A recent study published in the journal Nature, showed the effects of asparagine, an amino acid found in asparagus, showing it can help spread the breast cancer cells to other parts of the body.
However, when included lightly in the diet of animals, asparagine causes the malignant cells outside the breast, such as those detected in the bones, lungs and brain, which is the leading cause of death of people, decrease significantly.
“This is a very promising lead and one of the very few instances where there is a scientific rationale for a dietary modification influencing cancer,” the study’s lead author, Greg Hannon, told The Guardian.
Asparagine is also produced in the body. It’s a building blocks of proteins that can also be found in dairy, whey, beef, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains. Small amounts of asparagine can also be found in most fruits and vegetables.
In the study, the researchers were able to block asparagine in mice using the drug called, L-asparaginase. They also removed some of the asparagine in their diet. Breast cancer patients who died were also studied, and the doctors found out that patients who had multiple other tumors in their bodies had the highest amounts of asparagine.
Based on the study, asparagine helps the tumor evolve, and makes them easier to transport to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. The compounds appear to help spread the tumors to the other organs, which then grow into a new tumor. Limiting the amount of asparagine in the body prevents this from happening, but it has no effect on the initial tumor growth in the breast.
The next part of the study is to translate the results of mice to humans. Researchers will determine if the findings in mice are applicable to people. If so, the future treatment for breast cancer may include low-asparagine diet and L-asparaginase drug therapy, instead of the conventional methods for breast cancer treatment that involves chemotherapy and radiation, since these compounds are highly prevalent in a wide variety of readily available food sources.
“This early discovery could offer a long-awaited new way to help stop breast cancer spreading — but we first need to understand the true role of this nutrient in patients,” chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, Baroness Delyth Morgan, told the news site. “On current evidence, we don’t recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors. We’d also encourage all patients to follow a healthy and varied diet — rich in fruit, vegetables… and limited in processed meat and high fat or sugar foods — to help give them the best chance of survival.”