The People's Perspective on Medicine

Should You Eat Yogurt for a Healthy Colon?

According to a new study, men who eat yogurt twice a week or more have a lower risk of colon polyps and possibly colorectal cancer.

Your diet could influence your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Data from the long-running Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study included detailed information on dietary habits, lifestyle and health records of more than 80,000 individuals over nearly three decades. The results suggest that men might want to eat yogurt frequently (Gut, June 17, 2019).

Detecting Colon Polyps with Colonoscopies:

These participants had colonoscopies; any polyps the physician found during the procedure were noted and analyzed. Experts consider adenomas to be potential precursors of colorectal cancer. Serrated adenomas signal especially high risk.

Men Who Eat Yogurt Have Fewer Colon Polyps:

Among the 32,606 men in the study, colonoscopies identified 5,811 adenomas. Men who ate yogurt at least twice a week were 19 percent less likely to have an adenoma. Even more importantly, they were 26 percent less likely to have a serrated adenoma. These are more likely precursors of colorectal cancer. Surprisingly, the investigators did not find that women who eat yogurt were less likely to have colon polyps.

Why Eat Yogurt?

An observational study of this sort cannot establish a cause and effect connection. However, some scientists think that live cultures in yogurt may encourage a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon. Dietary calcium may also help reduce the risk of colon cancer, and yogurt made from milk is rich in calcium. 

The Importance of Colonoscopy:

Colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting colon cancer. Doctors scrutinize the colon for abnormal growths and remove any polyps that are found. 

Doctors have recognized the value of this procedure for many years. Unfortunately, patients sometimes put it off. Data from almost 90,000 people over two decades showed that colonoscopy reduced the risk of colon cancer by as much as 68 percent (New England Journal of Medicine, Sept 19, 2013). People who don’t have polyps can wait up to 10 years between tests. However, doctors are still trying to determine the optimal interval for those who have polyps discovered during the colonoscopy.

Lynn commented on

“Today I had my first ever colonoscopy at age 49. My family has a history of colon cancer and sure enough, my doctor already found 2 small polyps and diverticulitis. I should return for repeats every 5 years as opposed to someone with a clean bill of health who can go 10 years. You can bet I will gladly go through the prep again and again. It sure beats the hell my family members went through who would have been saved if colonoscopies existed during their time!”

Failure to diagnose colorectal cancer is among the top 10 errors that result in malpractice suits. To get the most out of this screening measure, though, patients have to make and keep appointments for colonoscopies at individually appropriate intervals.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Zheng X et al, "Yogurt consumption and risk of conventional and serrated precursors of colorectal cancer." Gut, June 17, 2019. DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2019-318374
  • Nishihara R et al, "Long-term colorectal-cancer incidence and mortality after lower endoscopy." New England Journal of Medicine, Sep. 19, 2013. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1301969
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With respect to yogurt perhaps reducing colon polyps in men — I have been drinking kombucha for about 3 years and have noted a marked improvement in my digestive health. Any past or recent studies on the impact of kombucha on colon health?

Glad now that I basically force this on the table in the morning.

On the topic of screening, Cologuard has some real advantages for select patients and may actually be superior at detecting tumors missing in colonoscopy. The screening schedule is every three years, but in return there is no prep (extremely stressful for some people and always unpleasant) no mess, no anaesthesia (or upbilling for it), no surprise switch to a diagnostic instead of screening code, or any other of the cost-cutting issues that can lead to a bad result (which unlike Cologuard, is highly operator-dependent for a reliable result). There is no risk of bowel injury or infection, or need to ensure that the equipment is properly maintained and cleaned, or that single use items will be reused.

An older person with heart or kidney issues can be spared unnecessary risk. Its true that a followup with traditional colonoscopy is needed if the screening test is positive, but then the patient is no worse off than they were before, with regard to risk and expense, and the scope is more likely to be very thorough and check for lesions sometimes missed.

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