Asparagus

Scientific Name(s): Asparagus officinalis L. Family: Liliaceae

Common Name(s): Asparagus-P , garden asparagus

Uses

Asparagus stalks are commonly eaten as a vegetable. Roots, seeds, and extracts have been used as a treatment for various illnesses and as a diuretic, despite the lack of clinical evidence. Other species, such as Asparagus racemosus , are used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine systems.

Dosing

There is insufficient clinical evidence to guide the dosage of asparagus. A maximum of 2.4 g daily of dried asparagus root in divided doses contained in a combination preparation with parsley has been evaluated for antihypertensive effect; however, adverse reactions led to significant participant withdrawal from the study.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unknown.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Symptoms of allergy, including rhinitis, occupational asthma, oral allergic syndrome, allergic contact dermatitis, and anaphylaxis, are well documented. Exacerbation of gout with excessive consumption has been reported.

Toxicology

Information is lacking.

Botany

Asparagus is a dioecious, perennial herb with scale-like leaves and an erect, multibranched stem that grows up to 3 m in height . Asparagus is native to Europe and Asia and is cultivated widely. The aerial stems or spears arising from rhizomes are consumed as a vegetable. The fleshy roots and, to a lesser degree, seeds have been used for medicinal purposes. 1 , 2

History

Asparagus spears are widely used as a vegetable and are frequently blanched before use. Extracts of the seeds and roots have been used in alcoholic beverages, with average maximum levels of 16 ppm. The seeds have been used in coffee substitutes, diuretic preparations, laxatives, remedies for neuritis and rheumatism, to relieve toothache, to stimulate hair growth, and as cancer treatments. Extracts were said to have some contraceptive effects. Home remedies have employed the topical application of preparations containing the shoots and extracts to cleanse the face and dry acneform lesions. Other asparagus species, such as A. racemosus , are used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine systems. 2

Chemistry

Asparagus roots contain inulin and several fructo-oligosaccharides. Two glycoside bitter principles, officinalisins I and II, were isolated from dried roots in yields of 0.12% and 0.075%. Other root components are beta-sitosterol, steroidal glycosides (asparagosides A to I, in order of increasing polarity), and steroidal saponins. The shoots have several sulfur-containing acids (asparagusic, dihydroasparagusic, and S-acetyldihydroasparagusic); alpha-amino-dimethyl-gamma-butyrothetin, a glycoside bitter principle different from those in the roots; flavonoids (rutin, quercetin, and kaempferol); as well as asparagine, arginine, tyrosine, sarsasapogenin, beta-sitosterol, succinic acid, and sugars. 2 , 3 , 4 Asparagusic acid, found in the roots, and its derivatives are suggested to be plant growth inhibitors and possess nematocidal properties. 1 Phytoestrogens, including the isoflavone daidzein and a lignin, have been described, 5 as well as the phenols p-hydroxybenzoic, p-coumaric, gentisic, and ferulic acids. 6 Asparagus seeds contain large quantities of sodium hydroxide-soluble polysaccharides consisting of linear chains of beta-glucose and beta-mannose in a 1:1 ratio, 1 to 4 linked to alpha-galactose as a terminal group. 2 The seeds also contain 3 ribosome-inactivating proteins, in concentrations of 8 to 400 mg per 100 g of starting material. These proteins, with molecular weights of approximately 30,000, have alkaline isoelectric points and inhibit protein synthesis in rabbit reticulocyte lysate assays. 7

Asparagus stalks contain few calories, fat, or cholesterol and are a good source of fiber, potassium, rutin, and significant amounts of folate. Folate conjugates, asparagusate dehydrogenase I and II, as well as lipoyl dehydrogenase have also been described. 8 , 9 Stalks may contain residues of the insecticide permethrin and other herbicides. 10 , 11

Uses and Pharmacology

Few quality clinical trials exist to support a therapeutic role for asparagus; data is largely limited to in vitro and animal experiments.

