Folic Acid Deficiency and Leukemia

People deficient in folic acid may be more at risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), a deadly form of blood cancer, researchers said yesterday.

The researchers found two mutations in a gene that controls how the body handles folic acid--a vital B vitamin--that seemed to protect people from ALL.

This suggests that a deficiency of folic acid may play a key role in the development of ALL, said the researchers from the University of California at Berkeley, Britain's Leukemia Research Fund Centre for Clinical Epidemiology, and the University of Leeds.

ALL accounts for about 3,100 new cases of leukemia each year in the United States and will kill an estimated 1,300 people this year. It is the most common form of leukemia in children, with 1,300 new cases each year. No one knows what causes leukemia.

Exercise Tied to Reduced Breast Cancer Risk

Women who exercise an hour a day or more may reduce their risk of breast cancer by 20 percent, according to one of the biggest studies ever done on the topic.

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was based on the analysis of questionnaires from 121,701 women nationwide who participated in the Nurses' Health Study, a long-term health survey of women ages 30 to 55. Rockhill and her colleagues looked at data from 1980 to 1994. They found 3,137 cases of breast cancer among the 85,364 women who answered questions about physical activity.

Of those, 20 percent fewer women who exercised an average of once a day or more got breast cancer, compared with those who exercised less than an hour a week. The exercise included brisk walking and jogging but not things such as housework or gardening.

Researchers believe exercise may affect breast cancer because it lowers the level of estrogen circulating in a woman's body. Estrogen has been found to stimulate breast cell growth, increasing the chances of cancer.

Prayer and Heart Patients

Heart patients who had someone praying over them--without their knowledge--suffered 10 percent fewer complications, a study found. William S. Harris and colleagues at the Mid America Heart Institute, the heart program of St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., studied 990 patients admitted during a year to the institute's coronary care unit.

The patients were randomly divided into two groups. In one, patients were prayed for daily by community volunteers for four weeks; the other patients didn't have anyone assigned to pray for them. The patients, their families and their caregivers were not even told they were in a study. The volunteers were told only the first names of the patients and asked to pray daily for their speedy recovery with no complications.

After four weeks, the prayed-for patients had suffered about 10 percent fewer complications, ranging from chest pain to cardiac arrest, researchers reported in yesterday's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Harris acknowledged that his study had limitations. Among other things, many patients in the comparison group undoubtedly had friends and relatives praying for them, too.