Asparagus is a healthy vegetable with low calories and various health benefits. Eating asparagus doesn’t cause breast cancer or other cancers to spread. Different experimental and pre-clinical studies indicate anti-cancer potential of asparagus. So far, there are no clinical trials which evaluated the effect of using asparagus for cancer treatment. Instead of randomly taking Asparagus supplements, one can continue to take Asparagus vegetable as part of a healthy balanced diet/nutrition to reap many of its health benefits.
Asparagus and its Key Bioactive Ingredients
Asparagus is a common vegetable consumed in different parts of the world. It may be eaten raw or cooked. The root and seeds of the Asparagus plant are considered to have medicinal value.
Asparagus is a healthy vegetable rich in fiber with great nutritional value due to the presence of many key bioactive ingredients including:
- Flavonols such as Quercetin, Isorhamnetin and Kaempferol
- Vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Vitamin A and Vitamin K
- Linolenic acid
- Oleic acid
Apart from these, asparagus is also known to contain Inulin and Saponins (such as Asparanin A) and high levels of Glutathione and L-Asparagine.
Being rich in fiber and low in calories, Asparagus has been associated with weight loss. Asparagus is also a great low carb vegetable that is commonly used in carbohydrate-restricted diets/nutrition such as keto diet. Additionally, many of the key bio-actives such as flavonoids present in Asparagus have been of great interest to scientists and were studied for their potential benefits in reducing the risk of various diseases.
General Uses and Health Benefits of Asparagus
A diet/nutrition rich in Asparagus is very healthy. Based on different in vitro studies, Asparagus and its key bio-active ingredients are considered to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antimicrobial, antiviral and cytotoxic effects with several health benefits including the following.
- Asparagus is commonly used along with large amounts of fluids to increase urine output. It is used for bladder or urinary tract infections. However, eating lots of Asparagus is known to result in pungent smelling urine, possibly due to the volatile organic components such as asparagusic acid and its derivatives excreted in human urine after eating asparagus.
- Asparagus which is rich in fiber may improve digestion and reduce constipation.
- Asparagus may also help in reducing bloating and in losing weight due to high fiber content.
- Diet/nutrition including Asparagus which is rich in antioxidants and fiber, may help in promoting heart health.
- Asparagus is also rich in folate which helps in fetal developments and is beneficial for pregnancy.
- Eating asparagus may help in reducing anxiety and depression.
- Asparagus, containing Vitamin K and Iron, may help in improving bone health and reducing osteoporosis.
Safety/Side-effects of Asparagus
Asparagus, when consumed as food as part of a healthy balanced diet/nutrition, is usually safe.
However, use of a specific combination containing 6 grams of asparagus root and 6 grams of parsley leaf daily for 6 weeks might result in severe gastrointestinal side effects, as well as gout, kidney pain, and edema.
Asparagus might also cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitive to onions, leeks, garlic, and chives.
Can Asparagus Cure Cancer?
There aren’t any clinical trials and observational studies carried out in humans to evaluate the effects of Asparagus intake in Cancer treatment. The studies highlighting the anti-cancer potential of asparagus are either based on the studies done on some of its active ingredients separately or based on the experimental/preclinical studies of asparagus extracts in different cancer models or cell lines. Results from these studies may suggest a possible potential of asparagus in supporting a specific treatment, reducing the cancer biomarkers/conditions or reducing the risk of a specific cancer, encouraging studies in humans, but cannot be considered as evidence for its use for cancer treatment in humans.
Following are some examples of experimental/preclinical studies associated with the use of Asparagus extracts or its key active ingredients in different cancer cell lines/ animal models.
Impact of Asparagus Extract in Colon Cancer – Pre-Clinical Study
In a preclinical study done by the researchers from the University of Strasbourg in France, they induced colon carcinogenesis in rat models (Wistar rats), post which the rats received a daily dose of methanolic extract of Asparagus officinalis L. shoots in drinking water. After 7 weeks of Asparagus shoot extract treatment in these colon cancer induced models, it was found that the colon of the rats had a 50% reduction in the number of preneoplastic lesions. (Souad Bousserouel et al, Int J Oncol., 2013)
Impact of an Enzyme-treated Asparagus Extract in a Specific Chemo-Resistant Pancreatic Cancer Cell Line – Experimental Study
In an experimental study done by the researchers from Yamaguchi University Graduate School of Medicine and Health Sciences University of Hokkaido in Japan and University of Malta in Malta, they evaluated the impact of an Enzyme-treated asparagus extract in a specific chemo-resistant (GEM) pancreatic cancer cell line called KLM1-R. The main reason for the study was that it was found that the up-regulation of a heat-shock protein 27 (HSP27) was associated with this chemo (GEM) resistance of pancreatic cancer cells and the researchers wanted to explore the potential of Enzyme-treated asparagus extract in overcoming the resistance. (Takuya Shimada et al, In Vivo., Jul-Aug 2018)
The study found that the Enzyme-treated asparagus extract down-regulated HSP27 in the chemo resistant pancreatic cell lines. Hence, they suggested a possible role/potential therapeutic benefit of this asparagus extract in enhancing anticancer effects when taken with the specific chemo (GEM) in patients with pancreatic cancer. However, clinical trials and herb-drug interaction studies are needed to validate the efficacy and safety in humans before recommending asparagus extracts for pancreatic cancer treatment.
