Cancer-Fighting Potential: Sapodilla’s Key Compounds

  • Noor Balbol Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience, King's College, UK
  • Jialu Li Master of Science in Language Sciences (Neuroscience) UCL

Manilkara zapota, also known as Sapodilla, is an evergreen tree rich in phytonutrients. It is native to Central America and southern Mexico and was also cultivated in South Asia, specifically gaining popularity in India. Sapodilla has a high antioxidant profile, indicating it is considered a valid cancer prevention method.1 Antioxidant-rich foods neutralise free radicals in the body, which typically attack cellular DNA, triggering genetic mutations and alterations to the cells, which in turn cause the excessive cellular division we call cancerous tumours. We are constantly at risk of free radicals in our day-to-day lives, as free radicals emerge in the body as a consequence of external toxins due to our polluted atmosphere and damage from the sun. Thus, the phytochemicals in antioxidant plants intercept and suppress cancer development, and according to several studies, they are, therefore, valid preventative measures and can significantly reduce the risk of cancer.1 In addition to Sapodilla’s antioxidant properties, it is also being explored for cancer prevention and treatment for various other reasons, including its anti-inflammatory properties and nutrients that help inhibit various cancerous mechanisms. 

Overview of sapodilla

Sapodilla (Manilkara zapota) belongs to the Sapotaceae family, which encompasses a diverse range of crops such as chiku, kanist, and naseberry. This family of plants is known for its resilience and adaptability, allowing sapodilla to thrive in various weather conditions. Its ability to withstand both harsh and mild climates explains its wide geographical distribution, from Mexico and Central America to the Caribbean. Its versatility and resilience enable it to flourish in warm, humid climates with generous rainfall. The combination of its unique appearance, delightful taste, and impressive nutritional composition make sapodilla a true gift from nature. Embracing the potential of sapodilla in our diets may not only contribute to our overall health but also hold promise in the fight against cancer.

When it comes to the physical characteristics of the fruit, sapodilla is typically rounded or oval-shaped, measuring anywhere between one to four inches in diameter. Its outer skin is thin, brown, and has a grainy texture. Its interior is characterised by a distinct brown shade and up to five black seeds nestled within the fruit's core.

Key compounds in sapodilla 

Sapodilla additionally has a remarkable nutritional profile that contributes to a healthy diet. Rich in dietary fibre, sapodilla aids in digestion and promotes a healthy gut. It also has a high vitamin content, containing a significant amount of vitamin A and vitamin C. These vitamins play a crucial role in maintaining overall health and boosting the immune system. Furthermore, sapodilla is a genuine treasure trove of minerals. Sapodilla is a great source for:

  • Iron is an essential mineral for the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygenated blood to our organs, providing cells with the necessary oxygen for cellular energy production.
  • Potassium is known for its role in maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. 
  • Calcium is crucial for strong bones and teeth.
  • Phosphorus is an important mineral involved in energy production and bone health.

Sapodilla is truly a powerhouse of bioactive compounds that offer a myriad of health benefits. Among these compounds are polyphenols, antioxidants, dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals, which work together to promote overall well-being and potentially combat chronic diseases, including cancer. One of the standout components found in sapodilla is its concentration of polyphenols, particularly tannins. These tannins are known for their remarkable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. By harnessing their potential, sapodilla can help boost the body's immune system, fortifying it against harmful free radicals and reducing the risk of chronic illnesses, such as cancer. The antioxidants present in sapodilla go beyond tannins and encompass essential nutrients like vitamin C and carotenoids. These antioxidants play a crucial role in protecting our cells from oxidative stress, a process that can lead to DNA damage and, eventually, cancer development.

In addition to its antioxidant properties, sapodilla also offers a substantial amount of dietary fibre. This fibre is not only essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system but also plays a significant role in preventing colon cancer and other gut-related illnesses. By promoting regular bowel movements and ensuring the proper elimination of waste, sapodilla's dietary fibre acts as a natural defence against harmful toxins and potential carcinogens that can accumulate in the colon.

Furthermore, sapodilla is a rich source of essential vitamins and minerals that are vital for maintaining optimal body health. These nutrients not only support various bodily functions but can also provide suitable nutrition for cancer patients. By ensuring that the body receives the necessary vitamins and minerals, sapodilla can help strengthen the immune system, enhance overall well-being, and potentially aid in the recovery and treatment of cancer.

Scientific studies and research findings

Cancer is characterised by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the body. It initiates when free radicals arise in the body due to toxins and pollutants from the atmosphere or foods we eat, causing mutation in the genetic material of our cells. This consequently results in uncontrolled division of these mutated cells, which have a dysregulated cycle of cell growth and death. These cells eventually become a tumour that survives off the body’s nutrients and resources, which further perpetuates their growth and weakens the body and surrounding tissue. In later stages, these cancerous cells spread into other bodily tissues, organs and systems, infecting the bloodstream and the entire body, spreading this harmful mutation, and draining the body of nutrients and energy. Cancer is particularly difficult to combat since it can suppress the immune response and avoid detection and degradation, making these cells resistant to programmed cell death, allowing them to survive and proliferate despite their genetic abnormality.