Antioxidant/Cancer

Chemical constituents of asparagus, such as steroidal saponins, have been evaluated in vitro for activity against human and animal cancer cell lines. 4 , 12 , 13 Free radical scavenging antioxidant activity attributed to the phenolic content of asparagus has been described. 6 , 14 , 15

Diuretic/Hypotensive effect

Asparagus roots have been used traditionally to support kidney function and are listed in the Complete German Commission E Monographs for treatment of urinary tract diseases and kidney stones. However, clinical trials are lacking to substantiate such effects. 14 , 16 , 17 The cardiovascular effect of a combination preparation of asparagus and parsley was evaluated in a study investigating the adverse effects of a maximal dosage of the product. A trend toward a hypotensive effect was observed in some of the participants, but as the study was not designed to evaluate this effect, conclusions cannot be drawn from the results. 17

Other uses

In vitro activity against cyclooxygenase-2 18 and the effect on human intestinal bacteria 3 has been described.

Dosage

There is insufficient clinical evidence to guide dosage of asparagus. Asparagus-P contains pulverized, dried asparagus root 200 mg and dried parsley leaves 200 mg per tablet. 14 , 17 A maximum of 2,400 mg daily dried asparagus root in divided doses has been evaluated for pharmacological effect; however, adverse reactions led to significant participant withdrawal from the study. 17

Pregnancy/Lactation

Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unknown.

Interactions

None well documented. 19

Adverse Reactions

Few clinical trials exist to report adverse reactions. At maximum recommended dosages (12 tablets daily) of Asparagus-P , renal pain, peripheral edema, exacerbation of gout, and skin allergies have been reported. 17

Allergy

Asparagus allergy, including rhinitis, occupational asthma, oral allergic syndrome, allergic contact dermatitis, and anaphylaxis, are well documented in the literature. Lipid transfer proteins, profilin, and glycoproteins may account for the reactions as well as for cross-sensitivities. 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24

Gout

Despite being suggested as a dietary cause of gout, clinical evidence is limited. 17 , 25

Odor

Ingestion of asparagus spears produces a characteristic pungent odor in the urine of some individuals within a few hours, which may be due to the production of sulfur-containing alkyl compounds from precursor chemical constituent compounds found in asparagus. 26 , 27 , 28 , 29 Debate on the issue remains, with some researchers suggesting a genetic predisposition to both the production of and/or sensing the odor. 29 , 30 , 31 , 32

Toxicology

Information is lacking. Reports exist of botulism poisoning following the ingestion of improperly home-preserved asparagus. 33 , 34

