|Coho salmon, shrimp and asparagus with melted butter - better than any diabetes drug ;-)|
There are however, two good reasons, why Rahman Md. Hafizur, Nurul Kabir and Sidra Chishti most recent paper, which has been published on November 24 in the latest issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, has still made it not just into the short, but actually the 'official' SuppVersity news are twofold: Firstly, the effects of the Asparagus officinalis extract they administered at two different dosages to their rodents were just mediocre, but - as you are about to see - right on par with the diabetes drug glibenclamide, a sulfonylurea based medication that is often sold in combination with metformin (the respective drugs are called Glucovance and Glibomet). And secondly, briefly summarizing the main results of the study provided a nice incentive to dig somewhat deeper into the already established beneficial health effects of asparagus - and I can tell you, those are about as numerous as the aformentioned boring "herb XYZ"-studies ;-)
From the scientists' petri dishes to the rodent cage and... onto your dishes?
Asparagus officinalis L. is probably what the average Westerner would call "common asparagus". It's native to most European, African and Asian countries and its medicinal usage has been reported in the British and Indian Pharmacopoeias and in traditional systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha. Most of you will probably be aware of its mild diuretic effects and the distinct smell of your urine which will betray that you are someone who loves its delicate flavor in salads, vegetable dishes, soups and (if you are like me) poundwise with melted Kerrygold butter, some potatoes a decent amount of ham or some grilled meat during the asparagus season... but I am digressing here, let's get back to the facts.
To get to the bottom of previously reported beneficial effects of asparagus in various inflammatory (metabolic) diseases, the initially conducted an in-vitro study, to test the radical scavenging ability of their Asparagus extract and found that ...
"[...] A. officinalis at a concentration of 0·5 mg/ml exhibited 86·8 % radical-scavenging activity, as shown by a significant decrease in the absorbance of DPPH radicals. These results suggest that A. officinalis has potent antioxidant activity, as the positive control propyl gallate exhibited 91·4 % radical-scavenging activity. (Hafizur. 2012)Afterwards they injected a group of male and female Wistar rats with streptozotocin to induce diabetes. Subsequently, the rodents received either 250 or 500mg/kg body weight of an Asparagus officinalis (AO) extract or 5mg/kg body weight of glibenclamide (GIB) once daily via an oral syringe - the dosage was adapted once weekly according to changes in body weight.
|Figure 1: Fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, total antioxidant status (TAS was measured using the ABTS) and beta cell area / islet expressed relative to control at the end of the 29 day study period (based on Hafizur. 2012)|
There is much more to asparagus than it's antidiabetic effects
As impressive as these results may be, if we simply rely on the findings Hafizur, Kabir and Chishtiit present in this recent paper, we will actually miss not just half, but rather 95% of the potential health benefits the different genus and parts of asparagus have to offer.
|Figure 2: A. racemosis administered at a dose of 200mg/kg per day makes male rats about as horny (and able to perform) as bi-weekly injections of testosterone (Thakur. 2009) - not that you would need that, but it's nice to know anyways.|
In order to give you an idea of what you can expect, I have compiled a comprehensive, yet by no means extensive list of benefits which have been ascribed to root, seed, and even leaf extracts of asparagus over the past decades
- anti-cancer effects: Asparagus contains saponins that have in-vitro anti-(liver-)cancer effects (Ji. 2012);
- neuroprotective effects: Chinese asparagus contains pregnanes that sooth neuro-inflammation (Jian. 2012; compounds could be present in regular A. officinalis as well) and can protect your liver and brain from aging (Xiong. 2011);
- antiaging effects: A. contains enzymes that help with protein digestion (Ha. 2012);
- hypolipidemic effects: n-butanol extracts from A. officinalis exert anti-hyperlipidemic effects (Zhu. 2011);
- antimicrobial effects: A. has antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Shigella dysenteriae, Shigella sonnei, Shigella flexneri, Vibrio cholerae, Salmonella typhi, Salmonella typhimurium, Pseudomonas putida, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus aureus (Mandal. 2000);
- allows for geno-typing at home ;-) A. allows you to do a personal gene analysis to find out whether you have a single nucleotide polymorphism at rs4481887, which would make it impossible for you to smell the distinct odor the urine acquires after eating asparagus (Pelchat. 2011);
- anti-hangover effects: A. helps your liver to metabolize alcohol and can even prevent a hangover (Kim. 2009);
- buttery taste: A. contains phytochemicals which generate the sensation of having butter in the mouth (Dawid. 2012);
- anti-stress effects: Ethanolic extracts from Asparagus racemosus have anti-stress activity and help your adrenals take a time out (Joshi. 2012)
- carbblocking effects: Asparagus racemosus inhibits the digestion of carbohydrates and enhances insulin action (Hannan. 2011); in this context it is interesting to remark that the in-vitro essay of the the study at hand suggested that A. officinalis, or rather the specific extract the scientists used in their study "has a very little effect on delaying glucose absorption" (Hafizur. 2012)
- immune promoting effects: A. racemosus ramps up natural killer cell activity (Thakur. 2012); AR also enhances memory and prevents amnesia (Ojha. 2012),
- profound aphrodisiac effects: A dried root extract likewise from A. racemosus more than doubled the 'desire' of male rodents within 29 days (Thakur. 2009; cf. figure 2)
- MAO and acetylcholine breakdown inhibition: A. racemosus competitively inhibits acetylcholine and monoamine metabolizing enzymes (Meena. 2011)
If, on the other hand, you are dealing with any specific health condition, it would certainly make sense to look for an extract that contains the proper genus of asparagus, is made from the right parts of the plant and - if possible - is even standardized for a specific compound: If you were interested in upping your estrogen levels, you would for example have to pick a whole plant extract of A. dumosus that would at best contain a standardized amount of 20-hydroxecysterone (Kaur. 1998). If it's rather the anti-ulcer effects you are after, your 'asparagus product of choice' should be made of the roots of A. racemosus ideally standardized for its Shatavairin content (Bhatnagar. 2005)...
