Erasmus MC Press Release Rotterdam, 22 September 2011
Too much milk may increase risk of developing cancer
Erasmus MC lecture on population studies can also be followed live tomorrow via the internet
People who drink more than two glasses of milk per day are not less susceptible to bone fractures than people who drink less milk. Drinking large amounts of milk can also increase the risk of developing some types of cancer. American nutrition researcher Walter Willet will discuss this tomorrow during ‘In Praise of Medicine’, Erasmus MC’s public lecture. The nutrition researcher at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School feels that nutrition advisory organizations should be more cautious in recommending the consumption of large amounts of dairy products. The Netherlands Nutrition Centre, for example, recommends that people drink three to four glasses (450 to 650 ml) of milk per day. 

The main theme of this year’s public lecture, which is free of charge, is population studies. How can they help us to grow up healthy, live a healthy life and grow old fit? Willet has been the driving force behind one of the largest American population studies for the past 35 years. This study examines the relationships between nutrition and health. Willet has been invited to the Netherlands by Erasmus MC. Two public lectures will be given during ‘In Praise of Medicine’, one by an international guest speaker and one by a top Erasmus MC scientist. Bert Hofman, founder of the two large Rotterdam population studies (Generation R and ERGO), will present the results to date of these studies.

During his guest performance ‘in the land of milk drinkers’, Willet will give a detailed talk on the influence of dairy products on health. It appears from his research that people who drink more than two glasses of milk per day are as likely to suffer from fractures as people who consume less. “This is remarkable, seeing that advisory organizations recommend the consumption of large amounts of milk as this is thought to strengthen the bones”, says Willet. Several studies have also found evidence that drinking large amounts of milk could also increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Height appears to play an important role. Certain types of cancer (for example, breast cancer and ovarian cancer) are more common among tall people. “As people who drink more milk grow taller, the consumption of large amounts of dairy products during childhood could increase the risk of developing cancer”, according to the nutrition researcher.

But there is no need to immediately stop consuming dairy products according to Willet. “There are also benefits. The chances of developing colorectal cancer can, for example, decrease by drinking milk. Further research is necessary to determine the amount at which the health benefits outweigh the risks. Until then, it would be best not to drink large amounts of milk. And two glasses per day is a lot.” People in the Netherlands are advised to drink three to four glasses of milk per day. “This appears to do more harm than good.”

In Praise of Medicine is fully booked. As a result of great public interest, the lecture can be followed live on the internet on Friday 23 September, starting at 2:30 pm at

Erasmus MC is the largest University Medical Center in the Netherlands. Our primary goal is a healthy population. Nearly 13,000 employees devote themselves every day to providing outstanding care, facilitating world-class education and conducting pioneering research. These professionals are instrumental in developing expertise on health and illness. They link the latest scientific insights to practical treatments and prevention measures to provide maximum benefit to patients and to enable healthy people to stay healthy longer. Being visibly better and leading the way in the areas of complex, innovative and acute care by collaborating with others: these are key ambitions at Erasmus MC.