Men who eat two portions of yoghurt a week less likely to develop bowel cancer, study suggests

Sarah Young

Men who regularly eat yoghurt could reduce their risk of developing pre-cancerous growths by a fifth, new research suggests.

The study, conducted by the University of Washington, found that men who eat two or more servings of yoghurt a week had a significantly lower chance of developing adenoma – polyps in the bowel which may eventually become cancerous.

After tracking more than 32,000 men for 25 years, the researchers found that those who consumed at least two portions of yoghurt a week had 19 per cent fewer adenoma growths.

Furthermore, regular eaters were also 26 per cent less likely to have tumours of the most high-risk type.

As the study was observational, the researchers said they were unable to ascertain why yoghurt could lower the risk of pre-cancerous growths.

However, they did suggest that it could be due to two bacterias commonly found in live yoghurt – Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

The researchers added that the dairy product's anti-inflammatory properties might also reduce gut leakiness – when undigested food particles, bacterial toxins and germs pass through the intestinal wall – and in turn protect against disease.

Researcher Dr Yin Cao, from Washington University, said: “Our data provide novel evidence for the role of yoghurt in early stage of colorectal cancer development and the potential of gut bacteria in modulating this process.

”The findings, if confirmed by future studies, suggest that yoghurt might serve as a widely acceptable modifiable factor, which could complement colorectal cancer screening and/or reduce risk of adenoma among the unscreened.“

The study tracked a total of 32,606 men and 55,743 women, all of whom had a lower bowel endoscopy – a medical procedure which enables doctors to look at the inside of the gut using an instrument called an endoscope.

Every four years, the participants provided information on their lifestyle and diet, including how much yoghurt they ate.

During the study period, 5,811 pre-cancerous growths developed in the men, and 8,116 in the women.

While men who ate yoghurt had a far lower risk of developing the growths, no association was seen in women.

Katie Patrick, health information officer, from Cancer Research UK, said: “The colon is home to trillions of microbes and how the bacteria in our gut might affect bowel cancer risk is a fascinating area of research. Lots of things affect the types of bugs in our gut and our overall gut health, including the foods we eat.

“But men don’t need to fill their shopping trolleys with yoghurt because it’s too early to say from this study whether eating more yoghurt could reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

“However, there is good evidence that you can reduce your risk by eating more foods high in fibre, like wholegrain bread or brown rice, and cutting down on processed and red meat.”

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 42,000 people diagnosed with the condition in the UK every year.

This equates to around 115 new cases of bowel cancer every day.

Symptoms of bowel cancer can include a change in your bowel habits, blood in stool, weight loss, pain in your abdomen or back, fatigue and feeling as though you need to strain your back package, even after going to the toilet, Cancer Research UK outlines.

However, the NHS adds that experiencing symptoms associated with bowel cancer, such as abdominal discomfort and constipation, may not necessarily be indicative of bowel cancer.

For more information on symptoms of bowel cancer, visit the NHS here and Cancer Research UK here.