Impact of Asparanin A (Saponin from Asparagus) in Endometrial Cancer Cell Line – Experimental Study
In an experimental study done by the researchers from the Hefei University of Technology and Anhui Normal University in China, they evaluated the anticancer activity of Asparanin A, a steroidal saponin from Asparagus, on the Endometrial Cancer Cell line called Ishikawa. The study found that administration of Asparanin A may significantly inhibit the tumor tissue cell proliferation, reduce the tumor growth, and induce apoptosis (programmed cell death). The researchers concluded that if validated in clinical trials, Asparanin A may be a beneficial food ingredient for inhibiting endometrial cancer. (Fan Zhang et al, J Agric Food Chem., 2020)
Impact of Asparagus Polysaccharide along with Embolization Therapy in Liver Cancer Model – Experimental Study
In an experimental study done by the researchers from the Shanghai Municipal Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Affiliated to Shanghai University of TCM, Longgang Central Hospital, ENT hospital of Longgang Central Hospital, Otolaryngology Institute of Shenzhen University, Rizhao Municipal Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Hunan Normal University in China, they evaluated the efficacy of asparagus polysaccharide as an adjuvant for liver cancer chemotherapy along with Embolization Therapy. (Ling-Ling Weng et al, Asian Pac J Cancer Prev., 2014)
The study found that Asparagus polysaccharide and its embolic agent form, asparagus gum, along with embolization (TACE) therapy, significantly inhibited tumor growth and angiogenesis (sprouting of new blood vessels that can aid cancer cell growth by supplying nutrients through blood) and induced cancer cell death (apoptosis) in a liver cancer model.
Can Asparagus Cause Cancer?
In 2018, there was a rumor that consuming a diet/nutrition rich in Asparagus can cause breast cancer to spread. Let us have a quick look at the basis for this fear!
Asparagus, L-Asparagine and Breast Cancer
Asparagine synthetase is an enzyme which helps our body to make asparagine. A study published in 2018 in the Nature journal created a havoc as the authors of this paper, from different institutions in the United Kingdom and the United States, highlighted that “limiting asparagine by knockdown of asparagine synthetase, treatment with L-asparaginase, or restricting dietary asparagine reduces metastasis or spread of the cancer to different parts of the body without affecting growth of the primary breast cancer, whereas increased dietary asparagine promotes metastatic progression/cancer spread”. Since L-Asparagine is an amino acid that was first isolated from Asparagus, many misinterpreted these findings and assumed that Asparagus consumption may increase breast cancer spread. (Simon R V Knott et al, Nature., 2018)
L-asparagine fuels the metabolic processes for all cells to grow- including normal healthy cells as well as cancer cells and the idea is not to stop taking any food that contains L-Asparagine. Also, our body produces L-Asparagine in the cells even if not obtained through diet/nutrition. Hence, stopping Asparagus intake would not be the solution for the findings by the researchers.
The study was focused on the role of L-Asparagine, but not Asparagus, on breast cancer. Additionally, it is important to note that this study involved cancer cells grown in a laboratory and implanted into mice with no immune system. (American Institute for Cancer Research; Asparagus and breast cancer. Updated February 14, 2018) Hence, the results from the study do not apply to humans.
Asparagus doesn’t cause breast cancer or other cancers to spread. Though some studies indicate anti-cancer potential of asparagus, these are either based on the studies done on some of its individual active ingredients or based on the experimental/preclinical studies of asparagus extracts in different cancer models or cell lines. So far there are no human trials to confirm whether Asparagus can be used for cancer treatment.
However, Asparagus is a healthy vegetable and has various health benefits. Hence, including asparagus as part of a healthy, balanced diet/nutrition would help reap many health benefits. Avoid using Asparagus supplements without scientific explanations or guidance from a healthcare professional. Also, avoid eating Asparagus if you are allergic to foods like onions, leeks, garlic, and chives.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.