• Could eating yoghurt regularly improve your bowel health? (Getty Images)
We've always thought that yoghurt, a rich source of probiotics, could benefit your gut microbiome. But now a new international study links eating at least two serves of yoghurt a week to a reduced risk of bowel cancer in men.
By
Yasmin Noone

27 Jun 2019 - 1:07 PM  UPDATED 27 Jun 2019 - 1:07 PM

Splashing a rich and creamy serve of yoghurt into your smoothies, homemade dips or dinnertime sauces at least twice a week could help lower your risk of bowel cancer, new research shows.

A 26-year study of over 32,600 men and almost 56,000 women, conducted by Chinese and US scientists, has found that eating two or more servings of yoghurt every week may help to lower your risk of developing abnormal growths.

These growths (adenomas) are believed to precede the development of bowel cancer, at least in men.

“We found that yogurt intake may reduce risk of conventional adenoma, in particular those of high malignant potential."

According to the research, published this month in BMJ journal Gut, male study participants who ate two or more servings of yoghurt a week were 19 per cent less likely to develop a conventional adenoma, compared to men who didn’t eat as much yoghurt.

The male yoghurt lovers were also 26 per cent less likely to develop adenomas that were highly likely to become cancerous.

An association between eating two or more serves of yoghurt and a reduction in risk of adenomas was also seen for growths located in the colon rather than in the rectum. “We found that yoghurt intake may reduce risk of conventional adenoma, in particular, those of high malignant potential,” the study reads.

The same effect of eating two serves of yoghurt a week was not seen among the women studied.

What to eat to avoid bowel cancer
“Food is the key to turning our gut and bowel health around.”

Why is yoghurt so powerful?

Although it is not known why yoghurt produced this effect on the male colon, the study’s authors assume that it could be related to the two common probiotics used in yoghurt – Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles – and their potential ability to reduce levels of carcinogens.

They explain that the lower pH in the colon is more hospitable for probiotics.

“Yogurt may also reduce adenoma risk by exerting anti-inflammatory effects on colon mucosa and ameliorating gut barrier dysfunction,” the authors say in the study.  

“As male patients with adenoma present with increased gut permeability, yogurt may benefit more for men compared with women.”

“A healthy gut is essential to our overall health including the bowel and it makes sense that yogurt contributes to this.” 

Dietician and Bowel Cancer Australia Ambassador, Julie Meek, confirms it’s highly likely that yoghurt – a rich source of probiotics which assists in the production of healthy bacteria in our gut or microbiome – benefits bowel health.

“A healthy gut is essential to our overall health including the bowel and it makes sense that yoghurt contributes to this,” explains Meek.

“Some research has shown that yoghurt may exert some anti-inflammatory effects on the colon and assist in problems with the gut barrier dysfunction both of which potentially reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

“Increasing the population of beneficial bacteria in our gut microbiota benefits our overall health and can reduce bowel cancer risk factors such as obesity.”

What to eat to prevent cancer
The World Cancer Research Fund has issued diet and lifestyle recommendations on what we should all be doing to prevent cancer.

The study period ran from 1986 to 2012. During this time, all participants underwent a lower bowel endoscopy so the researchers could see inside the gut. Every four years, participants provided detailed information on lifestyle and diet, including how much yoghurt they ate.

The results show that 5811 adenomas developed in the men and 8116 in the women.

The researchers observed there was a trend towards reduced risk for adenomas measuring one or more cm, which is considered to be large. However, there was no association observed between yoghurt consumption and men with a potentially more dangerous type of adenoma.

The study was observational and could not establish cause and effect. Further research is needed to confirm the findings. Even still, Meek encourages all Australians to include yoghurt in their daily diets.

“That’s why it’s so important to participate in screening according to your individual level of risk, and to be bowel cancer aware including knowing the possible signs and symptoms.”

Low-sugar yoghurt is always a good thing

Eating yoghurt is a harm-free intervention to improve your health, especially if you enjoy the flavour. Not only is it high in probiotics but it’s also a rich source of protein and calcium.

Meek advises that people steer away from sugar-laden yoghurt varieties and opt for low-sugar natural and Greet yoghurt styles.

“Being proactive about lifestyle modifications can also help you reduce risk of bowel cancer, which this study supports, but some risk factors cannot be changed, including family history, genetics, and age,” Meek says.

“That’s why it’s so important to participate in screening according to your individual level of risk and to be bowel cancer aware including knowing the possible signs and symptoms.”

According to Bowel Cancer Australia98 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be successfully treated when detected early.

“If you’re not feeling quite right or are experiencing possible symptoms for two weeks or more, it’s essential to speak with a GP immediately.”

June is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. For more information about bowel cancer, visit the bowelcanceraustralia.org website or call the free Bowel Care Nurse Helpline on 1800 555 494.

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