Study Links Food Compound to Spread of Cancer

Asparagus may be cancer's favorite vegetable
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2018 4:05 AM CST
Updated Feb 8, 2018 6:33 AM CST
Study Links Food Compound to Spread of Cancer
The compound got its name when it was identified in samples of asparagus juice.   (AP Photo/Shannon Dininny)

Making big changes to your diet could deprive cancer of a nutrient that it needs to spread throughout the body, researchers say. A study published in the journal Nature links asparagine—an amino acid found in many foods, including asparagus, beef, poultry, nuts, and potatoes—to the spread of secondary cancers in mice with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Researchers say they sharply reduced the ability of the cancer to spread in the animals by putting them on a low-asparagine diet, though using a drug called L-asparagine to block the compound had even better results, the Guardian reports. The human body can make its own asparagine, which is an ability some cancer cells lack.

The team says the next step will be to place human volunteers on a low-asparagine diet to see if it reduces the level of the compound in the body, the Australian reports. Researchers say that while it's far too early to recommend drastic changes in diet, the findings are a big step toward fighting cancer using its own "culinary addictions." "We're seeing increasing evidence that specific cancers are addicted to specific components of our diet," lead researcher Greg Hannon tells the BBC. "In the future, by modifying a patient's diet or by using drugs that change the way that tumor cells can access these nutrients, we hope to improve outcomes in therapy." (This drastic diet helped mice live longer.)

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