When we think of “medicine,” it’s easy to picture little brown or orange cylinders with child-protective caps, and waiting in line under fluorescent lights to hear a white-clad pharmacist say something like, “Be sure to take this with food...”  It would be surprising and refreshing to hear “Eat the right foods and you won’t need any of this!” 

It’s easy to forget that many of the foods we eat everyday actually have functions beyond just filling us up- many have medicinal qualities themselves as well.  So, while various ailments, conditions and diseases have their respective medical treatments and cures, our diets actually play a very important role in managing, alleviating and preventing the aforementioned afflictions.  A healthy diet, when coupled with a healthy lifestyle, can be a great way to avoid such a heavy reliance on pharmaceuticals.  Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden have concluded that two servings of yogurt per day can reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer by up to 40 percent. Diet and lifestyle can even play a part in prevention of the recurrence of bladder cancer after it has been treated by surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

Bladder cancer is an example of how someone with an illness can benefit from proper diet and lifestyle.  About 336,000 people around the world are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year.  It’s a cancerous tumor in the bladder and it can cause frequent, painful and bloody urination, incontinence, lethargy, fatigue and weight loss, among other unwelcome symptoms.  It affects men and women both.  As with most forms of cancer, the exact cause of bladder cancer is uncertain, but several factors contribute to it.

Cigarette smoking is by far the worst known cause, responsible for as much as 50% of all bladder cancers in men and 30% in women.  People who quit have a gradually declining risk.  Also putting people at risk are chemical exposure, parasite infection, and chronic bladder infection.  While you may not be able to have total control over whether or not you contract a parasitic infection, you can most definitely refrain from smoking.

Getting back to yogurt (and other cultured milk products) and its preventative qualities, it’s the lactic acid bacteria that has been shown to suppress bladder cancer.  The Swedish researchers found that risk of cancer was reduced by 36% in men and up to 45% in women due to their consumption of yogurt, due to its inherent content of probiotic organisms.  Other dairy products did not have these benefits.  Lactobacillus is a genus that is a major part of the lactic acid bacteria group.  These bacteria are present in and beneficial to the gastrointestinal tract, making up a portion of the gut flora.  Studies show that it has great potential to prevent urogenital and intestinal infections.  Between August of 1999 and December of 2002, patients diagnosed with superficial bladder cancer underwent a study involving Lactobacillus, where some patients took 3 grams of Lactobacillus casei every day for the first year.  After 3 years, the recurrence-free survival rate was significantly higher for those taking the Lactobacillus than those who didn’t (74.6% vs 59.9%).

The conclusion that was drawn from this particular study (Yakult Honsha, