Got Milk?

Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine's Slone Epidemiology Center have discovered that black women who consume a lot of dairy products develop fewer uterine leiomyomata (fibroids). The report was based on the Black Women's Health Study which appeared in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Uterine fibroids are two-three times more common among Afro-American women when compared to white women. Fibroids are benign tumors that grow within the uterus and are the major reason for hysterectomies in the United States. These tumors are responsible for $2.2 billion spent every year on health care.

Fewer Servings

Studies on dairy consumption in U.S. women show that black women less dairy products than do white women and therefore take in less calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. While doctors don't have a full understanding of why fibroids develop, they posit that growth factors and sex steroid hormones play a role. The Slone researchers decided to study dairy product consumption because these foods have known antioxidant effects and can modify a woman's existing sex hormones.

The scientists analyzed data from the Black Women's Health Study. Study participants numbered 59,000 black women who enrolled in the study in 1995. The women answered twice yearly questionnaires which included questions relating to whether they had been diagnosed with uterine fibroids. The diet of the participants was assessed twice through the used of a modified form of the National Cancer Institute's Block short-form food frequency questionnaire (FFQ).

The researchers found that in 5,871 cases of women diagnosed with fibroids, a ten year follow-up revealed that high dairy intake had reduced the risk for these growths by 30% in women who consumed 4 or more servings of dairy per day. This was compared to women who ate less than one serving of dairy, daily. Those women who had higher intakes of calcium, phosphorus, and a higher ratio of calcium to phosphorus, which indicates the bioavailability of calcium in the body, were also found to have a lower risk for fibroids. Researchers believe that since dairy consumption tends to be lower in the black community, this dietary difference may be the reason for the racial discrepancy for the fibroid rate observed in white and black female populations.

Cell Proliferation

Lead author for the study, Lauren A. Wise, ScD, an associated professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health as well as a senior epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center comments, "Although the exact mechanisms are unclear, a protective effect of dairy consumption on uterine fibroids risk is plausible, as calcium, a major component of dairy foods, may reduce cell proliferation. This is the first report showing an inverse association between dairy intake and fibroid risk. If confirmed, a modifiable risk factor for fibroids, a major source of gynecologic morbidity, will have been identified."

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