~ 122306 Mothers' Intake Of Indole-3-Carbinol Could Help Protect Children From Cancer

A report published in the October, 2006 issue of the journal Carcinogenesis described the finding of researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis, that pregnant mice given indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, deliver offspring that have a lower incidence of leukemia, lymphoma and lung cancer after being exposed to a common environmental pollutant known to increase the risk of childhood cancer.

Oregon State Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Sciences Center director David E. Williams and colleagues exposed pregnant mice to a single high dose of a carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon known as dibenzopyrene and found that 80 percent of their offspring died from T-cell lymphoma early in life and those that survived into middle age developed lung tumors. However, when the mice were also given indole-3-carbinol from the ninth day of gestation until the offspring were weaned, deaths from lymphoma were reduced by 50 percent and there were fewer lung tumors occurring in middle age.

The study is among the first to show that the effect of diet against cancer could begin long before a person is born and have lasting benefits. "Research of this type is still in its infancy, but it's pretty exciting," Dr Williams commented. "There's strong epidemiologic evidence that infant cancers can be caused by exposure of the fetus to carcinogens, either during pregnancy or by nursing. Among all childhood deaths in the U.S., cancer is second only to accidents as the leading cause, and the fetus and neonate are sensitive targets for toxic carcinogens. It would be important if we could affect this through maternal diet."

"It's clear that in mice this supplement provided significant protection against lymphoma and, later on, lung cancer," Dr Williams added. "It's also worth noting that none of the infant mice received the protective supplement later in their life, at any stage beyond breast feeding. The protective effect of the compound came solely from maternal intake during pregnancy and nursing, but lasted into the animal's middle age. This is somewhat remarkable."

Related Health Concern: Leukemia

Risk factors for leukemia include advanced age, poor nutrition, previous chemotherapy and radiation treatment for other cancers, and smoking. Medical treatment for leukemia primarily revolves around chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Nutritional supplements offer help support the healthy function of the immune system, and in particular, the white blood cells in leukemia patients. In addition, some nutritional supplements are able to kill leukemia cells. Key examples include vitamin A, genistein from soy extract, and curcumin from turmeric.

Leukemia can be classified into four major types based on whether the disease is acute or chronic and according to the type of white blood cell affected:

  • Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML)
  • Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML)
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)


Inherited, abnormal genes account for a small proportion of leukemia cases (Alter BP 2003; Bischof O et al 2001; Fong CT et al 1987). However, in most cases, the DNA damage that eventually results in the onset of leukemia is brought about by interactions between genes, age, and a variety of environmental or lifestyle factors such as nutrition and exposure to chemicals (Greaves MF 2004; Irons RD et al 1996).

Cigarette smoke contains leukemia-causing chemicals like benzene (Korte JE et al 2000). Although smoking in the young is associated with modest increases in the risk of developing leukemia, in those over 60 smoking is associated with a twofold increase in risk for AML and a threefold increase in the risk for ALL (Sandler DP et al 1993).


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