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Spurious Health Claim - 'Asparagus Can Cure Cancer'

Outline
Long circulated Internet message claims that pureed asparagus can cure cancer. The message cites several cases as examples. It claims that the information came from one Richard R. Vensal, D.D.S. and was printed in the 'Cancer News Journal' back in December 1979.


Brief Analysis
Asparagus is a healthy food and it has properties that may help protect people against some forms of cancer. However, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claims that asparagus can actually cure or effectively treat existing cancers. The cited cases remain unverified. Richard R. Vensal's supposed findings were not published in any credible medical or scientific journals and the claims have never been substantiated. And legitimate cancer experts have dismissed the claims as untrue. Passing on spurious health advice such as that offered in this message may raise false hope among cancer sufferers. In some cases, it may cause people to use the asparagus remedy outlined in the message instead of established and proven cancer treatments. Such decisions could prove fatal or make the impact of cancer worse.


Example

Subject: Asparagus
DO NOT FAIL TO READ THIS AND SEND TO YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS
Asparagus -- Who knew?

My Mom had been taking the full-stalk canned style asparagus, pureed it and took 4 tablespoons in the morning and 4 tablespoons later in the day. She did this for over a month. She is on chemo pills for Stage 3 lung cancer in the pleural area and her cancer cell count went from 386 down to 125 as of this past week. Her oncologist said she will not need to see him for 3 months.

THE ARTICLE:

Several years ago I met a man seeking asparagus for a friend who had cancer. He gave me a copy of an article, entitled 'Asparagus For Cancer' printed in the Cancer News Journal, December 1979. I will share it here, just as it was shared with me: I am a biochemist, and have specialized in the relation of diet to health for over 50 years. Several years ago, I learned of the discovery of Richard R. Vensal, D.D.S. that asparagus might cure cancer. Since then, I have worked with him on his project. We have accumulated a number of favorable case histories. Here are a few examples:

Case No. 1, A man with an almost hopeless case of Hodgkin's disease (cancer of the lymph glands) who was completely incapacitated. Within 1 year of starting the asparagus therapy, his doctors were unable to detect any signs of cancer, and he was back on a schedule of strenuous exercise

Case No. 2, A successful businessman, 68 years old, suffered from cancer of the bladder for 16 years. After years of medical treatments, including radiation without improvement, he began taking asparagus. Within 3 months, examinations revealed that his bladder tumor had disappeared and that his kidneys were normal.

Case No. 3, On March 5th 1971, a man who had lung cancer was put on the operating table where they found lung cancer so widely spread that it was inoperable. The surgeon sewed him up and declared his case hopeless. On April 5th he heard about the Asparagus therapy and immediately started taking it. By August, x-ray pictures revealed that all signs of the cancer had disappeared. He is now back at his regular business routine.

Case No. 4, A woman had been troubled for a number of years with skin cancer. She developed different skin cancers which were diagnosed by the acting specialist as advanced. Within 3 months after beginning asparagus therapy, the skin specialist said her skin looked fine with no more skin lesions. This woman reported that the asparagus therapy also cured her kidney disease, which had started in 1949. She had over 10 operations for kidney stones, and was receiving government disability payments for an inoperable, terminal, kidney condition. She attributes the cure of this kidney trouble entirely to the asparagus treatment.

I was not surprised at this result as `The elements of materia medica', edited in 1854 by a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, stated that asparagus was used as a popular remedy for kidney stones. He even referred to experiments, in 1739, on the power of asparagus in dissolving stones. Note the dates! ---We would have other case histories but the medical establishment has interfered with our obtaining some of the records. I am therefore appealing to readers to spread this good news and help us to gather a large number of case histories that will overwhelm the medical skeptics about this unbelievably simple and natural remedy.

For the treatment, asparagus should be cooked before using. Fresh or canned asparagus can be used. I have corresponded with the two leading canners of asparagus, Giant and Stokely, and I am satisfied that these brands contain no pesticides or preservatives. Place the cooked asparagus in a blender and liquefy to make a puree. Store in the refrigerator. Give the patient 4 full tablespoons twice daily, morning and evening. Patients usually show some improvement in 2-4 weeks. It can be diluted with water and used as a cold or hot drink. This suggested dosage is based on present experience, but certainly larger amounts can do no harm and may be needed in some cases.

