Eating yogurt regularly is associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer, the third most common cancer among both men and women globally.
That’s the finding of latest research reviewing all the relevant studies carried out so far (1). If confirmed by further research, the finding could add to the growing list of health benefits associated with eating yogurt, including reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hip fractures (2).
Gut microbiota may play a key role in maintaining gut health
People are at increased risk of bowel, or colorectal cancer (CRC) if their diet is low in fruit and vegetables, low in fibre, high in fats, or high in processed meats. Evidence suggests that this link between diet and CRC risk may be mediated by changes in our gut microbiota, the complex community of trillions of microorganisms that live in out intestine.
As a fermented food, yogurt is rich in beneficial bacteria which can act as probiotics to give the gut microbiota a small healthy boost. So it comes as no surprise that yogurt consumption may be linked with a lower risk of CRC – but until now, the evidence from studies has been inconsistent.
That’s why the authors of the latest study set out to clarify the association between yogurt consumption and CRC risk by reviewing all published studies on the topic (1).
They carried out a systematic search of publications up to July 2021 and found 16 studies – involving a total of 1,129,035 participants – on the association between yogurt consumption and risk of CRC. These included studies that looked at different types of bowel cancer (total CRC, colon or rectal cancer, or proximal or distal colon cancer).
The high consumption of yogurt is associated with a reduced risk of CRC
Analysing the results, the researchers found that the highest yogurt consumption was associated with a lower risk of CRC compared with the lowest yogurt intake.
Analysis by sub-types of cancer showed that yogurt consumption was associated with significantly lower risk of CRC overall, and specifically with colon cancer and with distal colon cancer.
‘This systematic review and meta-analysis suggested that yogurt consumption is related to a lower risk of CRC.’ – Sun J, et al, 2022
The findings of this study are in line with previous studies suggesting that the risk of other diseases reduces with increasing yogurt consumption. These have included studies suggesting a possible role for yogurt in helping to manage weight. Obesity is a risk factor for CRC, and the authors suggest that this indirectly supports a possible beneficial role of yogurt intake in reducing the risk of CRC.
How might yogurt consumption help protect against CRC?
Several possible ways in which yogurt consumption might help protect against CRC have been proposed. Yogurt may exert anti-tumour effects by reducing the level of carcinogens, for example, by reducing the activity of certain enzymes in the gut. Compounds produced by the probiotic bacteria in yogurt may also help block the initiation of cancer.
Further studies are needed to confirm these findings, say the authors, but if their results are supported, they’d recommend eating yogurt as part of your regular diet to reduce your risk of CRC.
‘If such a conclusion is supported, we would recommend regular yogurt intake as a healthy lifestyle behavior in decreasing the risk of CRC in adults.’ – Sun J, et al, 2022.