And now, you tell me eating healthy was complicated and taking supplements was easy ;-)
- Bhatnagar M, Sisodia SS, Bhatnagar R. Antiulcer and antioxidant activity of Asparagus racemosus Willd and Withania somnifera Dunal in rats. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005 Nov;1056:261-78.
- Dawid C, Hofmann T. Identification of Sensory-Active Phytochemicals in Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis L.). J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Nov 8.
- Ha M, Bekhit Ael-D, Carne A, Hopkins DL. Characterisation of kiwifruit and asparagus enzyme extracts, and their activities toward meat proteins. Food Chem. 2013 Jan 15;136(2):989-98.
- Hafizur RM, Kabir N, Chishti S. Asparagus officinalis extract controls blood glucose by improving insulin secretion and β-cell function in streptozotocin-induced type 2 diabetic rats. Br J Nutr. 2012 Nov;108(9):1586-95.
- Hannan JM, Ali L, Khaleque J, Akhter M, Flatt PR, Abdel-Wahab YH. Antihyperglycaemic activity of Asparagus racemosus roots is partly mediated by inhibition of carbohydrate digestion and absorption, and enhancement of cellular insulin action. Br J Nutr. 2011 Sep 8:1-8.
- Ji Y, Ji C, Yue L, Xu H. Saponins isolated from Asparagus induce apoptosis in human hepatoma cell line HepG2 through a mitochondrial-mediated pathway. Curr Oncol. 2012 Jul;19(Suppl 2):eS1-9.
- Jian R, Zeng KW, Li J, Li N, Jiang Y, Tu P. Anti-neuroinflammatory constituents from Asparagus cochinchinensis. Fitoterapia. 2012 Oct 24.
- Joshi T, Sah SP, Singh A. Antistress activity of ethanolic extract of Asparagus racemosus Willd roots in mice. Indian J Exp Biol. 2012 Jun;50(6):419-24.
- Kaur H. Estrogenic activity of some herbal galactogogue constituents. Ind J Anim Nutr. 1998;5:232–4.
- Kim BY, Cui ZG, Lee SR, Kim SJ, Kang HK, Lee YK, Park DB. Effects of Asparagus officinalis extracts on liver cell toxicity and ethanol metabolism. J Food Sci. 2009 Sep;74(7):H204-8.
- Meena J, Ojha R, Muruganandam AV, Krishnamurthy S. Asparagus racemosus competitively inhibits in vitro the acetylcholine and monoamine metabolizing enzymes. Neurosci Lett. 2011 Sep 26;503(1):6-9.
- Morales P, Ferreira IC, Carvalho AM, Sánchez-Mata MC, Cámara M, Tardío J. Fatty acids profiles of some Spanish wild vegetables. Food Sci Technol Int. 2012 Jun;18(3):281-90.
- Ojha R, Sahu AN, Muruganandam AV, Singh GK, Krishnamurthy S. Asparagus recemosus enhances memory and protects against amnesia in rodent models. Brain Cogn. 2010 Oct;74(1):1-9.
- Pelchat ML, Bykowski C, Duke FF, Reed DR. Excretion and perception of a characteristic odor in urine after asparagus ingestion: a psychophysical and genetic study. Chem Senses. 2011 Jan;36(1):9-17.
- Pellegrini N, Serafini M, Colombi B, Del Rio D, Salvatore S, Bianchi M, Brighenti F. Total antioxidant capacity of plant foods, beverages and oils consumed in Italy assessed by three different in vitro assays. J Nutr. 2003 Sep;133(9):2812-9.
- Thakur M, Chauhan NS, Bhargava S, Dixit VK. A comparative study on aphrodisiac activity of some ayurvedic herbs in male albino rats. Arch Sex Behav. 2009 Dec;38(6):1009-15. Epub 2009 Jan 13.
- Thakur M, Connellan P, Deseo MA, Morris C, Praznik W, Loeppert R, Dixit VK. Characterization and in vitro immunomodulatory screening of fructo-oligosaccharides of Asparagus racemosus Willd. Int J Biol Macromol. 2012 Jan 1;50(1):77-81.
- Zhu X, Zhang W, Pang X, Wang J, Zhao J, Qu W. Hypolipidemic effect of n-butanol Extract from Asparagus officinalis L. in mice fed a high-fat diet. Phytother Res. 2011 Aug;25(8):1119-24.