Food may influence cancer spread
“Over to you my dear beloved uncle JB Lim, How true is this report by scientists from the University of Cambridge, England about asparagine in asparagus and cancer spread, as reported by BBC”
From Niece Lim Ai Lian
My dearest niece Ai Lian
Thanks for the report to solicit my comment and explanation on this site from your Whatsapp to me:
First of all let me tell you Nutrition is a very difficult and dynamic subject, and especially in the area of Nutrition and Cancer.
There are a tremendous wealth of knowledge we already know about natural substances present in fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs and how they can affect our health and our outcome of disease including cancer.
Scientists learn about them through an inundation of their scientific discoveries, and yet there are much more information about the medicinal values of tens of thousands of natural substances in foods that remained undiscovered.
New discoveries on food and nutrition are published every 10 minutes worldwide. This makes our understanding how natural substances in foods affect our health very difficult to understand if not confusing with conflicting scientific disclosures being published
Nutrition is an extremely broad field of study, and nutritional science is also a specialty of medical sciences and their applications under dietetics plays an extremely important part in therapeutic medicine
Despite of the avalanche of our knowledge about plant-based foods, yet if you were I ask me for instance, whether durians, mangosteens, Psidium guajava (guava), Averrhoa bilimbi (camias), Averrhoa carambola (star fruit), Nephelium lappaceum (rambutan), Achras sapota (sapodilla or ciku), Lansium domesticum (langsat), etc, etc, if consumed regularly could block, prevent, reverse or cure cancer, or use to treat hypertension, diabetes or any other disease, the answer I am going to give you is:
“I do not know”
We already know that fruits and vegetables high in potassium and low in sodium as well as rich in antioxidants of various molecular weights are very useful in the control of hypertension and many chronic diseases where free radical damage to the cells, tissues, organs and systems are involved
But their medicinal values are far more than their uses in managing mere hypertension, diabetes or the prevention of cancer. They contain thousands of phytochemicals and antioxidants that act collectively and in different ways unknown even to research nutritionists, practicing dieticians and food scientists
Then we ask, what about vegetables like Bambusa sp. (bamboo shoots), Sechium edule (chayote), Allium fistulosum (spring oinion), Sauropus androngynus (sayur manis), Amaranthus gangeticus (Chinese spinach), and thousands of other tropical vegetables, etc.?
Can these too have a therapeutic or medicinal properties that could prevent or even reverse renal diseases like glomerulonephritis and nephrotic syndrome, or able to restore re-establish normal sinus rhythm in heart block? What about their role in liver and bile duct disorders like Gilbert's syndrome, sclerosing cholangitis? We are giving examples of course, not specific diseases where diet plays a paramount importance.
Again we do not know without studies. These are only questions we ask which food acts prophylactically and therapeutically.
Scientists who conduct research on food and nutrition would normally only observe and record their effect instead of trying to explain how they work
It is not that they cannot explain, it is just that it would be exceedingly difficult, considering that there are several possibilities with tens to hundreds into thousands of unknown active principles found in naturally in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices
So which one ingredient among the thousands of phytochemicals is actually working, or do they act synergistically? We have little answers
Even if we manage to identify and isolate their bioactive principles, it is hard to explain their mechanisms?
This is the dilemma challenging the most brilliant scientific brains how food substances act as a medicine.
Indeed Hippocrates had advised doctors in his days and even for doctors and patients today very correctly and appropriately about the therapeutic values of foods when he advocated:
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine”
Hippocrates never said let medicine be thy food. This of course was put into his mouth by pharmaceutical people today and modern doctors who want to replace food with drugs for their own survival.
In order to explain how food substances work as a medicine, it would involve a very deep understanding of food chemistry, biochemistry, metabolic pathways, molecular biology, genetic switches, epigenetics, among other medical-scientific disciplines
These are highly complex and specialized areas of studies. Without these integrated knowledge it is almost impossible to explain how food substances can affect health and disease like cancer.
Nutrition is indeed very complex and complicated trying to explain
Any attempt to explain their mechanisms would require a team of scientists from various fields working together to unravel its dynamics. So, researchers try to avoid giving an explanation as far as possible except demonstrating an effect on the body or on a disease.
You can clearly see that even scientists from the University of Cambridge conducting above study as reported by BBC did not try to explain much except mentioning that cancer spread may depend on the amino acid asparagine. But how asparagine works they remain silent.
It was also shown earlier and independently by Prof Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician that the drug L-asparaginase is used to treat acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, which is dependent on asparagine, and that the development of lymphoma and intestinal cancer were also slowed down in the absence of amino acids serine and glycine.
