What Is Asparagus?
Asparagus is a spring time vegetable that belongs to the lily (Liliaceae) family and is popular for its spear like shoots, root and rhizomes. Asparagus is also extensively used in cooking as a vegetable. The seeds of this plant along with its roots are used in making alcoholic beverages.
Asparagus is botanically known by many names such as Asparagus officinalis (which in fact is a popular species of this herb), Asparagamine A, Asparagus racemosus, Asparagus africanus and Asparagus gobicus, among others. It is also popularly known as – Shatavari (in India), sparrow grass and Spargel (in Germany). Today, scientists have identified more than three hundred types of asparagus species.
Centuries ago, this herb was used by Romans and Greeks as a diuretic to clean the kidneys by increasing urine flow and also to prevent kidney stones. At the same time in Asia, Asparagus was used to treat nerve related problems, cough and diarrhea. Traditionally, in India the roots and leaves of this herb were used to treat female fertility problems in Ayurveda.
Asparagus is a healthy nutrient rich vegetable that has no fat and cholesterol contents. It also offers very less calories per serving and has less sodium content. However, in spite of all these health benefits it is advisable not to eat asparagus every day as it offers some annoying side effects. When Asparagus is taken in excess it may lead to pungent smelling urine.
How Does Asparagus Work?
Asparagus offers many health benefits as the herb contains many important chemicals and minerals such as – steroidal saponins & sapogenins, carotenoid pigments such as capsanthin, antheraxanthin, lutein, beta-carotene & beta-cryptoxanthin, glucomannan (prevents cholesterol), calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, chromium, nickel etc. This herb has a lot of dietary fiber in it along with folic acid and vitamins such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E.
Asparagus is anti-fungal and anti-viral in nature, and has anti-oxidant properties too. Asparagus offers the following health benefits in humans:
For Increasing Urine Production
Asparagus is most commonly used for increasing urine output and in detoxification and cleansing the kidneys. The herb is usually taken with lots of fluids and it also helps in treating and preventing urinary tract infections. It also helps in preventing the formation of stones in the kidney and bladder.
For Preventing Cancer
Many studies have pointed out the cancer-prevention benefit of Asparagus. In one clinical study it was found that Sulforaphane present in Asparagus helped in stopping cancer. In a related study, oligofurostanosides were discovered in Asparagus officinalis with the ability to stop leukemia cells in humans. Many animal studies were conducted with Asparagus to study its effect on cancer cell growth and in all such studies positive results were seen.
For Preventing & Treating Diabetes
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In a clinical animal study that concentrated mainly on the bottom part of the spear shaped asparagus (one that is usually discarded in cooking), it was found that it had some chemicals that could reduce serum glucose levels and had hypo-lipidemic abilities. Therefore, it can be deciphered that Asparagus helps in balancing the insulin levels in the body and can prevent diabetes.
For A Healthy Lipid Profile
The above mentioned clinical study conducted on rats also showed that the bottom part of asparagus also has the ability to significantly decrease triglyceride levels. However, the study also found that apart from decreasing the insulin and triglyceride levels, asparagus could also lead to weight gain in diabetic patients.
For Skin Problems
Many use Asparagus paste directly on their skin to treat minor skin problems like sores and preventing & treating acne. It can also be used as a face cleansing gel.
For Treating Stomach Problems
In one study it was found that Asparagus contains inulin which helps the good bacteria living in our large intestine. Traditionally, Asparagus was used in Ayurveda for treating upset stomach.
For Female Fertility & Lactation
It is a true fact that this herb contains a lot of folate which is essential during the early stages of pregnancy in women. Due to this benefit, asparagus can be taken by women before and after conception (in normal food amounts) to reduce the risk of having defect in the fetus. Another study found that the galactagogue found in Asparagus helps in increasing milk supply in breastfeeding women. However, it must be noted that there is no scientific study to back this claim and therefore, lactating mothers should always consult their physician about Asparagus.
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Asparagus can also help in treating the following conditions – rheumatism or joint pain, nerve pain or neuritis, dyspepsia nervous disorders, female hormonal imbalance, constipation, anemia due to folic acid deficiency, inflammation, gastric ulcers, liver related disorders, poor libido, depression, warts, high cholesterol, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, High BP, hair fall etc.
There is no recommended minimum or maximum dosage level for asparagus. Asparagus is non toxic and therefore is safe for human consumption. Occasionally making Asparagus a part of your diet may help in reaping all its benefits. However, taking Asparagus every day may lead to pungent smelling and yellow colored urine.
Side Effects & Considerations
There are no side effects of this herb when taken in normal food amounts. Also, there is no scientific study that has so far shown the side effects of this herb when taken in large medicinal amounts. However, apart from giving smelly urine the herb can lead to minor allergic reactions when applied directly to the skin.
Some claim that taking asparagus regularly may lead to Vitamin C overdose in women and they may suffer from – frequent and smelly urination, gas and flatulence. It may also lead to pulmonary or lungs related allergic reactions like runny nose, asthma, coughing, throat problems etc.
Asparagus supplements in medicinal amounts should be avoided in pregnant and lactating mothers. Similarly, those who are allergic to onions, garlic, chives and other related vegetables must avoid Asparagus as it is a part of the Liliaceae family.
Only a few studies have highlighted the cancer-saving benefits of Asparagus. For example, a study published in 2010 showed that folate and methionine present in asparagus helped in preventing lung cancer. Another study published in 2009 showed that the compound Asparanin A present in Asparagus helped in inhibiting cancer cell growth in the liver. However, many believe that this herb is not a miracle cure for cancer. Whether asparagus helps in inhibiting cancer cell growth or not, the vegetable is a powerhouse of vitamins & minerals that may slow down cancer cell multiplication.
Asparagus interacts with Lithium and diuretic drugs & dietary supplements.