Cherimoya, also known as custard apple, is a sweet, tropical fruit grown in South America. The flesh of the cherimoya is creamy white with large, black seeds throughout. Cherimoya is known for its sweet, custard-like flavor and is often used in ice cream, yogurt, and other desserts.
While cherimoya is a nutritious fruit full of vitamins and minerals, some people may experience side effects after eating it. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the potential side effects of eating cherimoya.
Common Side Effects
Some of the most commonly reported side effects of eating cherimoya include:
- Itchiness or irritation in the mouth or throat
- Tongue numbness
- Skin rash
- Upset stomach or diarrhea
These side effects are often mild and resolve quickly on their own. Let’s explore some of these side effects in more detail.
Itchiness or Irritation in Mouth/Throat
Some people report experiencing an itchy or irritated feeling in their mouth or throat after eating cherimoya. This is likely caused by a sensitivity or mild allergic reaction to a compound in the fruit.
The itchiness is usually localized to the mouth and throat area and goes away within a few minutes to an hour after eating the fruit. Drinking water or other liquids can help dilute the irritating compounds and provide relief.
Another odd side effect of cherimoya is temporary tongue numbness or tingling. This is caused by the presence of annonacin, a neurotoxin, in the seeds and flesh of the fruit.
While the level of annonacin is generally too low to cause real harm, it can temporarily deactivate sodium channels in the tongue, leading to numbness. This sensation usually resolves within 1-2 hours.
Some individuals may develop a red, itchy rash after consuming cherimoya. This is an allergic reaction caused by the body’s immune system overreacting to compounds in the fruit.
The rash is usually mild and goes away on its own. However, if the rash spreads, worsens, or is accompanied by swelling, it’s best to seek medical attention. Antihistamines can help manage allergic skin reactions.
Upset Stomach or Diarrhea
While rare, some people report getting an upset stomach, abdominal pain, or diarrhea after eating cherimoya. This is likely due to the high fiber content of the fruit.
If you’re not used to consuming a lot of fiber, the increased fiber intake from cherimoya can lead to digestive issues in some individuals. Start with a small portion of cherimoya and increase slowly to allow your body to adjust.
Headaches have occasionally been reported after consuming cherimoya. While the exact mechanism is unknown, this may be linked to compounds in the fruit that dilate blood vessels, resulting in a headache in sensitive individuals.
Cherimoya headaches are usually mild and resolve on their own. Drinking water and taking an over-the-counter pain medication can help manage discomfort.
In rare instances, people report feeling lightheaded or dizzy after eating cherimoya. This may be connected to the fruit’s ability to lower blood pressure in some individuals.
The drop in blood pressure leads to insufficient blood flow to the brain, triggering temporary dizziness. Lying down and consuming electrolyte-rich fluids can help stabilize blood pressure and relieve dizziness.
What Causes These Side Effects?
Cherimoya contains a number of compounds that may elicit side effects in some people, including:
- Annonacin – A neurotoxin found in the seeds that can cause nerve damage at high levels
- Allergens – Compounds that trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals
- Tannins – Plant polyphenols that can cause mouth irritation
- Fiber – Indigestible carbohydrates that may cause GI issues
- Potassium – A mineral that may lower blood pressure
The concentration and combinations of these substances vary between individual cherimoyas based on ripeness, storage conditions, and plant genetics.
Annonacin is likely responsible for many of the neurological side effects reported with cherimoya, including tongue numbness, tingling, and dizziness. This potent neurotoxin is found in high concentrations in the seeds of cherimoya. Small amounts are also present throughout the flesh.
At low levels, annonacin causes temporary sodium channel blocking. At high doses, it can lead to nerve damage and even paralysis or death. Consuming small amounts of flesh while avoiding the seeds poses little risk for most healthy adults. However, those with neurological conditions may want to avoid cherimoya.
Like many fruits, cherimoya contains compounds that can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Reactions are more common in those with latex fruit syndrome or other pollen-food allergies. Oral allergy syndrome, causing itching and swelling of the mouth and throat, is most common. More severe whole-body reactions are possible.
Tannins are polyphenols found in many fruits that have an astringent, drying effect on the mouth. Cherimoya contains high tannin levels even when ripe, which can cause irritation, itchiness, and puckering of the mouth tissues. Tannins likely contribute to the oral side effects noted by some cherimoya consumers.
With 5 grams of fiber in a 150 gram serving, cherimoya is a good source of dietary fiber. While fiber offers many health benefits, dramatically increasing fiber intake can cause gas, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea in some individuals. These effects are temporary and often resolve with continued consumption as the digestive system adjusts.
Cherimoya is high in potassium, with about 600mg per cup. While potassium is an essential nutrient, getting too much in a short period can lower blood pressure and potentially cause symptoms like lightheadedness and dizziness for those prone to potassium sensitivity.
