Men are confused when it comes to eating dairy foods and prostate health – are diary foods safe to consume or not? Newspaper headlines have warned men that drinking milk or eating cheese raises their risk of the second most common cancer diagnosed in men. But is this true?
What connection is there between calcium and prostate cancer risk?
For the past several years, there’s been conflicting advice circulating on possible connections between calcium, a mineral abundantly found in dairy foods, and prostate cancer risk. Some studies have found that men consuming dairy foods have a higher prostate cancer risk while other studies show no such potential connection and some even finding an association of a reduced risk of the disease when men do consume more dairy foods.
Even though the 2019 study in The American Osteopathic Association found dairy products to have an associated higher risk for prostate cancer, critics found its methods have several weaknesses. Tom Sanders, Professor emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics, King’s College London, stated, “The methods used in this review suffer from a number of weaknesses, notably in the statistical analysis and presentation of the results that do not justify the strong conclusions drawn regarding dairy product consumption and risk of cancer.”
Sanders also noted that even though vegans had a 35% lower risk for prostate cancer than meat-eaters, this likely was reflective of the fact that meat-eaters tend to weigh more than vegans rather than because they were not consuming dairy foods.
Sanders went on to say, “It is notable that the incidence of prostate cancer is much higher in black men of African ethnic origin, who generally consume few dairy products, compared with white men. The prevalence of prostate cancer has increased markedly in South East and East Asia, where few dairy products are consumed, which would indicate that lifestyle factors, other than dairy food consumption, are responsible for the global epidemic of prostate cancer.”
This inconsistency of study findings makes it more challenging for men to know which advice to follow with the goal of lowering their risk of developing prostate cancer.
Is it time to ditch dairy?
Before men decide to ditch dairy foods, there are several factors to consider. While studies have suggested an association between calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese as contributing factors for raising prostate cancer risk, maybe calcium is not the problem. Maybe this association is dependent on other factors in a man’s life such as lack of exercise, excessive drinking, or what types of dairy foods they eat on any given day.
Keep in mind, dairy foods are the number one source of calcium in American men’s diets. Dairy foods include milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. There are plant-based sources of calcium (broccoli, soy foods, beans, lentils, certain nuts, and some seeds) but animal-based sources of this mineral are superior. While it is possible to achieve adequate calcium intake and to meet calcium requirements on a plant-based diet, it is easier and more practical to meet these requirements when milk and milk products are part of a man’s dietary plan. Cow’s milk has much better bioavailability than plants thanks to certain food components found in milk that promote calcium absorption which includes vitamin D, the milk sugar called lactose naturally found in milk, and casein phosphopeptides in milk.
Dairy foods are also known to have numerous health benefits. For example, milk is packed with important nutrients such as calcium, protein, and riboflavin. The calcium in milk is necessary for bone health helping reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that leads to weak and fragile bones.
Is there such a thing as too much calcium? The Recommended Dietary Allowance of calcium for men at age 19 to 70 is 1000 mg a day and then men aged 71 and older, require 1200 mg of calcium each day. It is recommended not to exceed 2500 mg of calcium a day as this may cause hypercalcemia which can actually weaken bones, increase the risk of kidney stones, and interfere with how the heart and brain work.
It is recommended men consume a moderate amount of calcium found in dairy foods of up to three servings a day as this amount has not shown an association with increased prostate cancer risk.
At this time, men who are concerned about prostate cancer but enjoy dairy foods, likely do not need to eliminate it from their diet. Men who practice healthy lifestyle habits of not smoking, exercising, and eating nutritious foods, can feel confident in following the recommendation of up to three servings of dairy a day as a reasonable goal based on scientific research.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board-certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.