Researchers are beginning to wonder if the spice turmeric, common in the Asian diet, could be the reason behind the lower rates of childhood leukemia in Asia. And they've found that oranges and bananas can reduce leukemia risk for children.
One study at Loyola University in Chicago found that curcumin — the compound that gives turmeric its yellow color — prevents leukemia cells from multiplying in human cell cultures.
Their research was presented September 9 to the Children With Leukaemia conference in London, England.
Leukemia is complex, however, and scientists do not expect to find a single cause or a single preventative. Causes of childhood leukemia appear to be the interaction of both lifestyle and environmental factors, and genetics may also play a role.
But curcumin may reduce the risk.
"Our studies show that turmeric — and its coloring principle, curcumin — in the diet mitigates the effects of some of these risk factors," says Loyola's Moolky Nagabhushan, PhD.
A second, 7-year study at the University of California looked at whether the foods consumed by children in early life affect their risk of developing leukemia.
The researchers presented their findings at the same conference, announcing that regular consumption of oranges and bananas during the first 2 years of life was associated with a reduced risk of childhood leukemia.
This is in keeping with the known protective role of fruits and vegetables in preventing adult cancers. And there may be a special role for the potassium and vitamin C in these fruits.