Could eating asparagus give you cancer? If you’ve seen any of the headlines lately, you might think so.
A new study published in the journal Nature suggests that a protein called asparagine could promote the spread of certain types of breast cancer. Researchers found that certain cases of breast cancer rely on this specific protein to spread and worsen the disease.
Hours later, the media exploded with articles warning against eating too much asparagus.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Now, in the eyes of impressionable readers, asparagus has become a carcinogen on par with trans fats and cigarettes.
But scientists are biting back, insisting (and pay close attention here) eating asparagus will not give you cancer. The link was an unfortunate misunderstanding — a classic example of journalism gone astray.
“Our bodies make asparagine, as well as many of the other amino acids that form proteins, and [asparagine synthetase] is one of the enzymes that helps make it,” explained Dr. Alex Berezow, senior fellow of biomedical science for the American Council on Science and Health. “Apparently, the more active this enzyme, the better breast cancer (in this mouse model) is able to spread. That’s interesting.”
He explained that the scientists attempted to stop the production of asparagine in the mice and stop feeding them foods that contained the protein. In these cases, breast cancer was less likely to spread.
Asparagine is found in asparagus, but also in nearly every other healthy food: Animal products, potatoes, legumes, nuts, and whole grains are all culprits of spreading this “cancerous” protein.
“Putting patients on a diet low in asparagine is probably not realistic because asparagine is everywhere (and, as mentioned above, our bodies make it, anyway.)” Berezow explained. “Instead, lowering blood levels of asparagine or blocking the enzyme asparagine synthetase in breast tumor cells might be the best path forward.”
In other words, there is no reason to eliminate asparagus — or those other nutrient-rich foods — from your diet to stave off cancer. While you’re at it, you should probably stop believing these 10 foods cause cancer, too.