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Milk Could Fight Cancer - Study

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Milk Could Fight Cancer - Study

Two Otago University scientists given a $40,000 research grant in 2006 have used it to show that New Zealand schoolchildren who drank milk daily, significantly reduced their chances of getting bowel cancer as adults.

Associate Professor Brian Cox and Dr Mary Jane Sneyd of the university's Hugh Adam cancer epidemiology unit showed a link between New Zealand's long since- abandoned school milk programme (1937-67) and the reduced risk of developing bowel cancer in men and women born in New Zealand between 1941 and 1956.

Their work -- published today in American Journal of Epidemiology, and reporting that the risk of bowel cancer was 30 percent lower in people who drank their school milk daily -- was based on the observation that supplementing the diet with calcium could reduce certain types of bowel cancer.

The researchers were given $40,003 by the Genesis oncology trust to see if children who received free school milk -- providing about 75 percent of the daily calcium requirement for many children -- had lower rates of bowel cancer.

Professor Cox said he was "pretty excited" about the results, though a further, similar-sized study would be needed to confirm them.

The reduction in risk was greatest for those who drank 1200 or more half-pint (about 300ml) bottles of milk in their school years.

The researchers surveyed the school milk-drinking habits of 562 people aged 30 to 69 diagnosed with bowel cancer and compared them with 571 people of similar age without the disease.

Questions covered other aspects of diet, including the frequency dairy products were eaten during childhood, but the amounts were not sought, so calcium intake from these sources was not calculated. No dietary or alcohol consumption data for adulthood was sought.

Although New Zealand has one of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world, data shows that the incidence in those born from about 1938 to 1953 is about 50 percent lower than in those of earlier generations.

School milk was provided free in many schools from 1937 to 1967 and Prof Cox said that before that time, while people consumed milk in other ways, it was not commonly considered a drink, even on farms.

But in Southland, where many schools withdrew from the programme in 1950, researchers noted that people who went to school only in Southland had about twice the risk of people from the rest of the country, though Prof Cox said it could not be assumed that this was entirely related to school milk consumption.

Eating food with milk could affect calcium absorption and school milk consumption "might have been advantageous because it was often consumed without food".

Pre-cancerous growths were thought to develop in the colon fairly early in life and it was possible the calcium in school milk reduced the development of that early phase of the disease, lowering the lifetime risk, Prof Cox said.

Further studies into the causes of the disease should examine the effects of childhood milk consumption or calcium intake and childhood diet overall, in addition to the adult diet, the researchers said.


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