We already know that amino acids in which proteins are derived are very crucial in all cell and body growth and development. Hence we can see nutrition and food substances do influence the outcome of disease including cancers.
Food as a medicine as Hippocrates of Cos (cica 460 BC) works differently from how pharmaceutical drugs act.
It is a breeze for any scientist in pharmacology to explain how drugs work. They can explain in great detail how they work because drugs are specially designed and modeled by them. They then educate a doctor how they work (pharmacodynamics), and how to use them, their dosage, and explain the kinetic of their absorption, distribution, retention time, and mechanisms of excretion.
They also inform the doctors their clinical applications (indications), contraindications, toxicities, adverse drug reactions, and the dosages because they study the chemical pathology of a disease and work on them during the formulations and conduct clinical trials on them. So these scientists know best. These information are all clearly summarized in their literature (pamphlets) enclosed in the package.
Hence it is not a problem for a pharmacologists or a scientist working in a drug industry to explain how a drug works, their biochemical and clinical efficacy because they are the experts who study the chemistry of the disease (pathology) first, and they are the person who actually designed the drugs to block, substitute, replace or to mimic the body’s chemistry, or slow down the chemical pathology.
They then manufacture the drug and sell them to the doctors and teach the doctors how to use them with all the dosage, precautions, etc. given to the doctors.
All these information are given in their literature for the doctors. That’s not a problem for these medical scientists to explain. That is because drugs are something they designed, formulate and developed themselves.
But how are we to know what’s inside a food (other than the usual carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and trace elements) especially for fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs.
There are hundreds to thousands of little known substances called phytochemicals in them, and even though we already know a lot, but there are lots more we do not know
These natural substances too possess therapeutic properties like pharmaceutical drugs except they are designed and put there as natural medicines by God for our existence on this planet, and they have been made used of by man for thousands of years by all civilizations.
These natural medicines are NOT designed and formulated as a single compound for a specific use, or only for a specific disease as done by pharmaceutical chemists and their therapeutic actions studied by the pharmacologists.
Natural medicine are designed and put there by God for all purpose. We just can’t match God in His formulation.
It is not that scientists are unable to explain how many naturally occurring medicines works to block cancer. It is just that it would be extremely difficult to explain considering that there may be several possible explanations involving chemical, biochemical, metabolic pathways, cell action, molecular and gene expressions, their switches and their epigenetics involvement…etc.,
But in this case about an amino acid slowing down some form of cancers, we are talking about just one food principle namely, asparagine. This is a non-essential amino acid. The expression “non-essential amino acid” does not imply that this amino acid or other non-essential acids are not required or essential to the human body. They are absolutely essential for growth, repair and development of the human body.
They are only non-essential because the body can synthetize them, and hence they need not come from food sources
So maybe this makes it much easier for me to answer your question
First of all, let it be known that asparagine is found not only in asparagus, but also in most legumes, soya beans, nuts beef, eggs, sea foods, like fish and shell fish, milk and dairy products like cheese and even in potatoes.
Now bear with me, as I need to introduce just a tiny bit of biochemistry. Asparagine enters into the common Kreb’s Cycle and changes into oxaloacetic acid as with all other nutrients before entering the brain for its function. This makes this amino acid very important for our survival. We just can’t block it just to prevent cancer.
But what is more important is that, asparagine is encoded by the codons AAU and
and its alpha-amino acid is then used in the biosynthesis of other proteins.
Codons are genetic codes responsible for amino acid translation and their production as in gene expressions.
This step is very crucial if we now try to explain how asparagine works in cancer development
First, all cells inclusive of cancer cells need to genetically express their special proteins through these codons in order to survive and spread.
Without these special proteins expressions with the help of asparagine, the cells including cancer cells die. This step is crucial in our understanding. In short, blocking off asparagine or avoiding foods rich in asparagine may slow down existing cancers, but at the same time seriously compromise our other biochemical and physiological functions.
Hence avoiding asparagus and all foods rich in asparagine may not answer in preventing or slowing down cancer.
In any case, as I have already mentioned, asparagine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning even if you avoid foods with this amino acid, the body will still be able to synthesize it for its vital requirements. So you are back to square one again, solving nothing.
However, my feeling in forwarding my hypothesis how asparagine works is that, it may have helped in the synthesis of the various types of proteins cancer cells need. Proteins are nitrogen in composition and without a nitrogen base, no protein can be expressed by cancer genes, and they cannot spread.
But it also affects the rest of the body functions
This is the probable the answer I offer you.
But if you are not satisfied with my explanation you should contact those researchers at the Cancer Research Institute in Cambridge, the UK for a better explanation.
Obviously they know more than I do because they were the medical scientists who conducted the study.
They may have another alternative explanation.