Having lactose intolerance may be a blessing in disguise for people who’d rather experience some digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas after eating or drinking milk or milk products, rather than having a deadly and painful disease such as cancer.
A new study conducted by researchers from Lung University and Region Skane in Sweden found that people who are lactose intolerant may also have a decreased risk for developing breast, lung, and ovarian cancers as a strange payoff from their disease..
Found in nearly all dairy products, lactose is a primary sugar that composes milk. The small intestine, the organ where most food digestion and nutrient absorption take place, produces an enzyme called lactase which breaks down lactose into two simpler forms of sugar: glucose and galactose. The body then absorbs these simpler sugars into the bloodstream, according National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). The inability of the body to absorb lactose leads to lactose intolerance.
The researchers examined the possible link between lactose intolerance and the development of certain cancers by looking at the incidence of cancer in people who consume less dairy products because of the said condition.
The researchers analyzed records from two Swedish national registers of nearly 23,000 individuals with lactose intolerance. They found that the risks for developing breast, lung, and ovarian cancer was significantly lower in people with lactase deficiency and lactose malabsorption-common factors for lactose intolerance — compared with those capable of absorbing lactose from milk and other dairy products. Incidence rates were similar across different genders and countries of birth, the study revealed.
The researchers also looked at the participants’ family members such as siblings and parents, and found their risks for developing the said cancers were similar to those of the general population. The findings suggest that patients with lactose intolerance may have a lower risk for those cancers as a result of their diet.
The highest incidence of breast and ovarian cancer in the world is in North America, Western Europe and Scandinavia, while East and Central Africa have the lowest incidence of the disease. Consequently, in the United States, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians, and Asian Americans are more likely to have lactose intolerance, according to the NDDIC. Condition is least common among Americans of European descent.
However, lead researcher Jianguang Ji said they are cautious to make a connection between dairy and cancer risk. The researchers note that the study does not prove cause and effect and further studies are warranted to explain this study’s results.
“It would be wrong to conclude that milk is a risk factor for these cancers,” Ji said. “We must interpret these results with caution because the association we found is insufficient to conclude a causative effect. Further studies are needed to identify factors that explain the study’s results.”
The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.