Bibliography

1. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database ( http://plants.usda.gov , June 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics . New York, NY: J. Wiley and Sons; 1980.
3. Yamamori A, Onodera S, Kikuchi M, Shiomi N. Two novel oligosaccharides formed by 1F-fructosyltransferase purified from roots of asparagus ( Asparagus officinalis L.). Biosci Biotechnol Biochem . 2002;66(6):1419-1422.
4. Huang XF, Lin YY, Kong LY. Steroids from the roots of Asparagus officinalis and their cytotoxic activity. J Integr Plant Biol . 2008;50(6):717-722.
5. Horn-Ross PL, Barnes S, Lee M, et al. Assessing phytoestrogen exposure in epidemiologic studies: development of a database (United States). Cancer Causes Control . 2000;11(4):289-298.
6. Yeh CT, Yen GC. Effect of vegetables on human phenolsulfotransferases in relation to their antioxidant activity and total phenolics. Free Radic Res . 2005;39(8):893-904.
7. Stirpe F, Gasperi-Campani A, Barbieri L, Falasca A, Abbondanza A, Stevens WA. Ribosome-inactivating proteins from the seeds of Saponaria officinalis L. (soapwort), of Agrostemma githago L. (corn cockle) and of Asparagus officinalis L. (asparagus), and from the latex of Hura crepitans L. (sandbox tree). Biochem J . 1983;216(3):617-625.
8. Leichter J, Landymore AF, Krumdieck CL. Folate conjugase activity in fresh vegetables and its effect on the determination of free folate content. Am J Clin Nutr . 1979;32(1):92-95.
9. Rampersaud GC, Kauwell GP, Bailey LB. Folate: a key to optimizing health and reducing disease risk in the elderly. J Am Coll Nutr . 2003;22(1):1-8.
10. George DA. Permethrin and its two metabolite residues in seven agricultural crops. J Assoc Off Anal Chem . 1985;68(6):1160-1163.
11. Goewie CE, Hogendoorn EA. Liquid chromatographic determination of the herbicide diuron and its metabolite 3,4-dichloroaniline in asparagus. Food Addit Contam . 1985;2(3):217-220.
12. Edenharder R, John K, Ivo-Boor H. Antimutagenic activity of vegetable and fruit extracts against in-vitro benzo(a)pyrene [in German]. Z Gesamte Hyg . 1990;36(3):144-147.
13. Sati OP, Pant G, Nohara T, Sato A. Cytotoxic saponins from Asparagus and Agave. Pharmazie . 1985;40(8):586.
14. Dartsch PC. Effect of Asparagus-P on cell metabolism of cultured kidney and inflammation-mediating cells. Phytother Res . 2008;22(11):1477-1481.
15. Dartsch PC. The potential of Asparagus-P to inactivate reactive oxygen radicals. Phytother Res . 2008;22(2):217-222.
16. Combest W, Newton M, Combest A, Kosier JH. Effects of herbal supplements on the kidney. Urol Nurs . 2005;25(5):381-386, 403.
17. Chrubasik S, Droste C, Dragano N, Glimm E, Black A. Effectiveness and tolerability of the herbal mixture Asparagus P on blood pressure in treatment-requiring antihypertensives. Phytomedicine . 2006;13(9-10):740-742.
18. Jang DS, Cuendet M, Fong HH, Pezzuto JM, Kinghorn AD. Constituents of Asparagus officinalis evaluated for inhibitory activity against cyclooxygenase-2. J Agric Food Chem . 2004;52(8):2218-2222.
19. Izzo AA, Ernst E. Interactions between herbal medicines and prescribed drugs: a systematic review. Drugs . 2001;61(15):2163-2175.
20. Pajno GB, Passalacqua G, La Grutta S, et al. True multifood allergy in a 4-year-old child: a case study. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr) . 2002;30(6):338-341.
21. Volz T, Berner D, Weigert C, Röcken M, Biedermann T. Fixed food eruption caused by asparagus. J Allergy Clin Immunol . 2005;116(6):1390-1392.
22. Rieker J, Ruzicka T, Neumann NJ, Homey B. Protein contact dermatitis to asparagus. J Allergy Clin Immunol . 2004;113(2):354-355.
23. Díaz-Perales A, Tabar AI, Sánchez-Monge R, et al. Characterization of asparagus allergens: a relevant role of lipid transfer proteins. J Allergy Clin Immunol . 2002;110(5):790-796.
24. Tabar AI, Alvarez-Puebla MJ, Gomez B, et al. Diversity of asparagus allergy: clinical and immunological features. Clin Exp Allergy . 2004;34(1):131-136.
25. Mayo Clinic. Gout: Causes. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/gout/DS00090/DSECTION=causes . Published November 14, 2009. Accessed June 2009.
26. Richer C, Decker N, Belin J, Imbs JL, Montastruc JL, Giudicelli JF. Odorous urine in man after asparagus. Br J Clin Pharmacol . 1989;27(5):640-641.
27. Waring RH, Mitchell SC, Fenwick GR. The chemical nature of the urinary odour produced by man after asparagus ingestion. Xenobiotica . 1987;17(11):1363-1371.
28. White RH. Occurrence of S-methyl thioesters in urines of humans after they have eaten asparagus. Science . 1975;189(4205):810-811.
29. Mitchell SC. Food idiosyncrasies: beetroot and asparagus. Drug Metab Dispos . 2001;29(4, pt 2):539-543.
30. Mitchell SC, Waring RH, Land D, Thorpe WV. Odorous urine following asparagus ingestion in man. Experientia . 1987;43(4):382-383.
31. Lison M, Blondheim SH, Melmed RN. A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus. Br Med J . 1980;281(6256):1676-1678.
32. Sugarman J, Neelon FA. You're in for a treat: asparagus. N C Med J . 1985;46(6):332-334.
33. Paterson DL, King MA, Boyle RS, et al. Severe botulism after eating home-preserved asparagus. Med J Aust . 1992;157(4):269-270.
34. Abgueguen P, Delbos V, Chennebault JM, et al. Nine cases of foodborne botulism type B in France and literature review. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis . 2003;22(12):749-752.

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