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New research suggests link between maternal diet and childhood leukemia risk

A new study suggests that eating more vegetables, fruit and protein before pregnancy may lower the risk of having a child who develops leukemia, the most common childhood cancer in the United States.

"This is the first time researchers have conducted a systematic survey of a woman's diet and linked it to the risk of childhood leukemia," said Dr. Kenneth Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the federal agency that funded the study. NIEHS is a component of the National Institutes of Health.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the study results are published in the August 2004 issue of Cancer Causes and Control.

Researchers compared 138 women who each had a child diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) with a control group of 138 women whose children did not have cancer. The children of all the women in the study were matched by sex, age, race, and county of residence at birth.

After comparing the women's diets in the 12 months prior to pregnancy, researchers found that the higher the intake of vegetables, fruit and foods in the protein group, the lower the risk of having a child with leukemia.

One of the more surprising results of the study is the emergence of protein sources, such as beef and beans, as a beneficial food group in lowering childhood leukemia risk. "The health benefits of fruits and vegetables have been known for a long time," said principal investigator Gladys Block, professor of epidemiology and public health nutrition at U.C. Berkeley. "What we found in this study is that the protein foods group is also very important."

The researchers looked further and found that glutathione was the nutrient in the protein group with a strong link to lower cancer risk. Glutathione is an antioxidant found in both meat and legumes, and it plays a role in the synthesis and repair of DNA, as well as the deto
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Contact: John Peterson
peterso4@niehs.nih.gov
919-541-7860
NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
8-Sep-2004


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