Opinion: Taking bite out of asparagus myth

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Commentary by Ward Degler

Did you see that post on social media the other night? The one claiming asparagus cures cancer? It was an innocent little piece that quoted some doctor who quoted some study that listed a half-dozen case histories about miraculous cures.

Apparently, it created a firestorm. Grocery stores sold out of asparagus. Asparagus futures went through the roof. Produce farmers bought more land to plant more asparagus. The medical community was all abuzz.

Then, slowly, the facts began oozing into the daylight. The doctor who quoted the article can’t be found. No record he even existed. The quoted article was written in 1979, and the journal it reportedly appeared in doesn’t seem to exist, either.

The basis of the claim surrounds something called asparagine, a non-essential amino acid found in asparagus, fish and potatoes. Apparently, it contains glutathione, a known anti-carcinogen and anti-oxidant.

So far, so good. That part is true. The problem is glutathione is comprised of a tripeptide of three amino acids that, unfortunately, are totally digested when eaten and, thus, can never get into the blood stream to attack the cancer.

In other words, asparagus does have cancer killing amino acids, but they don’t work when eaten. Sadly, I can’t think of any other way to get a shot of asparagus.

So, it turns out asparagus is nothing but a nice vegetable. Someone suggested that if asparagus, fish or potatoes were discovered to cure cancer back in 1979, some publication like the New England Journal of Medicine might have mentioned it by now.

While digging into this story, I also discovered another report that claimed asparagus causes cancer. Lots of bleating and bellowing on that one, too. Near as I could learn after more research was that a study comprised of mice that already had cancer seemed to get worse after being fed asparagus.

I happen to like asparagus. Others don’t. One guy said he wouldn’t eat asparagus even if he had cancer. I told him not to worry because it doesn’t cure it, anyway. Besides, to be on the safe side, he could always eat fish and potatoes.

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