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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Turmeric 'may cut leukaemia risk'
The spice turmeric is found in many curries
Lower rates of childhood leukaemia in Asian countries could be due to wide use of turmeric, researchers suggest.

A team from Loyola University Medical Centre, Chicago, said the spice - often used in Asian cooking - may have a protective effect against the cancer.

Their research was presented to the Children With Leukaemia conference, which is taking place in London.

However, UK leukaemia experts said other reasons such as genetics could be behind lower incidence rates in Asia.

There are between 450 and 500 new cases of childhood leukaemia in the UK each year.

The causes of the disease are not fully understood.

Eating fruit 'beneficial'

Professor Moolky Nagabhushan of the Loyola University Medical Centre said laboratory tests had shown turmeric could protect against the effects of cigarette smoke on the body and that curcumin - which gives turmeric its colouring - prevented leukaemia cells multiplying in human cell cultures.

We need to be know if the lower incidence in these countries is actually due to diet
Ken Campbell, Leukaemia Research Fund
He said: "Some of the known risk factors that contribute to the high incidence of childhood leukaemia are the interaction of many lifestyle and environmental factors.

"Our studies show that turmeric - and its colouring principle, curcumin - in the diet mitigate the effects of some of these risk factors."

In a second study, Dr Marilyn Kwan of the University of California looked at whether the foods consumed by children in early life affect their risk of developing leukaemia.

They collected information on the diets of 328 children diagnosed with leukaemia and compared them with a group of children who did not have the condition.

Dr Kwan said: "We found that regular consumption of oranges and/or bananas during the first two years of life was associated with a reduced risk of childhood leukaemia.

"These findings are consistent with the protective role of fruits and vegetables observed in adult cancers."


Ken Campbell, a spokesman for the Leukaemia Research Fund, told BBC News Online: "We need to be know if the lower incidence in these countries is actually due to diet.

"People of Asian descent also have a very low incidence of an adult leukaemia called chronic lymphocitic leukaemia, so there may be genetic differences."

He said there was also a theory that exposure to infection in the first year of life offered some protection from childhood leukaemia.

"We know that as countries adopt a higher standard of communal hygiene, a peak in childhood incidence emerges between the ages of two and four."

He said the "infection hypothesis" may also explain the difference in rates between Western and Asian countries.

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