A recent published in Nature has given asparagus lovers everywhere quite a scare. It left many of us with one lingering question: Does eating asparagus help breast cancer spread? As it turns out, the answer isn’t so straight forward.
It’s true that L-asparagine, an amino acid found in asparagus, may play a role in the spread of cancer. However, that’s only a small part of the discussion about the role of asparagus in cancer.
In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between asparagus and cancer, and if eating asparagus helps breast cancer spread.
The research on the link between asparagus and breast cancer is scarce. To date, there are no research studies that investigate if eating asparagus can cause breast cancer or make it worse.
Instead, much of the research involves L-asparagine, an amino acid that can be found in asparagus.
Research suggests that L-asparagine is necessary for cancer cell survival. L-asparagine is also found in many other foods, including both plant and animal sources.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at the role of L-asparagine in breast cancer and other types of cancer.
L-asparagine is a non-essential amino acid that was first isolated from asparagus juice. Non-essential amino acids like L-asparagine can be synthesized in the body and don’t need to be consumed in the diet.
L-asparaginase is the enzyme responsible for the creation of L-asparagine. This enzyme is also involved in the metabolism of glutamic acid, another important amino acid.
The original research article in question investigated the of L-asparagine, not asparagus, in the spread of breast cancer cells. This isn’t the first study to look at L-asparagine in the context of breast cancer.
A similar study from 2014 also mentions a possible connection between levels of L-asparagine and breast cancer cell proliferation.
The connection between L-asparagine and cancer isn’t just limited to breast cancer. One recent study tested how L-asparagine availability affected lymphoid cancer cell lines.
In order to understand the connection between L-asparagine and cancer, we need to understand its function in the body.
Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are an essential part of human metabolism. They assist in building important proteins, synthesizing neurotransmitters, and even creating hormones.
When found within the cells of the body, L-asparagine is used as an amino acid exchange factor. This means that other amino acids outside of the cell can be exchanged for L-asparagine inside of the cell. This exchange is a necessary part of a healthy metabolism.
How does L-asparagine function in the context of cancer cells?
Without enough glutamine in the cell, cancer cells undergo apoptosis, or cell death. According to the research, L-asparagine is able to protect cancer cells from dying due to a loss of glutamine.
There’s also a link between asparagine, glutamine, and blood vessel formation. In cancerous tumors, blood vessel formation is necessary for the tumor to grow and survive.
The researchers found that in certain cells, depleting levels of asparagine synthetase impaired the growth of new blood vessels. This effect occurred even when enough glutamine was present to theoretically grow blood vessels in tumors.
L-asparagine doesn’t actually cause breast cancer, or any cancer, to spread. Instead, it helps produce glutamine which in turn plays a role in the formation of new blood vessels.
L-asparagine helps fuel the metabolic processes that allow all cells, including cancer cells, to grow.
Additionally, it may help with weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and improving digestive health. But can asparagus help fight cancer?
In one in-vitro study, different asparagus components were isolated and tested for their toxicity against colon cancer cells. The researchers found that certain asparagus compounds, called saponins, demonstrated anticancer activity in the presence of these cells.
In another study, researchers investigated the impact of asparagus polysaccharide and asparagus gum on liver cancer cells. Using a transcatheter arterial chemoembolization therapy, a type of chemotherapy, in combination with these two asparagus compounds was shown to significantly inhibit liver tumor growth.
, a current treatment for leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is effective because it blocks the ability of L-asparagine to protect cancer cells, specifically lymphoma cells.
Asparagus compounds have been researched for many years as a potential cancer therapy. This research helps to further establish the potential cancer-fighting benefits of eating many different plant-based foods.
From breast cancer to colon cancer, the results seem to indicate that eating asparagus may be helpful in fighting cancer.
However, because many of these compounds aren’t exclusive to asparagus, the benefit isn’t limited to just asparagus and may be found in many other vegetables.
Overall, the consensus indicates that asparagus neither increases breast cancer risk nor helps breast cancer metastasize. However, L-asparagine has been shown to impact the survival and spread of various types of cancer cells.
A novel therapy for leukemia already incorporates drugs that help to keep L-asparagine levels low. In the future, similar therapies may prove to be effective in the treatment of breast cancer, too.