HOT DOGS AND CHILDHOOD LEUKEMIA
In Los Angeles County a careful study* was made of some of the dietary habits of 232 young leukemia patients and their parents. Between 1980 and 1987 these children had been newly diagnosed from birth up to ten years of age. An equal number of normal children were matched to the patients by sex, ethnicity and approximately by age and the location of their homes. The researchers had a detailed interview usually with both parents including "information on the location and temporal pattern of the children's activity, history of appliance use, and exposure to environmental chemicals, recreational drugs, and incense.
"Twelve questions were asked about the usual dietary intake and frequency of certain food items, some of which contain precursors (e.g. nitrite) or inhibitors (e.g., vitamin C) of NOC [nitrosoamines and similar compounds]. In addition, neutral items such as coke and cola drinks were added to be able to assess possible response bias. It is assumed that most exposure of our study population to NOC is from those formed in the body. Questions on usual frequency of consumption were included for each of the following food items: bacon, sausage, and ham combined (referred to as breakfast meats for brevity); hot dogs; hamburgers; bologna, pastrami, corned beef, salami . . . (referred to as lunch meats for brevity); charcoal broiled meats; oranges or orange juice; grapefruit or grapefruit juice; apples or apple juice; coffee; coke or cola drinks; pasteurized milk; and raw milk. The mother was asked to provide the information for herself and then to estimate how often the child ate these items up to the reference period. The father was asked to provide his dietary information."
For each food category consumption was divided into four levels: none, low, medium, and high. The first results showed that when children ate more than twelve hot dogs per month the risk for childhood leukemia was increased almost six times. A similarly high risk showed up when the child's father ate more than twelve hot dogs per month irrespective of how many his child consumed. (Maternal consumption was not significantly associated with risk.)
Interestingly, "experimental work has shown a high occurrence of a gene mutation that predisposes progeny to tumor development at a early age in male mice treated with [one of the NOC chemicals] before mating."
In order to find out whether or not the association between the father's and the child's consumption of hot dogs and childhood leukemia would remain statistically significant, the researchers next added other risk variables: reported use of indoor pesticides, children's hair dryers, spray paints and other occupational chemicals; exposure to electro-magnetic fields and breast feeding. With all the adjustments the two associations remained statistically significant. In the case of the fathers' high hot dog consumption, the risk of leukemia for their children increased eleven times.
Since vitamin C can inhibit the conversion in our bodies of nitrites into NOC, the researchers had thought the consumption of fruits containing vitamin C might reduce the risk of leukemia. However, they "did not see such a protective effect, but . . . would not expect one if, for example, the child drank orange juice at breakfast but ate hot dogs later in the day." They are hoping to do more detailed research in the future. However, now they suggest that it "may be prudent for parents to consider reducing consumption of hot dogs for themselves and their children where consumption frequencies are high."
[Editor's note: As a member of NOHA since the year of its founding, I remember a speaker about twenty years ago pointing out to us that the nitrites used to preserve meat can turn to potent cancer-causing nitrosamines within our bodies. He also pointed out to us the protective value of vitamin C.]
*Peters, John M., Susan Preston-Martin, Stephanie J London, Joseph D. Bowman, Jonathan D. Buckley, and Duncan C. Thomas, "Processed meats and risk of childhood leukemia (California, USA)," Cancer Causes and Control, 5: 195-202, 1994.
Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XIX, No. 3, Summer 1994, page 3.