Milk and dairy products have long been promoted as a means of increasing calcium intake and fighting bone diseases such as osteoporosis, but new research from the US shows that dairy products could also help fight colon cancer.
A study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer shows that low fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, could be powerful tools in reducing the risk of colon cancer.
The clinical trial carried out by Peter R. Holt, senior scientist at the American Health Foundation and Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University, focused on 40 adults with a history of colorectal polyps - a risk factor for colon cancer. Each person was assigned to either a calcium supplement group or a low fat dairy group.
Participants in the calcium supplement group were given a supplement of 900 mg of calcium daily, in addition to their usual intake of 600 mg of calcium from food, for a total daily calcium intake of approximately 1,500 mg. Participants in the dairy foods group consumed roughly three additional servings of low fat dairy foods per day - such as low fat milk, yoghurt, ice cream and cheeses - for a total of approximately 1,300 mg of calcium per day.
The results for both groups showed a significant reduction in the growth of abnormal cells which lead to colorectal polyps and to colon cancer.
"Our study found that increasing calcium consumption from sources including milk, cheese and yoghurt may reduce the risk of colon cancer by slowing the abnormal growth of cells that eventually may lead to colon cancer," said Holt.
"We know from past studies that calcium and vitamin D may play an important role in the fight against colon cancer, but our findings are particularly exciting because they show that getting these nutrients from natural foods may provide similar benefits."
Dairy foods are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, and also provide seven other essential nutrients. In addition, dairy foods contain compounds such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), butyric acid and sphingolipids, which have been found to have anti-cancer properties.