Asparagus Cancer Therapy – Cure, Hoax or Legitimate Treatment?

 

Asparagus has been linked with the fight against cancer for the last 35 years.  There are many who swear by it.  Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to back this up.

Articles appeared in Prevention Magazine in 1974 and the Cancer News Journal – a magazine distributed in health food stores – in 1979.  These articles along with emails which have circulated virally on the internet in recent years purport to tell the findings of one Richard R. Vensal, DDS.  According to these sources, Dr. Vensal cited anecdotal evidence of dramatic remissions and full cures among patients he treated with asparagus.  He prescribed four tablespoons of pureed asparagus twice a day, and reported improvement in 2 to 4 weeks.

Dr. Venzal never published his findings, however, nor is there any research that supports these claims.  In fact, there is only one study in the medical literature that has been able to demonstrate any anti-cancer properties of asparagus.  A Chinese research team published a study in 2009, indicating that a substance in asparagus, which they called asparanin A, halted the growth and even killed human liver cancer cells when introduced into a medium containing the cells, known as in vitro testing.  This is the only successful demonstration of the potential cancer fighting agents in asparagus found in medical research literature.  There have been no follow-up trials in animals or humans since then.

Asparagus And Cancer – Lesser Known Side Effects

There exists fairly strong evidence to suggest that asparagus should be avoided under at least two circumstances.  One such situation is when being treated for certain types of cancer.  Most cells, including cancer cells, produce an essential amino acid known as L-asparagine.  This is present, as you probably guessed, in asparagus as well.  Certain types of cancer cells, notably acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and some rare tumors, cannot produce L-asparagine and must absorb it from the patient’s body.  A standard component of the treatment for this type of cancer is to prescribe L-asparaginase.  Known as the drug Elspar, this is an enzyme that breaks down L-asparagine, essentially starving the cancer cells.  The mechanism by which this works has been understood since the mid 1960s.  Dosing yourself on asparagus while taking Elspar is counter-productive.  By providing the cancer cells with the very amino acid the drug therapy is trying to minimize, it may well create an internal environment which stimulates the growth of cancer cells.

Asparagus is also high in folic acid, a B vitamin.  While normally beneficial to overall health, folic acid has been found to interfere with the efficacy of some chemotherapy drugs, methotrexate for example, and consumption should be minimized during treatment.  In fact, asparagus therapy isn’t recommended by most doctors even if they are accepting of alternative and dietary interventions because of the insubstantial evidence for the claims its proponents make!

Asparagus and Cancer – Conclusion

There is, then, no evidence to suggest that there exists a miraculous asparagus cancer cure that there is often proclaimed to be.  It should, in fact, be avoided in some limited cases where it may even have a deleterious impact.  Sadly, the only known asparagus and cancer connection is a deleterious one. Asparagus is, however, a vegetable high in vitamins, minerals and glutathione, an antioxidant that helps remove toxins from the body and repair DNA.  So it could be said that the asparagus cancer cure hoax theory has some basis.  It’s  high in fiber, low in calories, sodium and cholesterol, and deserves a place in the fruit and vegetable rich diet we all should be eating.

 

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The Chinese study:

Asparanin A induces G(2)/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma HepG2 cells.

Liu W, Huang XF, Qi Q, Dai QS, Yang L, Nie FF, Lu N, Gong DD, Kong LY, Guo QL.