Foods That May Help Fight Childhood Leukemia

Oranges, Bananas and an Exotic Spice Seem to Cut Risk

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 9, 2004 -- Helping prevent childhood leukemia might be as simple as consuming oranges, bananas, orange juice, and an exotic spice called turmeric, according to researchers in Chicago and California.

First, here's the scoop on the fruits.

"Regular consumption of oranges/bananas and orange juice during the first two years of life was associated with a reduction in risk of childhood leukemia diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 14," say researcher Marilyn Kwan of the University of California at Berkeley, and colleagues.

Kwan's team based its findings on the Northern California Childhood Leukemia Study, which ran from 1995 to 2002.

For every child with leukemia, a healthy child was included in the study for comparison. The researchers looked at 240 such pairs.

The kids' biological mothers were asked how often their children ate nine foods or food groups in their first two years. The researchers focused on hot dogs/lunchmeats, beef/hamburger, vegetables, oranges/bananas, apples/grapes, orange juice, fruit juice, milk, and soda.

Oranges/bananas and orange juice had a "protective association" against childhood leukemia, say the researchers, who presented their findings at the Childhood Leukemia: Incidence, Causal Mechanisms, and Prevention conference in London this week.

The reason might be the high levels of potassium and vitamin C in the fruits, says Kwan's team, which also found no link between childhood leukemia and hot dogs/lunchmeats.

Touting Turmeric

The turmeric study was also presented at this week's childhood leukemia conference in London.

Turmeric is a mustard-colored spice commonly used in Asian cooking. It helps kick the heat up a notch.

It's also used in as a natural yellow-orange dye, a food coloring agent, and in cosmetics. Traditional Indian medicine, called Ayurveda, also uses turmeric as a medicine.

Childhood leukemia is much less common in Asia than in the U.S., say research biologist Moolky Nagabhushan of Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology, and colleagues.

The causes of childhood leukemia aren't known.

Thinking that diet might account for some of the gap in leukemia cases between Asia and America, Nagabhushan's team looked at various studies on turmeric.

They found that the spice cut the risk of childhood leukemia by reducing the effects of some risk factors.

Turmeric's active ingredient, curcumin, seemed important. What's more, turmeric and curcumin were well tolerated.

One day, turmeric and curcumin might be added to foods for adults, children, and babies to help protect against childhood leukemia and other cancers, suggest the researchers. But first, the right doses have to be determined.

The National Cancer Institute is studying the effects of turmeric and curcumin.

Meanwhile, don't try eating oranges, bananas, and turmeric all at once. Making that particular combination tasty could be a real culinary challenge.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Childhood Leukemia: Incidence, Causal Mechanisms, and Prevention, London, Sept. 6-10, 2004. News releases, MW Communications.
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