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Nutritional Support for Leukemia Patients

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Apoptosis is a natural process of cell death that contributes to the regulation of cell growth and the prevention of cancer. Dr. Ronan J. Kelly and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, provided a review of the biochemistry of apoptosis. These authors reported that apoptosis is inhibited by a protein called survivin. “Survivin has consistently been identified by molecular profiling analysis to be associated with higher tumor grade, more advanced disease, abbreviated survival, accelerated rates of recurrence, and chemotherapy and radiation resistance,” they noted. Thus, treatments that oppose the effects of survivin and increase apoptosis may be valuable for cancer patients.

For leukemia patients, two nutritional products have been identified which increase the rate of apoptosis of cancer cells. The first is resveratrol. Dr. Monika Podhorecka and colleagues at the Medical University of Lublin, Poland, studied the effects of resveratrol on cell cultures of blood and bone marrow from patients with chronic lyphocytic leukemia (CLL). This is the most common form of adult leukemia in western countries. “Despite the recent introduction of many therapeutic regimens, CLL is still an incurable disorder,” the authors noted. As motivation for studying nutritional products, they added, “there is an urgent need to discover novel, less toxic, and more effective drugs for CLL patients.”

Podhorecka and coworkers found that resveratrol was effective both alone and in combination with the purine analog chemotherapy agents fludarabine and cladribine. These standard chemotherapy agents have side effects including nausea, vomiting, hepatic lesions, and opportunistic infections. The authors suggested that lower doses of chemotherapy may be effective when resveratrol is added to the treatment regimen. Resveratrol is found in many foods, and is most commonly associated with grapes and red wine. It is available as a dietary supplement. Reported side effects include insomnia, joint pain, diarrhea, stomach pain, colored urine, flu, and acne.

For leukemia patients who receive radiation therapy, vitamin C may increase the effectiveness of the radiation in killing cancer cells. Dr. Koji Shinozaki and colleagues at two Japanese universities investigated the effects of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) on leukemia cell cultures exposed to ionizing radiation. They found greater apoptosis with radiation plus vitamin C than with radiation alone.


1. Kelly RJ et al, “Impacting tumor cell-fate by targeting the inhibitor of apoptosis protein survivin”, Molecular Cancer 2011; 10: 35. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21470426

2. Podhorecka M et al, “Resveratrol increases rate of apoptosis caused by purine analogues in malignant lymphocytes of chronic lymphocytic leukemia”, Ann Hematol 2011; 90: 173-83. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20714724

3. Resveratrol side effects:

4. Shinozaki K et al, “Ascorbic acid enhances radiation-induced apoptosis in an HL60 human leukemia cell line”, J Radiat Res 2011; 52: 229-37. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21343676

Reviewed August 8, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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