Synsepalum dulcificum

Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Synsepalum dulcificum
Common Name

Miracle fruit

Clinical Summary

Synsepalum dulcificum is a West African plant that produces red berry commonly referred to as miracle fruit (1). The berry has been used as a food sweetener and some cancer patients also use it to improve taste changes caused by chemotherapy. The phenolic and flavonoid compounds of miracle fruit have antioxidant activity (2) (3). The puff of the berries contains a glycoprotein known as miraculin that can alter taste perception from sour to sweet (1). Miracle fruit demonstrated antidiabetic effect by decreasing plasma glucose levels while improving insulin sensitivity in an animal model (4).

Compounds isolated from the stem of Synsepalum dulcificum also inhibited proliferation of melanoma cells (3).
Recent investigations have looked into the plant’s ability to stimulate weight loss in humans (5). In a pilot study, 30% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy reported improved taste, but no change in weight, after consuming miracle fruit for two weeks (6); similar findings of patient-reported improvements in taste were reported in another small study (12). Large clinical trials are needed to confirm this effect.

The taste altering effect is reversible in one to two hours after exposure. Adverse reactions from miracle fruit are rare.

Purported Uses
  • Low-calorie sweetener
  • Alter chemotherapy-induced taste changes
Constituents
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Flavonoids
  • Miraculin
    (2) (7) (14)
Mechanism of Action

Miraculin is a glycosylated protein (7) that acts on the human sweet taste receptor of the tongue (hT1R2, hT1R3). It binds only in acidic conditions, which allows it to convert sour stimuli to sweet (8). The effects last one to two hours, although the intensity declines with time (9). Miraculin alters taste in primates but not in rodents (8), with the maximum taste-modifying activity observed at pH 3.0, which allows two key histidine residues to take on charge that facilitate cooperative binding, dimerization and miraculin-to-receptor binding in an acidic environment (10). Only the dimeric and tetrameric forms of miraculin are active (11). In weakly acidic environment, it acts as a positive allosteric modulator; and as an antagonist at neutral pH, where it can inhibit the activity of other sweeteners including sucrose, saccharine and aspartame (8).
Results from another study suggest that miraculin binds hT1R2-hT1R3 as an antagonist at neutral pH and changes into an agonist at acidic pH (13).
Compounds isolated from the stem of Synsepalum dulcificum inhibit the proliferation of A375.S2 human melanoma cells via their free radical scavenging activity and by inhibiting tyrosinase (3).

Contraindications
  • Allergy or sensitivity to any of the constituents.
Adverse Reactions
  • Stomach ache and throat discomfort have been reported (6).
Herb-Drug Interactions

Compounds isolated from Synsepalum dulcificum have antioxidant activity. Theoretically, they may interfere with the actions of chemotherapy drugs, such as doxorubicin and platinum compounds.

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. Kurihara K, Beidler LM. Taste-modifying protein from miracle fruit. Science. Sep 20 1968;161(3847):1241-1243.
  2. Inglett GE, Chen D. Contents of phenolics and flavonoids and antioxidant activities in skin, pulp, and seeds of miracle fruit. J Food Sci. Apr 2011;76(3):C479-482.
  3. Wang YC, Hong ZL, Chen HA, et al. Bioconstituents from stems of Synsepalum dulcificum Daniell (Sapotaceae) inhibit human melanoma proliferation, reduce mushroom tyrosinase activity and have antioxidant properties. Journal of the Taiwan Institute of Chemical Engineers. 2011;42:204-211.
  4. Chen CC, Liu IM, Cheng JT. Improvement of insulin resistance by miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) in fructose-rich chow-fed rats. Phytother Res. Nov 2006;20(11):987-992.
  5. Wong JM, Kern M. Miracle fruit improves sweetness of a low-calorie dessert without promoting subsequent energy compensation. Appetite. Feb 2011;56(1):163-166.
  6. Soares HP, Schwartz MA, Pizzolato JF, et al. Treatment of taste alterations in chemotherapy patients using the “miracle fruit”: Preliminary analysis of a pilot study. J Clin Oncol, 2010 ASCO Annual Meeting Proceedings (Post-Meeting Edition); 28, (15_suppl) 2010: e19523ASCO.
  7. Theerasilp S, Hitotsuya H, Nakajo S, et al. Complete amino acid sequence and structure characterization of the taste-modifying protein, miraculin. J Biol Chem. Apr 25 1989;264(12):6655-6659.
  8. Koizumi A, Tsuchiya A, Nakajima K, et al. Human sweet taste receptor mediates acid-induced sweetness of miraculin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Oct 4 2011;108(40):16819-16824.
  9. Kurihara K, Beidler LM. Mechanism of the action of taste-modifying protein. Nature. Jun 21 1969;222(5199):1176-1179.
  10. Paladino A, Colonna G, Facchiano AM, et al. Functional hypothesis on miraculin' sweetness by a molecular dynamics approach. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Jun 4 2010;396(3):726-730.
  11. Paladino A, Costantini S, Colonna G, et al. Molecular modelling of miraculin: Structural analyses and functional hypotheses. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. Feb 29 2008;367(1):26-32.
  12. Wilken MK, Satiroff BA. Pilot study of “miracle fruit” to improve food palatability for patients receiving chemotherapy. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2012 Oct;16(5):E173-7.
  13. Misaka T. Molecular mechanisms of the action of miraculin, a taste-modifying protein. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2013 Mar;24(3):222-5.
  14. Du L, Shen Y, Zhang X, Prinyawiwatkul W, Xu Z. Antioxidant-rich phytochemicals in miracle berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) and antioxidant activity of its extracts. Food Chem. 2014 Jun 15;153:279-84.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Synsepalum dulcificum can change taste sensation from sour to sweet in patients undergoing chemotherapy, but it has not been shown to prevent weight loss.

Synsepalum dulcificum is a West African plant that produces red berries commonly known as miracle fruits. A protein found in these berries can bind to the sweet taste receptors of the tongue. This causes many sour, acidic foods to taste sweet. The effects last 1-2 hours. Miracle fruit has been proposed for use in taste changes caused by chemotherapy and for weight loss. In small studies, patients undergoing chemotherapy reported improved taste, but no change in weight with miracle fruit.

Purported Uses
  • Low calorie sweetener
    Miracle fruit is safe and effective when used to improve taste sensation. It has not been shown to facilitate weight loss in healthy volunteers.
  • Taste changes caused by chemotherapy
    Small studies suggest benefits. Larger studies are needed.
Do Not Take If

    •You are allergic to this fruit.

Side Effects
  • Stomach ache and throat discomfort have been reported.
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.