Asparagus, potato, seafood, nuts and red meat contain compounds that fuel the spread of breast cancer, a new study has warned.
Asparagine, an amino acid also found in dairy and poultry, somehow helps cancerous cells to move from the breast into the bloodstream and colonize other areas of the body, Cambridge researchers found.
While it is not clear how a team showed that a diet low in asparagine significantly reduced tumors’ spread in affected mice.
It means breast cancer patients may be advised to try an extreme diet of certain fruit and vegetables – or asparagine-lowering drugs – on top of traditional treatments in an effort to prevent the disease from metastasizing.
‘This adds vital information to how we can stop cancer spreading’
Lead author Professor Greg Hannon from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: ‘Our work has pinpointed one of the key mechanisms that promote the ability of breast cancer cells to spread.
‘When the availability of asparagine was reduced, tumor cells had reduced capacity for metastases in other parts of the body.
‘This finding adds vital information to our understanding of how we can stop cancer spreading – the main reason patients die from their disease.’
Although Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, agrees the findings are ‘interesting’, he adds further research is required to determine whether the results apply in real-life settings out of the lab.
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.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, added: ‘If shown to be an effective approach, it’s possible that dietary advice to avoid foods containing asparagine, or drugs that break down this nutrient, could be added to standard treatment to help prevent metastasis.
‘We encourage all patients to follow a healthy and varied diet – rich in fruit, vegetables, and pulses, and limited in processed meat and high fat or sugar foods – to help give them the best chance of survival.’
How the research was carried out
The researchers gave mice with breast cancer an enzyme that prevents the production of the amino acid asparagine.
The rodents were given the enzyme, known as L-asparaginase, five times a week for 19 days.
They were also put on a low-asparagine diet.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.
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