The claim: Consumption of asparagus can cure different types of cancers
An often-shared social media post claims that asparagus has the ability of “detoxifying your body of harmful chemicals” and can serve as an antidote to cancer. The posting cited an article titled “Asparagus For Cancer” that it said was printed in the Cancer News Journal in December 1979. The article purportedly cited cases of individuals with Hodgkin’s disease, bladder cancer, lung cancer and skin cancer who had been cured via “asparagus therapy.”
However, the way the posting was written made it unclear if the four cases were attributed to the journal article or if they were cases cited independently by the individual who wrote the post.
In either situation, though, the claim made in the post was straightforward: Consumption of asparagus helped combat various forms of the deadly disease.
“Asparagus contains a good supply of protein called histones, which are believed to be active in controlling cell growth,” the post stated. “For that reason, I believe asparagus can be said to contain a substance that I call cell growth normalizer. That accounts for its action on cancer and in acting as a general body tonic.”
Those cancer patients consuming asparagus in various forms could be expected to “show some improvement in 2-4 weeks,” the posting claimed.
A mysterious origin
Let’s start with the cited article in the Cancer News Journal. Dr. Peter Gott, a retired physician who writes Q&A columns circulated by United Feature Syndicate, says the existence of the medical journal article is dubious.
“In one circulating email, the Cancer News Journal was said to have printed an article in December 1979; however, to date, the article and its biochemist author have not been found,” Gott stated in a 2011 column.
McGill University’s Office for Science and Society was even more blunt: “Next, cancer is not one disease, but many. Hodgkin’s disease is not treated the same way as skin cancer or as lung cancer. So the chance that one single treatment, be it a pharmaceutical product, or asparagus, would be effective against such a diversity of cancers is essentially zero.”
So from where does the claim originate?
Asparagus is rich in glutathione, which is a potent anticarcinogen and antioxidant. Glutathione, theoretically, could prove helpful against bone, breast, lung and colon cancers.
Except that glutathione is ineffective when consumed as a food. Glutathione is made up of three amino acids joined together, and that bond is broken in digestion. As a result, glutathione ingested from, say, asparagus will not get into the bloodstream and would not reach cancerous cells, according to McGill University.
“You cannot boost levels by eating glutathione,” concluded an article in Oncology Hematology Care posted on Dec. 18, 2017.
Ditto for the presence of histones in asparagus. A July 2018 posting in hoax-slayer.net stated: “In fact, histones are present in a wide variety of healthy foods, not just asparagus. And, of course, the scientists that have researched the role of histones certainly do not claim that taking the proteins in food actually cures cancer.”
A study in the journal Nature also linked to L-asparagine to efforts to combat cancer. L-asparagine, an amino acid, is found in asparagus juice. In reporting on that Nature study, healthline.com pointed out that “non-essential amino acids like L-asparagine can be synthesized in the body and don’t need to be consumed in the diet.”
“Overall, the consensus indicates that asparagus neither increases breast cancer risk nor helps breast cancer metastasize,” healthline.com reported.
Our ruling: False
There is no evidence to support the claim that asparagus can cure cancer.
However, there is plenty of research to show that eating asparagus, as well as other vegetables, has plenty of health benefits. And that a diet rich in fibers, and fruits and vegetables, is one way to help stave off certain cancers and diseases.
So, as the American Institute for Cancer Research counsels: “If you like asparagus, keep eating it as part of a balanced healthy diet.”
Because this claim is not supported by our research, we rate it FALSE.