Asparagus Linked to Cancer?


Somehow, I missed it: the article in February that set the internet on fire linking asparagus to breast cancer.  What?  Asparagus?  Breast cancer?  That just sounds a bit crazy.  But there it is. 

The study was published in the prestigious journal, Nature and was conducted by several institutions, including the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute in the United Kingdom.  The focus of the study is on the “triple negative” form of breast cancer, which tends to spread very quickly in the body. 

The “triple” in triple-negative breast cancer refers to the three major types of breast cancer: estrogen receptor (ER) positive, progesterone (PR) receptor positive and HER2 receptor positive.

PR receptor positive and ER receptor positive are the most common types of breast cancers.  About 80% of all breast cancers are ER-positive. That means the cancer cells grow in response to the hormone estrogen. Similarly, 65% of these are also PR-positive and grow in response to another hormone, progesterone.  For people who develop one of these types of cancer, there are therapies designed to block these hormones to slow or stop the cancer cell growth. 

HER2  is a protein that is encoded by the ERBB2 gene in humans.  About 30% of breast cancers are related to an amplification or overuse of this gene. 

Approximately 15% of all breast cancers have all three receptors ER, PR, and HER2.  This designation is significant in that this type of breast cancer is aggressive: it spreads quickly and if the initial treatment is successful, it reoccurrences in about a third of the women after an average of 2.5 years. 

The current study investigated whether or not limiting the levels of asparagine in the body could help to slow down triple negative tumor growth. Asparagine is a non-essential amino acid often synthesized by our bodies from some of the dietary products that we eat like asparagus.  In the study, diets containing asparagine were significantly linked to the relapse and spread of breast cancer.

Cancer is a complex disease.  This means that doing one thing like eating asparagus for quarterly for dinner will not affect your life.  With the results of this study being so clear, if you have triple negative breast cancer, it is best to avoid asparagus and other asparagine containing foods. 

However, there are more important steps you can take in your diet than eliminating asparagus.  If you have any type of cancer, lowering your blood sugar by limiting refined starches and sugary foods intake and reducing your inflammation by taking supplements like sulforaphane and curcumin are good places to start.

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