Eating dairy can lower the risk of bowel cancer by up to 19 per cent, a study published in the BMJ has found.
The cancer, the second deadliest form of the disease in Britain, is responsible for around 16,000 UK deaths a year.
Now researchers have “trawled” through 80 clinical trials and observational studies to understand how different foods and medicines influenced the risk of getting bowel cancer.
Eating plenty of fruit, fibre and vegetables is still the best way to avoid the disease, but researchers found dairy products also played a part.
Professor Marc Bardou at the CIC INSERM in Dijon, France said: “Eating dairy products was associated with 13 per cent to 19 per cent lower risk of the disease.”
There have been conflicting reports about the effects of dairy consumption on cancer diagnosis, although the latest research seems to confirm that it can be beneficial.
Prof Bardou said that “it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about the quantities required to ward off the disease” due to the variety of products available and sometimes conflicting research.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Prof Badou said that eating more vegetables, fruits and fibres proved most effective, bringing down the risk of bowel cancer by up to 50 per cent, with better results for every extra 100g eaten per day.
Red and processed meat was found to do the opposite, increasing the risk of bowel cancer by up to 20 per cent.
Just one or two drinks a day, likewise, significantly raised the chances of getting the disease.
Aspirin can help stave off disease
As part of the study, medicines, including aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as paracetamol and statins, were examined.
A small dose of aspirin was found to reduce the risk of bowel cancer by between 15 and and 30 per cent.
Taking NSAIDs (non steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) for more than five years also reduced the chances of getting bowel cancer by up to 40 per cent, the researchers found.
Dietary factors were also looked at, including vitamins A, B, C, E, D, food supplements such as magnesium, calcium, selenium and beta-carotene.
Only vitamins A and B were found to protect against the disease, although results were inconsistent.
Professor Bardou said: “There was no evidence that vitamins E, C, or multivitamins were protective.
He added: “Screening for the disease can pick up the disease at an early treatable stage, but take-up varies considerably from country to country.
“And as it takes more than 15 years for bowel cancer to develop, a healthy lifestyle likely has a key role in helping to halt or stop its progress altogether.”
Earlier this year a study suggested that drinking more than two cups of milk a day could increase people’s risk of breast cancer by up to 80 per cent.
The study by Loma Linda University in California followed 53,000 women in the US over eight years.
Researchers found that those who drank a full cup a day, or 240ml, had a 50 per cent increased risk. While those who drank more than two cups had an almost 80 per cent increased risk.
But the study could not prove a strong enough association between women who ate lots of cheese and yoghurt.
UK guidelines say that the average person should consume 2 to 3 portions of dairy products per day, and choose reduced-fat versions wherever possible.
It contains important nutrients for bone health, such as phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D, and protein