As a biochemist I am convinced of the old saying that `what cures can prevent.' Based on this theory, my wife and I have been using asparagus puree as a beverage with our meals. We take 2 tablespoons diluted in water to suit our taste with breakfast and with dinner. I take mine hot and my wife prefers hers cold. For years we have made it a practice to have blood surveys taken as part of our regular checkups. The last blood survey, taken by a medical doctor who specializes in the nutritional approach to health, showed substantial improvements in all categories over the last one, and we can attribute these improvements to nothing but the asparagus drink. As a biochemist, I have made an extensive study of all aspects of cancer, and all of the proposed cures. As a result, I am convinced that asparagus fits in better with the latest theories about cancer.

Asparagus contains a good supply of protein called histones, which are believed to be active in controlling cell growth. For that reason, I believe asparagus can be said to contain a substance that I call cell growth normalizer. That accounts for its action on cancer and in acting as a general body tonic. In any event, regardless of theory, asparagus used as we suggest, is a harmless substance. The FDA cannot prevent you from using it and it may do you much good. It has been reported by the US National Cancer Institute, that asparagus is the highest tested food containing glutathione, which is considered one of the body's most potent anticarcinogens and antioxidants.

Just a side note... In case you are wondering why this has not been made public, there is no profit in curing cancer.



Detailed Analysis
Overview

This message, which has been circulating online for several years, touts the miraculous cancer fighting properties of asparagus. According to the message, eating pureed asparagus can actually cure cancer. As evidence, the message describes several cases in which the asparagus treatment cured a variety of cancer types. The message was supposedly shared by a 'biochemist' and claims that information was printed in a publication called 'Cancer News Journal' in December 1979. One Richard R. Vensal, D.D.S is identified as the doctor who discovered that asparagus could cure cancer.

However, the claims in the message are untrue.

As discussed in more detail later in the article, asparagus is indeed a healthy food with components that may increase protection against some cancers. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that supports that claim that a course of pureed asparagus can actually cure cancer.


The Mythical 'Richard R. Vensal, D.D.S'

Despite claims that, way back in the 1970's, the good dentist - 'D.D.S' presumably stands for 'Doctor of Dental Surgery' - discovered a medical treatment that would have had a profound and ongoing impact on the medical world, I could find no credible medical or scientific articles that include his name or even make reference to him. If legitimate, such an important discovery would have been aired in many medical journals and extensively discussed by doctors and scientists all around the world. In fact, Dr Vensal would be a household name and a medical hero. But, alas, the only places that his name is mentioned is in the circulating message and in articles that dismiss his findings as false.

The 'Cancer News Journal'

Despite its rather lofty sounding name, the Cancer News Journal was not a credible, peer reviewed research journal. David Emery from About Urban Legends notes that the long-defunct publication apparently concerned itself with 'alternative' cancer treatments. And an article about the claims on the Physicians Who Listen website notes:

The 'Asparagus Cure for Cancer' first appeared in print in the February 1974 issue of Prevention magazine. A second, similar article was printed in the December 1979 issue of Cancer News Journal, a magazine once distributed in health food stores. Both articles claim that a dentist named Richard R. Vensal discovered that eating asparagus could cure cancer.

Biochemist? What Biochemist?

Apparently in an effort to give its nonsensical claims more impact, the message supposedly shares information put together by a 'biochemist' who specialized in diet related health for fifty years. This biochemist supposedly worked with Richard R. Vensal on collating cases in which asparagus cured the patient's cancer.

However, the alleged biochemist is not named or in anyway identified. The message contains no references that might help readers review the biochemist's credentials or contributions to the field. Despite claims of a long career in dietary health, as with Vensal, the biochemist apparently never published his findings about the cancer curing properties of asparagus in any credible scientific or medical publication.

Why aren't the 'cure' cases well known and well documented?

The message describes several cases in which a patient's cancer was cured after he or she began eating pureed asparagus. Again, the message does not provide any references that allow people to verify the cited cases in any way. If the cures described actually took place and were documented by Vensal and his biochemist friend, then the cited cases would undoubtedly be well described and widely discussed in the medical literature.

