Vegan Health ArticlesChildhood Brain Tumors and Maternal Diet
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From Michael Greger, M.D. 

Cancer is second only to accidents as a leading cause of death for our children these days. Brain tumors are the most common solid form of pediatric cancer. The development of childhood brain tumors is a chief reason why pregnant women no longer get X-rayed. Evidence has been building, though, that the mother's diet during pregnancy also plays a significant role.

Nitrites are found naturally in cigarette smoke and are artificially added to cured meats like bacon and bologna. They increase the shelf life of lunch meats, but seem to decrease the human life of those that consume them. They also may cause brain tumors.

A recent review of ten major epidemiological studies found that eight of them showed significant associations between maternal intake of cured meats during pregnancy and the risk of giving birth to a baby that would develop a brain tumor, usually within the first 5 years of life. Mothers eating lots of foods like sausages, ham, hot dogs, etc. had up to 6 times higher risk. The nitrites in meat under extreme chemical conditions (like in the acidity of the stomach) react with amides like creatine and creatinine (also found in meat) to create potent carcinogens called nitrosamides. The researcher suspect that the "nitrosamides formed endogenously in the mother's stomach could also be transported transplacentally to the brain of the embryo or fetus, passing the blood brain barrier, and resulting in brain tumor development in the child."[1]

In terms of other dietary factors, most of the studies that measured fruit and vegetable intake found (not surprisingly) that both fruit and vegetable intake during pregnancy seemed protective. Not all plant foods were found protective, though. A study published last month from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, found that unhealthy plant foods like french fries may also increase risk.[2] But otherwise, fruits and vegetables were found protective across a wide variety of tumors. One study published this Summer, for example, found that fruits and vegetable consumption even proved protective against retinoblastoma, a rare form of brain tumor that forms on the back of the eye and for which treatment typically requires the removal of one or both of the child's eyes.[3]


[1] Dietrich M, et al. 2005. A review: dietary and endogenously formed N-nitroso compounds and risk of childhood brain tumors. Cancer Causes and Control 16(2005):619-35.

[2] Bunin GR. Maternal diet during pregnancy and its association with medulloblastoma in children. Cancer Causes and Control (2005) 16:877-91.

[3] Orjuela MA, et al. 2005. Fruit and vegetable intake during pregnancy and risk for development of sporadic retinoblastoma. Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention 14(6):1433-40.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.