Multiple studies have indicated that sapodilla compounds have various mechanisms that may help combat cancer. They exhibit potent antioxidant activity due to their nutraceutical composition, whereby phenolics, carotenoids and ascorbic acid within the sapodilla fruit were specifically found to be giving rise to its antioxidant properties. This, in turn, enables extracts from the fruit to effectively counteract cancer cell production and proliferation through a mechanism that eliminates cancerous free radicals.3 Similarly, the anti-inflammatory effects of sapodilla compounds can help reduce inflammation and thus mitigate cancer risks. 

Several scientific studies have investigated the medicinal potentials of sapodilla and its components. Recent studies have demonstrated that Sapodilla leaf and bark extracts may have significant anti-tumour effects. Researchers observed that sapodilla extract contains active agents that help to induce apoptosis, reduce growth, and inhibit the spread of various cancers, such as breast, cervical, prostate, and oral cancer cells.4,5,6 The efficacy of sapodilla in preventing and treating carcinogenesis is owed to three main mechanisms. Firstly, sapodilla leaf extract has been found to target cancerous cells exclusively, triggering cell death in the cancerous cells. A process called apoptosis degrades the DNA within cancerous cells. In addition, sapodilla extracts also inhibit the proliferation of cancerous cells due to their high content of antioxidants and polyphenols.7 Making it an effective option in cancer treatment and prevention.

Sapodilla's anti-cancer properties indicate various applications in cancer prevention and treatment. In particular, the fruit's bioactive compounds make it a potential dietary supplement or alternative medicine that could complement conventional cancer therapies. Adding sapodilla to a balanced and healthy diet could prevent the development of certain types of cancers. Further, sapodilla components could supplement cancer therapy by preventing resistance to treatment and providing patients with useful nutrients which strengthen the immune system and assist the body while the disease from the body. Nonetheless, much research needs to be conducted on the fruit and its compounds before they can be effectively utilised in cancer prevention and treatment.

Challenges and limitations

There are some limitations to utilising Sapodilla's anti-cancer properties, which include several factors like availability, accessibility, and affordability. Individuals who do not live in tropical regions may not have access to fresh sapodilla fruit. Additionally, more human studies on sapodilla are required to identify the appropriate dosage and ensure safety. Addressing these limitations will require comprehensive research and conducting clinical trials to assess human safety and dosage in the context of creating a product that can be utilised efficiently and safely in cancer prevention and treatment.

In conclusion, sapodilla's numerous bioactive compounds present a promising avenue in cancer prevention and treatment. Studies have demonstrated the anti-tumour properties of sapodilla and its potential as a supplementary therapy in treating cancer. Also, the fruit's compounds could prevent certain types of cancer and have beneficial effects on one's general health. However, since research on sapodilla is still limited, it is crucial to continue researching to validate its effectiveness and safety in cancer prevention and treatment. However, thus far, research has concluded that sapodilla's nutritional compounds show promising data that suggests that it may prove to be an effective cancer treatment in the coming years.


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  4. Srivastava M, Hegde M, Chiruvella KK, Koroth J, Bhattacharya S, Choudhary B, et al. Sapodilla Plum (Achras sapota) Induces Apoptosis in Cancer Cell Lines and Inhibits Tumor Progression in Mice. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2014 Aug 21 [cited 2023 Dec 18];4. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4139949/
  5. Tan BL, Norhaizan ME. Manilkara zapota (L.) P. Royen leaf water extract triggered apoptosis and activated a caspase-dependent pathway in the HT-29 human colorectal cancer cell line. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2019 Feb 1;110:748–57. 
  6. Tan BL, Norhaizan ME, Chan LC. ROS-Mediated Mitochondrial Pathway is Required for Manilkara Zapota (L.) P. Royen Leaf Methanol Extract Inducing Apoptosis in the Modulation of Caspase Activation and EGFR/NF-κB Activities of HeLa Human Cervical Cancer Cells. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Dec 19];2018. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6011101/
  7. Chunhakant S, Chaicharoenpong C. Antityrosinase, Antioxidant, and Cytotoxic Activities of Phytochemical Constituents from Manilkara zapota L. Bark. Molecules 2019, Vol 24, Page 2798 [Internet]. 2019 Jul 31 [cited 2023 Dec 19];24(15):2798. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Noor Balbol

Masters in Cognitive Neuroscience, King's College, UK
BS Applied Medical Science, UCL, UK

Noor is a recent Masters graduate with a keen interest in neurology and how it influences all aspects of health. Noor is also experienced in the education sector and passionate about medical writing, medical communication and strongly advocates for health literacy. Noor is committed to making scientific knowledge accessible to the public and aspires to empower the general public with tools necessary to understand and optimise their health. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
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