STOCKTON (CBS13) — New research suggests an amino acid found in everything from meat and dairy to fruits and vegetables, can lead to the spread of cancer.

The compound called asparagine was first found in asparagus in the early 1800s. Now, researchers in the United Kingdom say it caused cancer to spread and grow in mice.

People in San Joaquin County aren’t rushing to read into the results.

“You can put it in ice cream; you can deep fry it. It’s a healthy dish. You can eat it raw,” said Danica Noceti, the Asparagus Festival coordinator.

She says 65,000 people a year visit the annual event. Asparagus has a rich history in San Joaquin County. There was once 60,000 acres of asparagus farms, but now, with foreign imports, that number is closer to 1,000 acres.

“Our local farmers, it’s the biggest production around here and has been for a long time,” said Noceti.

Research has found a link between a compound in asparagus and cancer spreading in mice. The study’s author told a British news agency that lowering the amount of the amino acid, asparagine, in the animals’ diet helped to reduce tumor growth.

“When you see stuff like this, it almost feels disingenuous,” said Bruce Blodgett, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau executive director.

“Take it with a grain of salt,” Blodgett continued.

He says asparagine is found in nearly all the foods people eat, including fish, soy, beef, potatoes, and beans. Blodgett says he worries the study may discourage people from eating known healthy foods.

“I think we need a little bit more information before we start making snap judgments on what people should and should not be consuming,” said Blodgett.

The study’s author says the finding is a major breakthrough that could help develop a way to block asparagine in cancer patients.
But when it comes to eating asparagus, people in San Joaquin say, ask your doctor.

“I just don’t rely on one study,” said Noceti.

Researchers have not tested the low-asparagine diet with human patients yet, so it’s possible the results may change with future testing.

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