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Leukemia is the most common cancer of childhood with significant correlation found between environmental factors and the development of leukemia. Research has been conducted on maternal use of folic acid, fruits and vegetables, cured meats and alcohol.

Maternal Diet Prior To And During Pregnancy And The Risk of Childhood Leukemia

Leukemia is the most common cancer of childhood, accounting for most of the cancer-related deaths in children under the age of 15. Patients with leukemia have a high survival rate, but it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of leukemia in children. The most common type of leukemia in children is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). Many scientists believe that a large number of leukemia cases in children can be avoided through an alteration of the maternal diet during pregnancy [1].

There has been a significant correlation between environmental factors, such as parental smoking, second-hand smoking, and being exposed to certain chemicals during pregnancy and the development of leukemia. One of the other factors associated with pediatric leukemia is food intake (nutrition consumption) of the mother during pregnancy. In particular, consuming certain foods has been shown in many studies to either increase or decrease risk of leukemia in children [2].

Folic Acid And Vitamin Supplements

Most studies on maternal diet and its link to pediatric leukemia have studied the maternal intake of folic acid. Every study conducted on this subject has found a correlation between the consumption of folic acid during pregnancy and a decrease in the risk of pediatric leukemia, making folic acid the most well-known diet-associated deterrent of this disease. Multiple studies have also found that the intake of vitamin supplements during pregnancy contributed to a decreased incidence of leukemia [3]. Furthermore, a large-scale study conducted in Shanghai revealed that there was a significant decrease in leukemia when the mother’s food intake included cod liver oil, which contains vitamin A [4].

Fruits And Vegetables

Abiri et al. conducted a study where they examined 11 articles written on the topic of maternal diet during pregnancy and the associated risks of pediatric leukemia.

The most common result that emerged from all the articles was that women who consumed more vegetables and fruits before and during pregnancy had the lowest risk of ALL in their children.

Three of the papers showed that maternal intake of particular fruits and vegetables such as:

  • Cantaloupe,
  • Carrots,
  • Peas,
  • Oranges
  • And green beans

reduced the risk of pediatric ALL [5].

Furthermore, results determined by the California Childhood Leukemia Study have shown that children whose mothers eat more fruits and vegetables during pregnancy have a decreased risk of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) as well as infant leukemia.

Researchers in this study analyzed the quality of the maternal diet and determined the subsequent relation to pediatric ALL. High-quality diets were characterized by an increased intake of total fruits, whole fruits, and total vegetables. Women with high-quality diets were found to have a lower risk of ALL in children. The decrease in ALL risk was more significant for women who consumed the highest amount of products in the high-quality diet. In particular, women who reported eating much more or somewhat more vegetables or fruits while pregnant had the lowest risk of pediatric ALL [6].

Fish And Seafood

The California Childhood Leukemia Study also looked at the intake of fish by mothers during pregnancy and found that consuming fish was also associated with a lower pediatric ALL risk. Petridou et al. have looked at the effects of fish and seafood consumption by the mother and found an associated between increased intake and decreased risk of ALL [7].

Beef And Cured Meats

Multiple studies have been conducted on the consumption of beef and cured meats by the mother and its associated with pediatric leukemia. This is a more controversial topic as multiple studies have discovered conflicting results. Two studies found that there was no significant link between intake of maternal cured meat and pediatric leukemia [8,9]. 

However, one study found that consumption of hot dogs by the mother led to a higher risk of pediatric ALL.

On the other hand, a study conducted by Jensen et al., which looked at the maternal intake of cured meats such as hot dogs, sausages, lunch meats and bacon, found that it actually led to a decrease in risk of ALL. Moreover, there was a statistically significant decrease in pediatric ALL incidence in children with mothers who consumed beef and beans during pregnancy. Jensen et al. believed that their unexpected results could be attributed to the presence of a substance called glutathione which is found in meat and vegetables and is an antioxidant, a substance that decreases the risk of cancer [10].

Sugars And Syrups

Petridou et al. also looked at the maternal intake of foods such as sugars and syrups and found that there was a statistically higher risk of developing pediatric ALL if the mother had a significant intake of sugars and syrups [11].

Alcohol And Tobacco

Ferreira et al. looked at the effect of maternal alcohol consumption and the subsequent risk of pediatric leukemia. This study, which was conducted in Brazil, found that there was no significant association between maternal alcohol consumption or tobacco use with pediatric leukemia. However, they did find that there was a potential dose response as women who drank more had a higher risk when compared to women who drank less. However, results from another study found that maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy was significantly associated with a higher risk of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in children, which is a less common type of pediatric leukemia [12].


While the results of multiple studies conducted on maternal diet and pediatric leukemia risk have been controversial, it is best to increase consumption of known deterrents of pediatric leukemia such as folic acid, vitamin supplements, fruits, and vegetables. It is also best to stay away from sugars, syrups, cured meats and alcohol.

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