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Should Mesothelioma Patients Give Up Asparagus to Boost Survival?

The news this week that a compound found in asparagus and other foods may contribute to the spread of breast cancer has some wondering if patients with other types of cancer – such as malignant pleural mesothelioma – should stop eating asparagus.

The study appears in the journal Nature and suggests that asparagine may fuel the mechanism that helps certain kinds of breast cancer cells metastasize to other parts of the body. But what does the news mean for patients diagnosed with mesothelioma?

What Did the Study Show?

In the new study conducted by an international team of scientists, researchers found that mice with higher levels of asparagine had faster-growing triple-negative breast cancer tumors. The good news is that researchers were able to dramatically slow down this progression by interfering with the absorption of asparagine, or by limiting its intake.

“Limiting asparagine by knockdown of asparagine synthetase, treatment with L-asparaginase, or dietary asparagine restriction reduces metastasis without affecting growth of the primary tumour, whereas increased dietary asparagine or enforced asparagine synthetase expression promotes metastatic progression,” writes study author Simon R. V. Knott of Cambridge University.

The news might open new avenues for the treatment of breast cancer and other malignancies.

Asparagus, Asparagine, and Mesothelioma

Although the evidence does seem to suggest a connection between higher levels of asparagine and triple negative breast cancer spread in mice, there is no evidence that eating asparagus – or any other asparagine-containing food – causes cancer.

In fact, asparagine is found in a number of different foods that people with pleural mesothelioma and other types of cancer should be eating, including lean protein sources like fish, eggs, and nuts.

It is also found in heart-healthy whole grains and is even produced by the body. Asparagus is one of the few vegetables with high levels of asparagine.

The Best Diet for Mesothelioma Patients

While asparagine will need to be studied further before scientists will be able to make dietary recommendations on its intake, much is already known about how those with pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, and other aggressive cancers should eat for optimum health.

Diets high in phytochemicals from fruits and vegetables have been shown to help fight the damaging byproducts of oxidative stress and inflammation. This is especially important for mesothelioma patients since the asbestos cancer has been directly linked to inflammation at the cellular level caused by asbestos fibers in long-term contact with tissue.

A diet filled with plant-derived antioxidants can also help patients’ bodies repair the damage caused by mesothelioma treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. And lean proteins are vital for keeping muscles strong and maintaining energy during mesothelioma treatment.

A study published late last year in the journal Surgical Oncology found that elderly lung cancer patients with the best diets – including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – tended to have the best treatment outcomes. The world’s longest-living mesothelioma survivor, Paul Kraus, credits his treatment success in part to excellent nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.


Knott, S, et al, “Asparagine bioavailability governs metastasis in a model of breast cancer”, February 7, 2018, Nature

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