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
- Quackwatch “A special message for cancer patients seeking ‘alternative treatments‘ “ I particualrly liked “25 ways to spot quacks and vitamin pushers“
- Asparagus for cancer? Junk email for people to lazy to do their own research (sorry Dad!).
- Quack health food cures.
- What’s the harm in alternative medicine?
Do I ever send on emails like the asparagus one? No, I send them straight to trash. Why clutter up someone elses inbox?