Compound found in asparagus linked to spread of breast cancer

Asparagine, an amino acid found in asparagus and many other foods, was shown to aid in the spread of breast cancer to other organs of the body in mice, a new study published in the journal Nature found.

But when a diet light in asparagine was introduced to the animals, the researchers said that the number of malignant tumors outside of the breast tissue, like those found in the bones, lungs and brain, — the number one cause of death in people with breast cancer — decreased dramatically.

"This is a very promising lead and one of the very few instances where there is a scientific rationale for a dietary modification influencing cancer," the study's lead author, Greg Hannon, told The Guardian.

Asparagine is a building block for proteins made in the body but is also a compound found in dairy, whey, beef, poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, potatoes, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains. Low-asparagine foods include most other fruits and vegetables.

The study said that the research team was able to block asparagine in the mice via a drug called L-asparaginase and by removing most of the compound from their diets. The doctors then checked records of former breast cancer patients who died of the disease and found that those with multiple other tumors caused from their breast cancers also had the highest levels of asparagine.

It appears, according to the study, that asparagine helps cancer cells evolve and makes them easily transportable through the bloodstream; helping them to spread to other organs and grow into new tumors. Restricting asparagine in the body helped to prevent this from happening but it had no effect on the formation of initial breast tumors.

The next step of the study is to see if the findings in mice translate to people. If so, the future of breast cancer treatment may include low-asparagine diets and L-asparaginase drug therapy on top of traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, especially considering the compound is so prevalent in a wide variety of common foods.

"This early discovery could offer a long-awaited new way to help stop breast cancer spreading — but we first need to understand the true role of this nutrient in patients," chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, Baroness Delyth Morgan, told the news site. "On current evidence, we don't recommend patients totally exclude any specific food group from their diet without speaking to their doctors. We'd also encourage all patients to follow a healthy and varied diet — rich in fruit, vegetables... and limited in processed meat and high fat or sugar foods — to help give them the best chance of survival."

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Tattoo artist gives new nipples to breast cancer survivors
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Tattoo artist gives new nipples to breast cancer survivors
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, takes a picture of the nipple he has tattooed on the reconstructed breast of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, reacts upon inspecting the breasts of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Inks are seen on a table as tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada tattoos breast cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, inspects the breasts of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana VeraTEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, drives to the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, inspects the breasts of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, gets a hug from cancer survivor Mamen Malagon after tattooing a nipple on her reconstructed breast at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, tattoos a nipple on the reconstructed breast of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada works on a tattoo at his tattoo parlour in Madrid, Spain, March 24, 2017. Picture taken March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, finishes tattooing a nipple on the reconstructed breast of cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada works on a tattoo at his tattoo parlour in Madrid, Spain, March 24, 2017. Picture taken March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
Cancer survivor Mamen Malagon reacts as tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind from an eye due to a tumour, tattoos a nipple on her reconstructed breast at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017.REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
Tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada, who is blind in one eye due to a tumour, jokes with breast cancer survivor Mamen Malagon at the Hospital Universitario de Torrejon, in Torrejon de Ardoz, outside Madrid, Spain, March 23, 2017. Picture taken March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera TEMPLATE OUT
A painting of tattoo artist Alvaro Quesada hangs from the wall next to his bag at his tattoo parlour in Madrid, Spain, March 24, 2017. Picture taken March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
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