Common food compound asparagine linked to cancer spread

Discovery in understanding the spread of breast cancer could lead to new treatments to slow metastasis

"Our bodies make asparagine, as well as numerous other amino acids that form proteins, and [asparagine synthetase] is one of the enzymes that helps make it", explained Dr. Alex Berezow, senior fellow of biomedical science for the American Council on Science and Healthy said in the Baltimore Sun. The discovery by British and U.S. scientists could pave the way to new treatments based on suppressing the molecule.

Both of these changes greatly reduced breast cancer's ability to spread.

A team of worldwide cancer researchers have shown in mice that limiting the consumption of the amino acid called asparagine stopped the spread of triple-negative breast cancer.

"Putting patients on a diet low in asparagine is probably not realistic because asparagine is everywhere (and, as mentioned above, our bodies make it, anyway.)" Berezow explained in the Sun.

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A team of global cancer researchers from the UK, US and Canada studied the impact of asparagine in triple-negative breast cancer cells, which grow and spread faster than most other types of cancer cells.

'This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading - the main reason patients die from their disease'.

The research was looking at asparagine, an amino acid found in asparagus and lots of other foods. The compound, however, is also found in asparagus, from where it gets its name, and in certain meats, dairy products, and vegetables.

However, there are no food or dietary supplements that will act as "magic bullets" to prevent breast cancer from returning.

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Researchers have laid out a two-pronged approach moving forward: Discover if a low-asparagine diet reduces asparagine levels in healthy patients, then test the method in cancer patients.

Leading author of the study, Professor Greg Hannon said in a statement that, "Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promotes the ability of breast cancer cells to spread".

Could this apply to other types of cancer?

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head nurse, also stresses it is important for cancer patients to speak to their doctors before making any dietary changes.

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Asparagus, potato and seafood do sound delicious, but think twice before indulging in these kinds of food.

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