leaves from the soursop tree were fed to mice with cancer in the lab. In that study, soursop extract worked to stop cancer growth, but further research is needed to understand the potential effects on humans. There have been a series of similar studies where the extract has been shown to slow or reduce the tumors in the lab testing prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancers. None of these have yet been done on humans and oncologists want cancer patients to know that herbal supplements are no replacement for traditional therapies.

According to Medical News Today: "The fruit contains many minerals, including calciummagnesium, and iron. It also provides 46.4 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C in one cup of pulp, which is over half the recommended daily amount for adults. For context, females need 75 mg of vitamin C per day, and males need 90 mg." The journal adds: "Soursop has cytotoxic effects in cancer. Cytotoxicity refers to the ability of a drug to kill cells. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also cytotoxic therapies."

From my experience, the first time I tried soursop was at the local fruit stand on a tiny island. The employer first told me that the fruit is known to help kill cancer cells (to be clear, we are not recommending it instead of medical therapies) and people on the island eat it to get rid of bad bacteria if they have any ill symptoms.

Bottom Line: Soursop Has Many Health Benefits.

For boosted immunity, reduced inflammation, and much more, add soursop to your diet to enjoy its many health benefits.

For more research-backed content, visit The Beet's Health & Nutrition articles

More From The Beet