Discover more about the historically consumed and celebrated asparagus, from beliefs around the sulfurous odor it may add to a person's urine to rather surprising health benefits
Asparagus, scientifically known as Asparagus officinalis, is among the top vegetable crops produced in the world, grown in nearly all parts of the globe. It has been widely cultivated for centuries as food as well as herbal medicine.
Despite this widespread use and cultivation, there is much to discover about asparagus and its rich history and nutrient profile that can put other vegetables to shame. Let's have a closer look at the wonderful wellness perks you can get from humble asparagus.
History and Nutritional Profile
There are two main types of asparagus crops: green and white. Countries like Peru, the Netherlands and Belgium are more familiar with the white varieties, while others like the United Kingdom typically only see the green type in supermarkets.[i] Traditionally, the green form retains a bigger global market share, with some countries not even aware that the white type exists.
Did you know that asparagus was deemed a luxury or gourmet food for years? It afterward became more widely available and consumed, with its European production nearly doubling to over 300,000 tons a year from 1968 to 2017.[ii]
While low in calories, asparagus packs quite a nutritional punch. A half-cup, or about 90 grams (g), of cooked asparagus contains 18% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin C, 57% of the RDI of vitamin K and 34% of the RDI of folate.[iii]
Asparagus is a particularly stand-out source of vitamin K, an essential nutrient that plays an important role in blood clotting as well as bone health. The nutrient is also considered anticancer and insulin-sensitizing.[iv]
No talk of this vegetable is complete without discussing the smell of some people's urine after eating it. The distinct sulfurous smell has been compared to rotten eggs or wet earth, and it results from the same chemical released by skunks as their natural defense mechanism.
While some scientists claim that most people detect the unique odor in their urine quickly after consuming asparagus, a study in the journal Chemical Senses concluded that this might not be the case for others.[v] Some people do not produce the odor while others do but are unable to smell it. Blame it on your genes, the researchers noted.
Asparagus Benefits That Might Surprise You
Here are some interesting health benefits you can get from asparagus:
1. Potential Hangover Aide
Korean scientists writing in the Journal of Food Science highlighted the benefit of asparagus in avoiding a hangover.[vi] It turns out extract of asparagus contains amino acids and minerals that may protect liver cells against toxins from alcohol.
Testing the extract on human and animal liver cells, the researchers found that it substantially fought cellular toxicity typically linked to the oxidative stress caused by chronic alcohol consumption.
2. Inhibits Growth of Leukemia Cells
Promising research shows the effect of two phytochemicals abundantly found in asparagus,[vii] which may inhibit the growth of cancer cells in leukemia. "The inhibitory effect on DNA synthesis was found to be irreversible," the researchers wrote.
3. Wards Off Depression
Researchers investigated the antidepressant-like effect of a standardized hydroethanolic extract of Asparagus adscendens.[viii] Results from 14 days of pre-treatment showed antidepressant-like effects, with the behavioral improvement supported by enhanced levels of monoamines and reduced corticosterone levels in asparagus-treated animals.
Another variety of the vegetable, named Asparagus cochinchinensis, also has antidepressant-like and neuroprotective properties.[ix]
4. Lowers Blood Pressure Levels
Asparagus contains potassium, a mineral associated with lowering high blood pressure.
In a study of animal models with high blood pressure, subjects were fed a diet containing 5% asparagus or a standard diet without the vegetable.[x]
After 10 weeks, the animals on the asparagus diet exhibited significantly lower systolic blood pressure, urinary protein excretion and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity in the kidney compared to those in the other group. The 2″-hydroxy nicotianamine in asparagus may be inhibiting ACE activity in the kidney, therefore preventing high blood pressure and assisting renal function.
Discover more interesting properties of asparagus with the 25 abstracts containing asparagus research on the GreenMedInfo.com database.
[i] Pegiou E et al "Green and White Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis): A Source of Developmental, Chemical and Urinary Intrigue" Metabolites. 2020 Jan; 10(1): 17. Epub 2019 Dec 25.
[ii] Pegiou E et al "Green and White Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis): A Source of Developmental, Chemical and Urinary Intrigue" Metabolites. 2020 Jan; 10(1): 17. Epub 2019 Dec 25.
[v] Pelchat M et al "Excretion and Perception of a Characteristic Odor in Urine after Asparagus Ingestion: a Psychophysical and Genetic Study" Chemical Senses. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjq081
[vi] Kim B et al "Effects of Asparagus officinalis Extracts on Liver Cell Toxicity and Ethanol Metabolism" J Food Sci. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2009.01263.x
[vii] Shao Y et al "Steroidal saponins from Asparagus officinalis and their cytotoxic activity" Planta Med. 1997 Jun;63(3):258-62.
[viii] Pahwa P et al "Antidepressant-like effect of a standardized hydroethanolic extract of Asparagus adscendens in mice" Indian J Pharmacol. 2019 Mar-Apr;51(2):98-108.
[ix] Jalsrai A et al "The neuroprotective effects and possible mechanism of action of a methanol extract from Asparagus cochinchinensis: In vitro and in vivo studies" Neuroscience. 2016 Mar 3. Epub 2016 Mar 3.
[x] Sanae M et al "Green asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) prevented hypertension by an inhibitory effect on angiotensin-converting enzyme activity in the kidney of spontaneously hypertensive rats" J Agric Food Chem. 2013 Jun 12;61(23):5520-5. Epub 2013 May 30.