The 'Histone' Link

In the message, the 'biochemist' apparently attempts to make the claims sound more scientific by suggesting that asparagus contains proteins called histones which act as a 'cell growth normalizer' thereby providing the miraculous action against cancer. In fact, histones may indeed have a role to play in cancer treatment. Dr. Pamela Peeke notes:

Surrounding each gene are proteins called histones. New research has revealed that histones are actually the script writers for the gene, monitoring your actions, wrapping around each gene and writing a script of instructions for it to follow. Histones are influenced by every thought (toxic stress vs calm meditation), mouthful (junk food vs healthy food) and step (couch potato vs regular walker) we take. Each action causes the histones to alter how that gene will "speak" to the rest of the body (genetic expression). Positive, productive changes are induced through a process called methylation in which methyl (CH3) groups are added to the DNA by some action you choose to do (for example, eating broccoli instead of a cheeseburger). This results in either a partial or complete quieting of a gene that would normally have left you with a high risk for a negative health outcome, such as cancer, for instance.
But, histones are present in a wide variety of healthy foods, not just asparagus. And, of course, the scientists that have researched the role of histones certainly do not claim that taking the proteins in food actually cures cancer.

What do legitimate cancer experts say about the 'asparagus cure' claims?

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) notes:
The Claim: Taking a daily dose of pureed asparagus will cure cancer.
This Internet and email item offers a few testimonials and is supposedly based on a 'doctor's' 1979 journal article.
The Facts: No such article has been published in peer-reviewed research journals and our Internet searches uncovered no information on the origin of the article or the doctor.
The Physicians Who Listen article concurs, noting:
If you have cancer, you have likely read that asparagus will cure it. A letter gone viral online claims this. If you haven't seen it yet, it's only a matter of time until a copy is forwarded to you by some well-meaning friend or relative.
Those of us who specialize in naturopathic oncology hear about this asparagus business often from our patients, many of who assume the information is true. It's not.
There is no reason to believe that asparagus will cure cancer. It may actually make a few cancers worse.
The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, explains:
On the specific topic of asparagus preventing cancer, there is no scientific evidence that suggests that it can cure cancer, as many popular sites are suggesting.

Asparagus is a healthy food to include in your diet and does have many benefits, including phytonutrients that can protect against cancer. However, there is no proof that asparagus can cure cancer.
Instead of recommending asparagus in particular, we recommend patients follow a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Asparagus is a great addition to this type of diet but should not be the main staple of it.

Moreover, asparagus - pureed or otherwise - is not listed as a cancer cure by any legitimate cancer research organization.

The Real Role of Asparagus in Cancer Prevention

A healthy diet can reduce the risk of cancer and asparagus can be a valuable part of such a diet. The AICR notes that asparagus is a good source of folate, a substance that may lower the risk of colon, pancreas and esophagus cancers. And, adds the AICR article, asparagus also provides beta-carotene and vitamin C which may give further protection against cancer.

Absurd Conspiracy Claim

The message suggests that the information has not been made public because 'there is no money in curing cancer'. However, that claim is just silly. It would apparently have us believe that the entire medical profession all around the world has heinously conspired to keep the cure from the public. This is logistically improbable to say the least and implies that all medical professionals working in the cancer field are unethical and immoral. This is insulting and disrespectful to the thousands of doctors and research scientists who have dedicated their working lives to finding effective treatments for cancer. The conspiracy claim is obviously an utterly lame attempt to explain why the supposed 'cure' is not recommended and administered by doctors. The real reason being, of course, that it just doesn't work.

Conclusion

While asparagus may be beneficial to your health when part of a balanced and healthy diet, it certainly will not cure cancer. Disseminating such misinformation will help nobody. It may provide false hope to people with cancer. And some people who believe the information may forgo effective cancer treatments in favour of the 'asparagus cure' thereby putting their lives in jeopardy.


Last updated: March 25, 2014
First published: March 25, 2014
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

References
Email: Asparagus Cures Cancer
Will Asparagus Cure Cancer?
The role of histone deacetylases (HDACs) in human cancer
Greens and Genes: The New Science of Health Through Food
AICR - Does Asparagus Cure Cancer?
Will Asparagus Cure Cancer?
Asparagus During Treatment

© Brett M.Christensen, 2014. All Rights Reserved.


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