Background: Reactive oxygen species cause DNA damage and altered immunologic responses, and have been linked to the development of NHL. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants, and vitamins C, E, polyphenols, and carotenoids, along with selected micronutrients such as zinc are thought to be responsible for most of the antioxidant activity in foods. We evaluated the hypothesis that vegetables, fruits and nutrients involved in antioxidant activity would protect against developing NHL. In a secondary analysis, we also assessed heterogeneity of this hypothesis for the most common subtypes of NHL: chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL), follicular lymphoma, and diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL).

Methods: We evaluated dietary antioxidant intake and NHL risk in a clinic-based study of 416 newly diagnosed NHL cases and 926 frequency-matched controls enrolled at the Mayo Clinic from 2002–2007. Usual diet two years before diagnosis/enrollment was assessed using a self-administered, 128-item food frequency questionnaire. Dietary intake of antioxidants was estimated using the Food Processor SQL system, further supplemented with data from US Department of Agriculture nutrient databases. Unconditional logistic regression was used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CI), adjusted for age, sex, residence, and total energy. NHL subtypes were centrally reviewed, and subtype-specific risks were estimated using polychotomous logistic regression.

Results: The mean age at diagnosis was 60.8 years for cases and 57% were male; for controls, the mean age at enrollment was 60.8 years and 54% were men. NHL risk was inversely associated with intake of total vegetables (OR for highest compared to lowest quartile, 0.46; 95% CI 0.32–0.68; p-trend<0.001), and specifically green leafy (OR=0.54; 95% CI 0.39–0.76; p-trend<0.001) and cruciferous (OR=0.62; 95% CI 0.43–0.88; p-trend=0.02) vegetables, but not legumes or red/yellow/orange vegetables. There was no association with total fruit intake or intake of citrus fruits in particular. When modeled together, the association for green leafy vegetables was unchanged while the association for cruciferous vegetables attenuated (OR=0.75; 95% CI 0.50–1.13; p-trend=0.3). Higher intake of total vitamin A (OR=0.60; 95% CI 0.41–0.88; p-trend<0.001) and vitamin E (OR=0.53; 95% CI 0.34–0.82; p-trend<0.001), but not vitamin C, were associated with lower NHL risk. For vitamin A, there was no association with preformed Vitamin A, but there was an inverse association with beta-carotene (OR=0.56; 95% CI 0.39–0.81; p-trend<0.001); only weak inverse associations were observed for other carotenoids (lutein/zeaxanthin, lycopene, and cryptoxanthin). When modeled together, the inverse association for vitamin E was unchanged while the association for beta-carotene attenuated. For micronutrients, there were inverse associations for manganese (OR=0.60; 95% CI 0.40–0.90; p-trend=0.02), selenium (OR=0.47; 95% CI 0.27–0.80; p-trend=0.01), and zinc (OR=0.46; 95% CI 0.27–0.80; p-trend<0.001) but not copper; when modeled simultaneously, both manganese (p-trend=0.03) and zinc (p-trend=0.02) remained significantly and inversely associated with NHL risk. Further adjustment for education, family history of NHL, smoking, alcohol use, and body mass index did not alter these results. There was no NHL subtype heterogeneity for the associations with total vegetables, green leafy vegetables or vitamin E, while inverse associations were not observed for manganese and follicular lymphoma or zinc and CLL/SLL.

Conclusion: Higher intakes of vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables, vitamin E, manganese, and zinc were associated with lower risk of NHL. These finding extend a growing literature from case-control and cohort studies that support a protective role of foods and nutrients that function in antioxidant related pathways against development of NHL, and therefore may represent one of the few known modifiable risk factors for this cancer.

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes

Corresponding author