Asparagus and other foods could be excluded from the diet of patients affected by breast cancer because they increase the risk of spreading the tumor through the body, experts say.

Researchers are studying whether changing their eating habits could help patients with mammary tumors after studies on mice have shown that asparagine, an asparagus compound, but also present in other foods, leads to the spread of the disease to other organs.

According to a study published in Nature magazine, when researchers reduced asparagine from the diet of mammary tumors, they found that secondary tumors from other tissues were considerably reduced. Spread of malignant cells into the bones, lungs or brain is the leading cause of death among patients diagnosed with mammary tumors. Prof. Greg Hannon, director of the UK Cancer Research Institute stated that this promising discovery will probably help them change the diet of people with such tumors.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said that this early discovery could offer a long-awaited new way to help stop breast cancer spreading. To do so, the researchers first need to understand the true role of this nutrient in patients.
With nearly 11,500 women still dying from breast cancer each year in the UK, there is an urgency to stop the disease spreading around the body, where it becomes incurable.

Asparagine is a naturally occurring amino acid in the human body, but is also found in food in different types of meat, vegetables or dairy products. Specialists studied mice with aggressive forms of breast cancer. Following a high-asparagine diet, rodents developed secondary tumors within a few weeks and died within months.

Asparagine it’s been proved to help cancer cells change into a form that easily spreads from the breast, through the bloodstream, to other organs where they grow into secondary tumours. While suppressing levels of asparagine reduced the spread of breast cancer around the body, it did nothing to prevent breast tumours forming in the first place. Therefore, a breast cancer patient needs to continue to have conventional treatments, such as chemotherapy, for the disease.

In the Nature journal, researchers explained how they reduced the tumor’s ability to spread through the body by blocking asparagine with a drug called L-asparaginase. Also, the elimination of asparagine-rich foods from the animals diet has helped to diminish the spread. Amino acid helps cancer cells change their shape and become much easier in the body.

Even with this new scientific evidence, it is not recommended for patients to totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors beforehand. It is encouraged for all patients to follow a healthy and varied diet – rich in fruit, vegetables and pulses, and limited in processed meat and high fat or sugar foods, in order to help give them the best chance of survival.

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