Can a glass a day keep the doctors away?
To date, there are more than 300,000 childhood cancer survivors in the United States. And due to chemotherapy, radiation, transplantation, and other treatments for children with cancer, those survivors are often more prone to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
That’s why Cindy Blair, M.P.H., Julie Ross, Ph.D., and other researchers at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center are studying the effects of purple grape juice on the cardiovascular health of childhood cancer survivors.
Why grape juice?
While the old saying that a glass of red wine is good for the heart is true, it does little help to those too young to consume it.
That’s why researchers are turning to purple grape juice. The main ingredient in red wine, purple grapes, contain flavonoids, natural compounds that are thought to improve cardiovascular function by relaxing blood vessels. Relaxed, more flexible blood vessels are beneficial to cardiovascular health because they allow blood to flow more freely throughout the body. This lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of plaque build up in the arteries.
If childhood cancer survivors can experience the same benefits with purple grape juice as adults do with wine, then perhaps their risks of cardiovascular disease will drop.
About the study
Supported by the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, the study is headed by doctoral student Cindy Blair and combines researchers from the disciplines of cancer, cardiology, and epidemiology.
The group is administering purple grape juice and apple juice—a control beverage—to 24 childhood cancer survivors that were treated at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital or the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The study lasts 16 weeks for each of the participants; that time period is broken into 4 sections:
- Month 1: Children avoid drinking juice or eating grapes
- Month 2: Children drink 2 6-ounce glasses of juice per day with meals
- Month 3: Children avoid drinking juice or eating grapes
- Month 4: Children drink 2 6-ounce glasses of juice per day with meals
Half of the participants consume grape juice during month 2 and the other half apple juice. They then are switched to the other juice during month 4. After each month, researchers place probes (or sensors) on the participants’ fingers to measure blood flow in the arteries, as well as take fasting blood samples to look at biomarkers associated with inflammation and oxidative stress.
“It’s a fun study to do,” said Julie Ross, Ph.D., a co-principal investigator of the study. “The parents are committed, the kids are committed, and we’re excited to see the results.”
-- Emily Jensen