Can milk cause prostate cancer?
One of the biggest fears many men have is something happening to them that they would never expect.
As uncomfortable as it may be for some to talk about, prostate cancer is relatively common - effecting 1 in 7 men in their lifetime. Most of these cases occur in men as they reach old age - almost ironically, just in time for the average person to retire. While some good news can be taken away from this given that prostate cancer is highly treatable - with an almost 100% survival rate in the Western world - it comes at quite a cost like all forms of cancer.
A frightening thing about prostate cancer is it's ability to go unnoticed for years and years. It is often a very gradual disease, and goes unnoticed due to the placement in the body. As the cancer grows and expands, symptoms will become more noticeable - however they can often be misconstrued as symptoms of another problem, or for older gentlemen, even an expectation of "normality" that comes with aging.
Some symptoms of prostate cancer include:
- Weak or interrupted urine flow
- A need to urinate frequently and urgently
- Difficulty controlling urination
- Painful urination
- Difficulty maintaining an erection
- Painful ejaculation
- Blood in urine or semen
- Radiating pain throughout the body in the lower back, hips, thighs, etc.
So, how does milk play a role in increased prostate cancer risk?
How can milk cause prostate cancer?
Like most (if not all) diseases, the food we eat and the lifestyle choices we make directly influence what diseases we must battle in life. This is especially true for older folks who have a lot of "life experience," and have put a good deal of wear-and-tear on their bodies.
Of course, some people are not so blessed to be able to avoid sickness and disease in cases where they are literally born with a disease. For example, 8 million children a year are born with serious birth defects and disease. But...these cases of "genetics only disease" are far more outliers than society would have us believe - and are often significantly tied to the mother's own diet and lifestyle choices.
As would commonly be noted in most Psychology 101 classrooms, nature and nurture both influence our health, but we are ultimately in control of much that happens to our own bodies.
The importance of this personal control is critical to understand how milk can cause prostate cancer, and how by reducing milk consumption you can reduce your personal risk.
Milk and Prostate Cancer - The Evidence
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) provides an excellent source of medical science information online. In their article "Milk and Prostate Cancer - The Evidence Mounts," they reveal some interesting facts about research regarding how milk can cause prostate cancer. They note that studies on this niche topic have been conducted since the 1970's, which has provided enough time to secure a large body of scientific evidence conducted in multiple countries.
One such study performed in Italy revealed that frequent dairy consumption led to a 2.5x increase in likelihood of developing prostate cancer. In the late 90's, the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research came to the conclusion that dairy products should be considered a possible contributor to this condition. Most stunning in all of this is the study of over 20,000 participants over 11 years by Harvard's Physicians that revealed a 35% increase in risk for prostate cancer in individuals who consumed 2.5 servings of dairy each day. In whole milk terms, 2.5 servings translates to 2.5 cups - a quantity that could easily be expected to be consumed by your average male.
You will notice the consistent focus on "dairy" as a broad food group as opposed to just "milk," and this furthers the case against other dairy-products, which are derived from animal milk. It would appear all dairy foods - whole milk, 1% milk, cottage cheese, string cheese, yogurt, etc. all have been identified as potential contributors to prostate cancer development.
Why does milk cause prostate cancer?
In order to really understand how milk can cause prostate cancer, one needs to understand how it contributes to our bodies.
On the surface, research has revealed the consequences of dairy consumption on our bodies on a hormonal level. You may have heard that dairy milk contains estrogen - a hormone commonly associated with femininity - and this is just a starting point. The aforementioned PCRM article states, "Dairy products boost the amount of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) in the blood. In turn, IGF-I promotes cancer cell growth. A small amount is normally in the bloodstream, but several recent studies have linked increased IGF-I levels to prostate cancer and possibly to breast cancer as well." This is just one example of how milk can adversely impact our bodies.
They include a unique statement regarding cancer development:
So, if I shouldn't drink milk or consume other dairy products, what are my options?
In the United States and other areas of the world, we have had a significant dependence on dairy products. From a young age, most of us have been exposed to milk as a good source of vitamin D, protein, and calcium. It has become merged with many things we were taught to love - like ice cream, breakfast cereals, and more.
This unfortunate reality - this addiction to the bodily fluids of animals - can trace blame to the propagation of the notion that "milk does the body good" to corporations and dairy associations that aim to protect the interests of farmers and sales. In 2016, we did a pretty significant piece where we investigated Milk Life and uncovered some shocking truths about the industry if you have interest in this.
There is no doubt in my mind that we should come into this conversation with some empathy towards those who have spent a life-time on farms passed on from generation to generation harvesting cow's milk and meats. In fact, 97% of farms are family-owned. For a long time, it has been the acceptable norm, and at times during the growth of the United States, other jobs were not so readily available.
These laborious jobs are not simple or easy, but have become a way of life, and simply expecting conversion to happen on the 2 million+ farms in the USA is likely not realistic - something that is not always easy to say given how scientific evidence is showcasing correlation between dairy and meat products and a number of diseases, such as prostate cancer; not to mention the ethical challenges that face animal harvest.
The only way real, significant, and lasting change on this issue will occur is if it can happen at an institutional and government level. The US government is frequently lobbied by special interest groups, including dairy associations, and as a result they manage to get their way into our laws and policies at local, state, and federal levels. It is not insubstantial either as we see milk and dairy products touted as healthy as a part of government mandated "nutrition advice" and even take an important role in the infamous "food pyramid" we all grew up learning about in grade school.
One potential avenue, though extreme, that could provide some results would be to remove current subsidies and tax breaks on meat and dairy farms, and reallocate funds and tax breaks to organic fruit and vegetable farms.
From there, investing government funds into milk alternative developments such as soy, almond, rice, flax, hemp, etc. could ease the public's transition from cow's milk to substitutes. An action like this would enable a reduction in ethical concerns that arise time-and-again from animal rights groups like PETA as fewer animals would be used to create food products, and see a return to sustainability that does not require factory breeding and kill zones.
On an individual level, milk substitutes already exist and are becoming more readily available at your local supermarket for you to purchase so you can make a small difference yourself.
You can read about 10 Great Plant-Based Milk Substitutes if you need some inspiration!
Other factors showing how milk can cause prostate cancer
The links between prostate cancer development and milk is not just as simple as drinking the product itself. As Dr. Michael Greger points on out Nutrition Facts, "Other factors may play into the link between cancer and dairy consumption including industrial pollutants and IGF-1." These are important to keep in mind because this goes beyond just the genetic makeup of dairy products (ie. what naturally is removed from the animal), but gives rise to concern of artificial pollutants. These would include things like pesticides, GMO's, and other additives - all carrying their own risk to contaminate the food we consume, and risk of promoting disease development.
can milk cause prostate cancer - Conclusion
Prostate cancer continues to be one of the many topics of research in the scientific community. There is a great deal of importance this research has on the potential well-being of millions of people around the world, as over time it starts to directly influence actions people take to better their health, and usually at a slower rate, actions the governments of the world take to look out for the health of their citizens.
Can milk cause prostate cancer? The simple answer is..."yes." There are 40+ years of scientific investigation that reveals fairly significant associations between a milk and dairy heavy diet and cancer development.
While prostate cancer is not nearly as punishing of a disease as other more difficult to treat cancers, it still provides a good deal of challenges for those who experience it and have to undergo treatment.
As with anything, prevention is the best medicine - and one of the biggest preventive measures you can take is to adjust your diet immediately. Fortunately, we live in a world where milk alternatives are readily available, and adhering to a whole foods, plant-based diet is easier than ever because of the choices available.