Bowel Cancer remains one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in developed countries. Much research has been devoted to understanding the contributing factors such as alcohol, obesity or red meat.
Dairy remains a source of many controversies among nutrition professionals and the general public. Articles claiming it causes everything from cancer to acne & asthma can be found all over the internet, so naturally, this particular food group has developed a bad reputation. But what about bowel cancer?
A large study from 2022 that has systematically reviewed all previous data on this topic found that people who consumed the most dairy in total had fewer incidents of bowel cancer than hose who consumed the least. They also found that the consumption of low-fat milk is beneficial, while the data for whole milk remain inconclusive.
Regarding yoghurt, cheese and fermented dairy, the evidence for bowel cancer risk is unclear, but they are likely to be beneficial in moderate quantities, while butter, cream and sugar-containing dairy, such as ice cream and whipped cream are likely to be harmful when over-consumed.
An earlier 2020 study including over 2.3 million people found that the beneficial effects of fermented dairy were duration-dependent. Only studies that lasted over ten years showed benefit. In this particular case, long-term consumption of fermented milk was associated with an 11% reduced risk of bowel cancer.
It may have something to do with long-term modification of the gut bacteria, which is known to happen very slowly. And maybe people who drink fermented dairy have, in general, other healthier habits than those who don’t. This isn't easily distinguished.
Contrary to popular opinion, it appears that certain types of dairy products might be beneficial for people concerned about bowel cancer. Low-fat milk and long-term consumption of fermented dairy are likely beneficial, while sugar-containing dairy might not be.
When it comes to high-fat dairy, such as whole milk, butter and high-fat cheese, men with a family history of prostate cancer should be aware that these foods, when consumed in excess, have been linked to increased prostate cancer incidents. Should you wish to know more, I have a separate article on this topic.
Did You Know? Certain types of dairy might also be beneficial for our cardiovascular health. Daily consumption of cheese, up to 50g/day, has been associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. In addition, the consumption of kefir has been shown to improve fasting blood glucose in healthy adults.
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Alegria-Lertxundi I, Bujanda L, Arroyo-Izaga M. Role of Dairy Foods, Fish, White Meat, and Eggs in the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer: A Systematic Review of Observational Studies in 2018-2022. Nutrients. 2022 Aug 21;14(16):3430.
Giosuè A, Calabrese I, Vitale M, Riccardi G, Vaccaro O. Consumption of Dairy Foods and Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 16;14(4):831.
Salari A, Ghodrat S, Gheflati A, et al. Effect of kefir beverage consumption on glycemic control: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2021 Aug;44:101443. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2021.101443. Epub 2021 Jul 13.
Ubago-Guisado E, Rodríguez-Barranco M, Ching-López A. Evidence Update on the Relationship between Diet and the Most Common Cancers from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2021 Oct 13;13(10):3582.