A nutritious powerhouse, asparagus is rich in folate, vitamins C and D, and antioxidants that lower the risks of colon, pancreatic, and esophageal cancers. Research even implicates its role in preventing tumor growth by regulating cell division. On the flip side, it contains glutathione that may limit the effects of chemotherapy. Balance it with other foods to minimize side effects.
Cancer strikes an estimated 14 million new people every year and this number is set to grow by 70 percent by 2032. According to WHO estimates from 2012, about 8.2 million people die due to cancer and related problems every year. While modern allopathic medicine looks for a cure for the big C, is there something you could be doing to improve your body’s chances of battling cancer?1
Asparagus has cropped up in the news a few times over the past few years, including infamously in a viral email touting its magical properties in cancer care. So how much of this is fact and how much wishful thinking? According to one much-circulated email, asparagus showed miraculous results in treating cancer in multiple people. An article “Asparagus for Cancer,” supposedly published in the Cancer News Journal in 1979, was cited to reference this. In reality, multiple sources have since confirmed that no such article exists.
Why Asparagus Can Help
One big reason you could benefit from including asparagus in your diet is that it is a fresh vegetable packed with nutrients. An estimated one-third of all cancer-related deaths occur due to dietary and behavioral risks that include not consuming adequate vegetables and fruit.2
Folate Fights Some Cancers
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) backs the use of asparagus as one component of a healthy diet that can lower your cancer risk. The average 100 gm portion of boiled asparagus contains about 149 µg of folate.3
According to the AICR report on cancer-fighting foods, folate can be especially useful in lowering your risk of colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and cancer of the esophagus.4
One study by NIH-AARP found that those test subjects who consumed 900 mcg/day or more of folate daily had a 30 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer than those who took under 200 mcg/day of the nutrient.5
Antioxidants From Asparagus
The free radical damage associated with cancer can be countered with antioxidants. The spear-shaped asparagus is also a great source of vitamins A and C, which according to the AICR can offer you additional protection against cancer.
While some studies found that the risk of gastric or esophageal cancer was not lowered by taking antioxidant supplements, one particular study showed it did reduce the risk of death from gastric cancer in test subjects.6 Questions have also been raised about the possible risks from long-term beta carotene supplementation. However, consuming asparagus as a vegetable in a balanced diet is unlikely to be of concern.
Glutathione, another antioxidant, is also present in high quantities in asparagus but its use has been limited due to a twin effect of boosting GSH. While it can protect cells from environmental toxins and has possible cytoprotective effects in battling cancer, it could also limit the effect of life-saving chemotherapy a patient receives.7
Studies (dating back to the 1990s and from recent times) have pointed to the anti-tumor properties of asparagus shoots. One study found that the methanolic extract taken from white asparagus shoots had a chemopreventive action on colon carcinogenesis. It also helped regulate cellular homeostasis and maintain metabolic equilibrium in the body.8
Asparagus As Supportive Therapy
Asparagus as a supportive therapy during cancer treatment may be invaluable. Ayurveda suggests it as a means to bring back normal health and is being explored for its role in combating the less desirable side effects of chemotherapy.9 The anti-inflammatory effects of the saponins present in asparagus stems also make it a beneficial therapy for someone with cancer – one reason it is a popular treatment in the Far East, including Korea.10
To Eat Or Not?
Ultimately, the jury is out on whether asparagus can offer some direct way to actually cure cancer. What is clear though are the many benefits due to its antioxidant properties and nutritional content that could help prevent some cancers. And at just 22 calories in a portion, there’s little to lose by including it in your regular diet.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Cancer Fact sheet N°297 February 2015, World Health Ooranization.|
|2.||↑||Cancer Fact sheet N°297 February 2015, World Health Organizaion.|
|3.||↑||Basic Report: 11012, Asparagus, cooked, boiled, drained, USDA.|
|4.||↑||Cancer Myths Exposed, AICR.|
|5.||↑||Gibson, Todd M., Stephanie J. Weinstein, Ruth M. Pfeiffer, Albert R. Hollenbeck, Amy F. Subar, Arthur Schatzkin, Susan T. Mayne, and Rachael Stolzenberg-Solomon. “Pre-and postfortification intake of folate and risk of colorectal cancer in a large prospective cohort study in the United States.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 94, no. 4 (2011): 1053-1062.|
|6.||↑||Blot, William J., Jun-Yao Li, Philip R. Taylor, Wande Guo, Sanford Dawsey, Guo-Qing Wang, Chung S. Yang et al. “Nutrition intervention trials in Linxian, China: supplementation with specific vitamin/mineral combinations, cancer incidence, and disease-specific mortality in the general population.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 85, no. 18 (1993): 1483-1491.|
|7.||↑||Traverso, Nicola, Roberta Ricciarelli, Mariapaola Nitti, Barbara Marengo, Anna Lisa Furfaro, Maria Adelaide Pronzato, Umberto Maria Marinari, and Cinzia Domenicotti. “Role of glutathione in cancer progression and chemoresistance.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2013.|
|8.||↑||Bousserouel, Souad, Julie Le Grandois, Francine Gossé, Dalal Werner, Stephan W. Barth, Eric Marchioni, Jacques Marescaux, and Francis Raul. “Methanolic extract of white asparagus shoots activates TRAIL apoptotic death pathway in human cancer cells and inhibits colon carcinogenesis in a preclinical model.” International journal of oncology 43, no. 2 (2013): 394-404.|
|9.||↑||Diwanay, Sham, Deepa Chitre, and Bhushan Patwardhan. “Immunoprotection by botanical drugs in cancer chemotherapy.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 90, no. 1 (2004): 49-55.|
|10.||↑||Lim, T. K. “Asparagus cochinchinensis.” In Edible Medicinal and Non Medicinal Plants, pp. 620-626. Springer Netherlands, 2015.|