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Large Doses of Bioflavonoids Linked to Leukemia in Children

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"This strongly supports the notion that bioflavonoids could be a causative agent for infant and possibly childhood leukemias," Rowley says. Mothers' intake of bioflavonoids during pregnancy may cause MLL damage in the fetuses, leading to leukemia in infants and young children, she says.

Using blood and bone-marrow cells from healthy newborns and adults, as well as leukemia cells, researchers uncovered the mechanism of DNA damage. Once the MLL gene is broken, it can reconnect with more than 40 other genes. In extreme cases, this can cause cell death. These so-called "translocations" of genetic material also can cause uncontrolled cell growth, such as in leukemia.

Manuel Diaz, MD, a molecular geneticist at the Cardinal Bernadin Cancer Center at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., calls for caution in interpreting the study's results.

"It is a big jump from an in vitro study for possible effects in a complete organism," he says. "I wouldn't change my diet because of this study. This paper will help in the design of other studies."

Still, he agrees with Rowley that pregnant women should not take supplements containing bioflavonoids. Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, professor of preventive medicine and a nutritionist at Northwestern University Medical School, says several recent studies have called supplement use into question.

"Foods, not supplements, are the best source of nutrients for a human body," she says. "When you supplement the body with megadoses of nutrients, you are taking those nutrients out of the context of the food and may be left with a potential toxic effect."

  • Researchers have found that chemicals known as bioflavonoids can cause genetic damage, which may explain the suspected link between bioflavonoids and leukemia among infants and children.
  • Pregnant women should not take megadoses of bioflavonoids in supplements, researchers say.
  • When they are consumed in foods in which they naturally occur, such as soybeans, citrus fruits, and root vegetables, bioflavonoids have many health benefits.
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