Does asparagus cure cancer? Nope.

My Dad forwarded me an email called “read the contents below and pass to your friends”.  The gist of it was that aspargus can cure cancer.  It gives three case studies of people with different types of cancer who were cured by eating asparagus and cites a study done in 1979 that I can’t track down.  You can read the full email on the Snopes website if you are interested, it’s called “Stalk Talk

As soon as I get an email like this, I do a quck google search for the topic and include the word “quack” or “skeptic” in my search, usually within a few minutes you gather enough information to decide if it’s rubbish.  If everyone did this then people would stop sending these sort of emails on. Often these things start with a grain of truth and get blown out of all proportion.


*So does asparagus cure cancer? No.

  • Is asparagus good for you?  Yes.
  • Should you eat a healthy balanced diet that includes vegetables, of course.
  • Do you expect a healthy diet to protect you from all diseases forever, of course not.

Why am I suspicious of this email?  Well for a start the one study it cites is from 1979.  Science has changed a lot since 1979, so if it were true,  I would expect there to be much more recent research to back this up.  Also if it was true, surely we would have some “asparagus based” treatments by now.  As an example, it was first shown in the early 1980′s that a bacteria Helicobacter pylori caused stomach ulcers, stomach ulcers are now treated with antibiotics and the two docotors who demonstrated this won a Nobel Prize in 2005. So if we knew in 1979 that asparagus was a cancer cure we’d have some treatments based on it by now, science is slow, but it’s not that slow.

I will comment on one very shaky bit of science quoted in the email:

Asparagus contains a good supply of protein called histones, which are believed to be active in controlling cell growth.

Good grief!  Practically everything contains histones (well most Eukaryotes, so that includes animals (including humans), plants, fungi, algae, ameobaes etc.)  Histones are proteins that help your DNA wind up into a smaller space.  If you imagine your DNA as a thread then histones are like the spool in the middle.   Histones probably do have a role to play in controlling what genes are active at a particular time and this will affect cell growth.  That’s not to say that eating histones will prevent cancer.  Practically everything we eat contains histones and as they are proteins  they are broken down in your stomach acid, this is what stomach acid does. If you have diabetes you have to inject insulin into your body because it is a protein, if you ate an insulin pill your stomach acid would break it down and it just wouldn’t work.  So believing that eating asparagus is going to control the way your cells divide because it contains histones is daft, because histones are never going to make it past your stomach (and your body is full of histones anyway).

I found a few good posts when I was researching this subject, have a read if you are interested

Do I ever send on emails like the asparagus one?  No,  I send them straight to trash.  Why clutter up someone elses inbox?

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5 comments to Does asparagus cure cancer? Nope.

  • Arby

    To whomever wrote this article on the asparagus email:

    I would like to say BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN! Being a medical student who also has a master’s degree in biology, I also found the part about the histones as scientific trash. Your paragraph about the histones was not only accurate, but dripping with a condescending truthfulness that made me laugh out loud! I applaud your effort as we fight the good fight against hogwash email forwards!

    A fellow nonbeliever

  • Sarah

    Thanks, I get to read a lot of these sort of emails in this line of work, which is not necessarily a good thing :-)

  • AJC

    I also agree with what you are saying. However, if there is actually no harm and it gets people eating a healthy vegetable by the bucket load then I’m all for it. Not to mention the placebo effect of positive thinking.

    Maybe there ought to be more emails telling people that MacDonalds cause cancer and cigarettes make you hair fall out! Let’s hoodwink the gullible in a possitive way.

  • Ralph Lopez

    Science has not changed. For over a hundred years, when one is diagnosed with cancer, the first line of attack is removal of the cancer growth, chemo and radiation to follow. This is still the case today. Meanwhile the billions raised over the years has not brought out any significant breakthru in the cure.
    Research is a very profitable science.
    You either are profitting from cancer or you are totally brainwashed.
    Cancer is a living cell. When one succumbs from it, the cancer cells can be kept alive and continue to grow in a lab and a poison of some kind can be discovered that will kill it and not harm the body.
    When something like asparagus comes up, it’s you skeptics that are just dying to disprove it. It’s only freaking vegetable. The only people who will financially benefit are the asparagus growers. Not your scheming scientist enjoying all the billions raised for cancer to keep them in a luxurious lifestyle while people die!

  • robert gudmundson

    I would really like to say, “right on Ralph”. who in their right mind is going tocome up with a cure or remidy for something thats going to stop the flow of money into yourown pock ets? Ihave cancer right now andhave been diabetic for many years. I have yet to see anything that can warrant the millions and millions of dollars that are squandered. I have, firsthanded, experienced the cost of medicines, insulins,and all the restof the stuff you just have to have to survive. Its time we make some noise about the waybig buisness pillages the people.

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