Who Is Most at Risk for Side Effects?
Most healthy adults can consume moderate amounts of cherimoya fruit without issue. However, certain individuals may be more prone to experiencing adverse reactions:
- Those with latex or pollen allergies are more likely to have an allergic reaction to cherimoya.
- People taking blood pressure medications or with hypotension may experience blood pressure lowering effects.
- Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other GI conditions may experience digestive upset.
- Young children are more sensitive to the neurotoxin annonacin.
- Older adults have a higher risk for all food reactions due to weaker immune systems.
If you have sensitivities or allergies to any foods, start with a small amount of cherimoya and watch for any reactions. Introduce new fruits slowly and cautiously.
Can You Be Allergic to Cherimoya?
Yes, it is possible to be allergic to cherimoya fruit. Cherimoya allergy is rare overall but does occur more frequently in those with latex fruit syndrome.
Latex fruit syndrome causes cross-reactions between latex proteins and similar proteins found in various fruits. Cherimoya contains proteins that cross-react with latex, making allergic reactions more likely.
Common symptoms of cherimoya allergy include:
- Itching, tingling, or swelling of the mouth, face, tongue, and throat
- Hives, rash, or skin redness
- Runny nose, sneezing, or sinus congestion
- Digestive issues like nausea, vomiting, cramps, or diarrhea
- Anaphylaxis in severe cases
Those with a latex allergy should exercise caution when trying new fruits in the Annonaceae family, including cherimoya, pineapple, bananas, kiwi, figs, and papaya. See an allergist for allergy testing if concerned. Carry emergency epinephrine if you have a known fruit allergy.
Can Cherimoya Be Toxic?
While cherimoya seeds contain a potentially toxic compound called annonacin, the flesh is generally considered safe if seeds are avoided.
Several parts of the cherimoya plant contain annonacin and other acetogenins that can be toxic at high doses:
- Seeds – Contain the highest levels of annonacin, up to 10,000 times more than the flesh
- Leaves and stems – Also contain toxic acetogenins
- Bark – Used traditionally for insecticides
- Roots – Used to poison fish in some regions
Toxicity and reactions vary based on the dose, individual sensitivity, and part consumed. Mild reactions may occur from ingesting small seeds accidentally. Consumption of large quantities of seeds poses a real risk of nerve damage and possibly death due to the high annonacin content.
However, the amount of annonacin found in cherimoya flesh is generally low enough to be safe for most healthy adults. Peeling the fruit and avoiding seeds minimizes risk. Those with sensitivities or underlying health conditions should exercise more caution.
Toxicity in Animals
Cherimoya toxicity has been reported more often in grazing animals like cattle and sheep that consumed plant parts aside from the fruit flesh. Livestock poisoning has occurred from ingesting leaves, crushed seeds, and bark. Reactions range from neurological impairment to death.
Pets are also more vulnerable to cherimoya toxicity. Dogs have been poisoned from eating discarded seeds and peel. Keep compost piles secured and monitor pets closely when giving them new foods. Seek emergency vet care for any suspected poisoning.
Tips to Reduce Side Effects
You can take steps to lower the risk of adverse reactions when eating cherimoya:
- Start with a small portion such as a few bites to test tolerance.
- Avoid cherimoya seeds which contain the highest levels of toxins.
- Consume cherimoya earlier in the day so any side effects don’t disrupt sleep.
- Drink plenty of water which helps dilute irritating compounds.
- Take antihistamines beforehand if you have a pollen or latex allergy.
- Watch for rashes, stomach issues, headaches, or other side effects.
- Discontinue use if any concerning reactions develop.
Introducing new fruits slowly and cautiously can help identify any sensitivities while minimizing severity. People with underlying conditions should exercise particular care.
When to Seek Help
In most cases, side effects from eating cherimoya will be minor and resolve on their own within a few hours. However, seek medical attention right away if you experience:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Swelling of the throat, lips or face
- Widespread rash or sudden skin redness
- Racing heart rate, confusion, loss of coordination, or muscle weakness
- Severe vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain
- Neurological symptoms like blurred vision, seizures, or paralysis
These could potentially signal a severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis, or toxicity from annonacin or other compounds. Prompt medical treatment is needed in cases of serious reactions.
Individuals experiencing concerning neurological symptoms after consuming seeds should seek immediate medical care as well.
While cherimoya is generally safe for most people, some individuals may experience side effects like skin irritation, stomach upset, headaches, or dizziness. These reactions are often mild but can cause discomfort. People with food allergies and those taking certain medications may be at higher risk. Avoiding seeds, introducing cherimoya slowly, and staying hydrated can help minimize adverse effects. Seek prompt medical attention for any severe reactions. Overall, cherimoya is a nutritious and delicious fruit that can be enjoyed in moderation by most healthy adults.