A study published in the journal Gut found that two or more weekly servings of yogurt can help lower the risk of developing adenomas which precede the development of colorectal cancer — at least in men. These adenomas, while usually benign, are abnormal growths that could develop into malign or harmful tumors.
Previous research has established that eating large amounts of yogurt could lower the risk of bowel cancer by influencing the bacteria in your gut microbiome. However, it has never been clear whether yogurt intake could also lower the risk of pre-cancerous growths known as adenomas. In this study, an international team of researchers from the U.S. and China aimed to evaluate the association between yogurt intake and risk of conventional adenomas.
To do so, the researchers recruited and analyzed the diets and subsequent development of different types of adenoma among 32,606 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and 55,743 women from the Nurses' Health Study who have undergone lower endoscopy — a procedure that enables doctors so see inside the gut — between the years 1986 and 2012. Every four years, the researchers ask the participants to provide detailed information on their lifestyle choices and diet, which includes how much yogurt they ate.
Over the entire study period, the researchers documented 5811 adenomas in men and 8116 adenomas in women. Men who ate two or more servings per week were 19 percent less likely to develop a conventional adenoma compared to men who did not eat yogurt at all. This lowered risk was greater when dealing with adenomas that were highly likely to become cancerous and those located in the colon, rising to about 26 percent lowered risk.
The researchers also saw no associations between yogurt consumption and the development of a potentially more dangerous type of adenoma, the serrated adenoma. However, they saw a trend towards reduced risk for adenomas measuring 1 or more centimeters, which the researchers consider to be large.
Unfortunately, the research team was unable to find associations between yogurt intake and the development of adenomas among women. Although the study conducted was an observational study — meaning that it can only establish associations and do not speak of cause and effect relationships — the team believes that the large number of people studied and the regular updates on their diets and lifestyle factors add heft and credibility to their findings.
To give an explanation for their findings, the researchers theorized that Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilius, two bacteria that commonly live in yogurt, could lower the number of cancer causing chemicals in the gut. Also, the stronger link seen in colon adenomas could be due to the lower levels of acidity in that part of the gut, making it a much more hospitable environment for the aforementioned bacteria to thrive. (Related: The many health benefits of natural yogurt.)
The research team emphasizes that further research must be done to confirm their findings and uncover the biology involved in this phenomenon.
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