Does Asparagus Cause Cancer or Help Fight It?

Asparagus is the subject of conflicting studies regarding cancer. Some studies show that asparagus may aid in the survival of certain cancer cells and increase cancer growth. Other studies show that asparagus may protect against certain cancers such as breast, larynx, lung, and stomach.

Some agents within asparagus create the conflict as to whether or not the vegetable can cause or help cure cancer.

Asparagus

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What's in Asparagus?

Asparagus is considered a healthy vegetable, with its stalks offering folate, iron, fiber, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, C, A, K, antioxidants, and more. These nutrients and vitamins are good for your overall health. Glutathione and asparagine are the agents that help fuel the question: Does asparagus help cause or cure cancer?

Asparagus is known to have high levels of glutathione. This is an antioxidant that is also produced in the cells of the human body. The major role of glutathione is the detoxification of substances that are foreign to the body.

Glutathione is a tripeptide made up of three amino acids (glutamic acid, cysteine, and glycine). Glutathione from food is broken up during the digestive process into its component amino acids. It is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream, and it is questionable as to how effective it is to get from food sources such as asparagus. Studies have shown that glutathione that is consumed from raw fruits and vegetables was associated with a reduced risk of mouth cancer.

Studies have shown that a decrease in glutathione may lead to an increase in oxidative stress that could progress into cancer. A study observing cancer cells have shown that higher levels of glutathione can increase the capability of its antioxidant properties and resistance to oxidative stress. The study additionally stated that antioxidant treatment may protect from cancer.

Asparagus also has high levels of asparagine, a non-essential amino acid that controls the cell function in the brain and nerve tissue. Amino acids, in general, aid in building important proteins and creating hormones in the body. A non-essential amino acid is something that the body produces on its own. Consuming foods with asparagine will naturally increase its levels in the body.

In cancer cells, asparagine is known to be an important regulator of the exchange of non-essential and essential amino acids, anabolic metabolism, and proliferation or rapid increase of growth.

What the Research Says

Research into compounds in asparagus and their effects on cancer have produced contradictory results.

Can Asparagus Cause Cancer?

One study published in 2018 caused quite a stir as its findings associated higher levels of asparagine with the ability of breast cancer tumors to spread, and lower levels of asparagine with less ability to spread. It is important to note that the study focused on a lab-grown mouse mammary tumor and all variations were conducted in mice that had no immune system.

Investigators first implanted mice with mouse triple-negative breast cancer tumors. Then they blocked the production of asparagine with the drug L-asparaginase (which is used in the treatment of lymphoma and leukemia) and put the mice on a diet low in asparagine. They found that this reduced the tumor’s ability to spread.

Asparagine

Asparagine is a non-essential amino acid. Due to the high amount of asparagine in asparagus, the vegetable was named after it. Studies have shown that asparagine is an important regulator of cancer cell amino acid homeostasis, anabolic metabolism, and proliferation. 

The same researchers then examined a data set of human breast cancer patients. They found through genetic data that if the breast cancer cells could make asparagine, it was more likely the tumor would spread. In addition, there was a lower survival rate among the people with breast cancer whose cancer cells had a better ability to produce asparagine.

Can Asparagus Help Fight Cancer?

Asparagus can potentially slow down tumor growth due to saponins, a phytochemical also found in beans, herbs, and vegetables. Studies have shown that saponins can lower cholesterol, blood glucose response, and cancer risks. Saponins are also known to protect the immune system in ways that may help the human body protect itself against cancer.

Saponins

Saponins are found in vegetables, herbs, and seeds. Asparagus spears are the chief dietary source. The potential beneficial effects of saponins include improved immune system function, lower cholesterol levels, and lower cancer risks.

Although saponins have been shown to have many potential health benefits, researchers state that more clinical and epidemiological studies are required. 

Overall, there are no clear studies as to whether or not asparagus causes or helps to fight cancer. 

A Word From Verywell

Asparagus is considered a healthy food option. With its vitamins and nutrients, asparagus may help your overall health. It is important to contact your medical professional if you plan significantly adding or reducing any food to your diet. As research is always evolving when it comes to health and cures for illness, it is important to speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. 

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