Although Chinese asparagus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for various conditions, human studies have not been conducted.
Derived from the root of the plant, Chinese asparagus is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic, an expectorant, and to treat a variety of conditions including liver and airway inflammatory diseases.
Scientists are not sure how Chinese asparagus works, since little research has been performed on this botanical. In the laboratory setting, Chinese asparagus extracts slowed the growth of isolated lung cancer cells, and protected liver cells from alcohol toxicity. Animal studies suggest it may help reduce airway inflammation. However, it is not known whether these effects could occur in the human body, and more research is needed to evaluate its safety and effectiveness.
To treat cancer
Limited laboratory research shows some activity against isolated lung cancer cell lines. Human data are needed.
To treat lung diseases
Preliminary laboratory studies suggest that compounds found in Chinese asparagus may protect against airway inflammatory diseases, but no human studies have been conducted.
To treat hepatitis
Limited laboratory research shows a protective effect against alcohol toxicity in isolated liver cells. Human studies have not been conducted.
Do Not Take If
You are taking cytochrome P450 2E1 or 1A2 substrate drugs: Animal studies suggest that Chinese asparagus may affect how certain drugs are metabolized by these enzymes or increase the risk of side effects. Clinical relevance has yet to be determined.
Derived from the root of the plant, Chinese asparagus is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a tonic, an expectorant, and to treat a variety of conditions including liver and airway inflammatory diseases (1)(10).
In vitro studies indicate that it has anti-inflammatory effects (5)(8)(11), and can prevent ethanol-induced cytotoxicity (3). In vitro and in vivo studies suggest antioxidant (17)(18) and neuroprotective effects (9)(19). Various extracts have also shown anti-asthmatic effects in animal models by suppressing airway inflammation (20)(21).
In lung cancer cells, aspacochioside C isolated from A. cochinchinensis showed moderate cytotoxicity (12), and the compound methylprotodioscin downregulated proinflammatory cytokine production (13). However, Chinese asparagus or these constituents have not been studied in humans as a treatment for cancer.
In animal studies, Chinese asparagus induced CYP2E1 and CYP1A2 activities, suggesting potential interactions with drugs metabolized by these enzymes (14). Clinical relevance has yet to be determined.
Mechanism of Action
Compounds isolated from this species include norlignans (15), steroidal saponins (16), pregnane glycosides, aspacochinosides, and furostanol glycosides, some of which may have anti-neuroinflammatory effects in lipopolysaccharide-induced murine microglial cells via inhibition of nitric oxide (NO) production (11). An aqueous extract of asparagus root inhibits tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha secretion in mouse astrocytes (4). Asparagus root also reduces alcohol-induced hepatotoxicity in Hep G2 cell lines (3).
In vitro and murine models of lung inflammation suggest that methylprotodioscin is the active constituent that protects against airway inflammation (10)(13). Dioscin and methylprotodioscin suppressed airway mucin gene expression and production by acting directly on airway epithelial cells (10). Methylprotodioscin inhibited production of proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, TNF-alpha, and IL-1beta in lung tissue (13), and downregulated proinflammatory cytokine production via c-Jun N-terminal kinase/c-Jun pathway inhibition in lung cancer cells (13).
Cytochrome P450 substrates: In animal studies, Chinese asparagus was shown to induce the activities of CYP2E1 and CYP1A2, suggesting potential interactions with drugs metabolized by these enzymes (14). Clinical relevance has yet to be determined.
Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press; 1999.
Konishi T, Shoji J. Studies on the constituents of asparagi radix. I. On the structures of furostanol oligosides of Asparagus cochinchinensis (loureio) merrill. Chem Pharm Bull 1979;27:3086-94.