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How Does the Amino Acid, Asparagine, Make Breast Cancer Worse?


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women throughout the world. About 1 million cases are diagnosed each year. While the survival rates a much higher among patients who are treated early on, there is still much to be learned about the disease.

For instance, researchers only recently learned that the amino acid, asparagine can cause the cancer to spread to other parts of the body. What exactly does this mean for the diets and treatment options of patients with breast cancer?

Continue reading to find out more.

What is Asparagine?

Amino acids are essential for our bodies to function. They are the building blocks for protein.

If a person’s body is deficient in amino acids, protein synthesis, a process that allows cells to create proteins won’t be able to occur. There are three categories that an amino acid can fall into: nonessential, essential, and conditionally essential.

Asparagine falls into the non-essential category. This means that the body produces it from essential amino acids or from its natural processes of breaking down protein.

The Functions of Asparagine in the Human Body

Asparagine is one of the most common amino acids on the planet. It is most notably found in asparagus. However, potatoes, nuts, seeds, legumes, and some animal sources like fish, are heavy in this amino acid.

When it comes to the health of the human body, asparagine:

  • Improves the functionality of the liver
  • Helps improve stamina especially in athletes
  • Maintains equilibrium in the nervous system

It is very rare for a person to become deficient in this amino acid because it’s so widely available. But if you have a deficiency you may suffer from:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Severe allergies
  • Frequent infections
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Fatigue

Although consuming asparagine has a wide range of benefits, it isn’t beneficial to everyone. It’s been said that asparagine isn’t healthy for women who have breast cancer.

Types of Breast Cancer

There are several types of breast cancer. The type of breast cancer a woman has depends on the specific cells of the breast that are affected.

The most common are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, and invasive lobular carcinoma. The majority of breast cancers are carcinomas, which are tumors that stem from the epithelial cells.

Triple-negative breast cancer is far less common than the breast cancers listed above. It is harder to treat and very aggressive.

While research is still being done to find better ways of treating triple-negative breast cancer, it is currently treated with similar techniques as other breast cancers. These include:

Radiation- This procedure is used to target and kill cancer cells. Doing so can stop them from growing and spreading throughout the body.

Chemotherapy This treatment uses multiple chemical substances and anti-cancer drugs intravenously or in pill form to reduce symptoms and stop the growth of cancer cells.

Surgery- Surgeries can vary. A patient can undergo partial or full removal of one or both breasts. It usually isn’t the first solution when treating cancer. Instead, it is recommended in more advanced cases to stop the cancer cells from spreading.

Prognosis for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Patients with triple negative breast cancer are less likely to survive the disease than patients with other forms of breast cancer. But there are many factors that can change this prognosis, like:

  • When treatment began
  • Whether the cancer has spread
  • What stage the cancer is in
  • How the cancer changes with treatment

Diet is another factor that’s taken into consideration when a doctor delivers a prognosis. In fact, studies show that asparagine can worsen triple-negative breast cancer.

The Impact Asparagine Has on Breast Cancer

The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and several other institutions recently participated in a study to find out why triple-negative breast cancer quickly grows and survives in the body. The findings are hoped to help find more productive methods of treatment that might ultimately lead to a cure.

During the study, researchers learned that a patient’s diet can influence the way this disease develops. This is where asparagine plays a major role.

L-Asparaginase Reduces Tumor Growth

Researchers took a look at the relationship between asparagine and breast cancer metastasis (tumor spread.) The experiment that used mice who had triple-negative breast cancer, had two approaches.

The first is that the mice were given L-asparaginase. This is a drug that’s used during chemotherapy in patients who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This form of leukemia thrives on asparagine.

L-asparaginase works by limiting the body’s natural production of asparagine.

The second thing the researchers did was put the mice on a limited diet. This lowered the levels of asparagine in their bodies.

The combination of asparagine lowering procedures reduced the breast cancer’s ability to spread throughout the bodies of the mice. It didn’t, however, have much impact on the main tumor found in the breasts.

Asparagine Makes Tumors Grow More Rapidly

The researchers in this triple-negative breast cancer study analyzed data from some real breast cancer patients after their experiments with the mice.

This research confirmed asparagine’s role in spreading cancerous tumors. It was confirmed that because the cancer cells were able to synthesize asparagine, the tumors’ chances of spreading to other body parts was increased.

The spreading of cancer cells in other parts of the body is the main cause of death among cancer patients.

Should Breast Cancer Patients Cut Asparagine from Their Diets?

These findings suggest that following a low asparagine diet may help breast cancer patients live longer. So, the next step for the researchers is to set up a trial to truly understand how diet can affect the levels of asparagine in the body.

To do so, they will put a group of healthy people on low asparagine diets in order to monitor them. If the outcome is positive, the same experiment will be conducted on people who have a cancer diagnosis.

Until then, we can’t say whether breast cancer patients should cut back on their intake of asparagine.

Looking for More Information?

There is still much research to be completed regarding the effects of asparagine on cancer patients. But the positive outcomes of recent trials give hope to those who are living with it and their families.

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