Heard of taking asparagus for cancer cure? Facts or myth? Pharmacists Talk.
The email, reportedly written by a person named Doctor Richard R. Vensal, claimed that eating asparagus can cure cancer.
Other than in this one email, there are no other references pointing to the existence of this individual or any published study.
A myth is extremely easy to spread but very hard to die off.
And with modern communicaiton techologies, namely the use of email, any information can be spread with extreme ease with no cost at all.
But before we discount this email as a complete and absolute hoax, let's look at some of the scientific evidences available about the health benefits of asparagus.
Below is a discussion on our current understanding on the health benefits of asparagus based on research studies that have been done and published in reputable journals.
Let's first talk about facts that we know from published research studies. This is always a good place to start.
There is no question that many plants hold the answers for the treatment and cure of cancer. Some of the currently used anti-cancer agents, such as vincristine, vinblastine and paclitaxel were derived from plants.
Phytochemicals (active substances derived from plants) hold great promise for cancer prevention and cure. Why? Because they are safe to use, cost effective and the body can absorb it.
We didn't make that statement up. Experts agree that this is the case. It's all reviewed in the published paper referenced below.
In lab studies, a substance called ursolic acid extracted from asparagus causes cancerous cells to die off, a process called apoptosis (programmed cell death).
This is a naturally occurring process that "defective" or cancerous cells goes through as a means of protection. The reference to this particular study can be found in the research paper below.
One study that used a combination of Chinese herbs which included 15 grams of asparagus root was shown to improve the quality of life measurements of patients suffering from advanced lung cancer.
This study involved 60 subjects and the reference to this paper is shown below.
However, because this herbal decoction contains multiple ingredients, it is impossible to say if the benefit came from just the asparagus root, the other herbs or the combination of one or more of these herbs.
This is one of the significant drawbacks on studying combination products.
Other research groups have isolated another potential anti-cancer substance called asparanin A in asparagus. This steroid-like saponin causes apoptosis in human liver cancer cells as well as to stop them from multiplying.
Here's the reference to the published research paper.
The conclusion from the authors of this particular study is that the asparanin A extract is a promising treatment for human liver cancer.
In addition to asparanin A and ursolic acid, there are several other beneficial substances found in asparagus as well.
Glutathione is a potent antioxidant that inactivates harmful oxygen free radicals. Excessive oxygen free radicals cause damage to cell membranes and the generic material found in our cells. These harmful radicals have been implicated in causing many types of cancer.
Quercetin & Rutin
These two naturally occurring flavonoids have been shown in lab and animals studies to destroy cancerous cells. It is also believed by some experts to slow down the growth of cancer cells as well.
The difficulty is that there are no clinical trials done on humans to prove if these beneficial chemicals found in asparagus would actually work in treating cancer patients.
As with turmeric, ferulic acid is suspected to have anti-cancer activities.
Since cancerous cells require a high blood supply to get all the oxygen and nutrition to grow rapidly, these cells produce chemicals substance to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels (a process called angiogenesis).
Experts speculate that ferulic acid stops the growth of new blood vessels. This way, the cancer cells, unable to get the needed nutrients, literally die from starvation.
Indeed, laboratory studies show that exposing cancer cells to a solution containing an asparagus extract cause them to die.
Unfortunately, none of these benefits are proven in human since no studies have been done.
Historic records show that most positive lab studies don't translate to the same benefit when the same substance is given by mouth to humans.
Moreover, no one is sure of the amount of asparagus a person would need to eat to get the benefits. It might turn out that you would have to eat 100 pounds of asparagus every day for it to work against cancer.
Perhaps injecting the asparagus extract directly into the tumour cells in a human body is the best way to get this natural concentrated anti-cancer substances into the body?
Or perhaps drinking asparagus juice or extract might be the best way to get the maximum amount of the anti-cancer chemicals?
There is a huge difference between putting a small amount of human cancer cells into an asparagus extract versus having it delivered to the cancer tissue from the bloodstream after a person eats a whole bunch of asparagus.
There are some vitamins that might work to reduce cancer risks.
Moreover, there are a handful of herbs that are used in cancer patients in different parts of the world. Many of these natural treatment options are used in addition to conventional anti-cancer therapy.
See Anti-Cancer Remedies to get a complete list of supplements currently suggested by experts around the world.
You may be surprised as to what science knows (and do not know) about what works and what doesn't.
Thinking of eating massive amounts of asparagus for cancer cure or prevention?
There is absolutely no clinical evidence to suggest that asparagus would work against cancer in humans.
Besides, we don't know how much a person would need to eat. It might turn out that perhaps you'll need to eat 100 pounds of asparagus daily to work!
Sure, exposing cancerous cells to an asparagus extract showed that it worked. But how do we know that the anti-cancer ingredients in asparagus get to the cancer tissues in your body after you eat it? The fact is we do not.
And more importantly, how much of these anti-cancer ingredients actually reaches the cell?
Here is what is proven in science.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables is proven to reduce the risk of all types of cancer.
Your best approach is to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, like asparagus, and cut back on meat and especially saturated fats. Combining this diet with regular physical activity will ensure your body is "fit" enough to fight off potential cancer cells that may develop during your lifetime.
The danger in focusing on just asparagus could lead you to miss out on eating other vegetables may also have anti-cancer benefits as well.