Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Wednesday, 7 July 2004 10:03 UK

Milk 'reduces bowel cancer risk'

Animal studies suggested milk could protect against the cancer

Drinking milk can lower the risk of developing bowel cancer, US researchers have said.

Brigham and Women's Hospital scientists found drinking 16 ounces of milk a day (around four-fifths of a UK pint) was linked to a 12% decrease in risk.

They analysed results from 10 studies, which looked at half a million people, 5,000 of whom developed bowel cancer.

Their findings are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common form of the disease worldwide.

It has been suggested that different diets may explain why rates of the cancer vary between countries.

Previous animal research had suggested that calcium, chiefly obtained from milk and dairy products, might protect against the disease.

Calcium levels

The US researchers looked at people's consumption of dairy products from which they could gain calcium.

However, only milk was linked with a decreased cancer risk, particularly cancers of the distal colon and rectum.

It was found drinking two eight ounce glasses of milk per day (0.8 of a UK pint) was associated with a 12% decrease in risk.

The study also found that higher total calcium intake was associated with a decreased risk of bowel cancer.

Increasing calcium intake to 1,000milligrams a day or more could result in 15% fewer cases of bowel cancer in women and 10% fewer cases in men.

Writing in the journal, the researchers led by Dr Eunyoung Cho, said the data supported "the concept that moderate milk and calcium intake reduces the risk of colorectal cancer".

The study did not find a significant reduction of risk associated with other dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt.

Some experts believe that dairy products can increase the risk of other cancers, notably breast and prostate.

Dr Richard Sullivan, head of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, described the findings as "interesting".

However, he added: "Epidemiological studies often yield interesting associations that later turn out not to be real.

"People shouldn?t conclude on the basis of this study that drinking milk on a daily basis is going to prevent them getting colorectal cancer.

"No convincing mechanism by which milk could prevent cancer has been shown."

Dr Sullivan said the best way to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer was to eat balanced diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables and foods that are high in fibre, and reduce intake of fat and of red and processed meat.

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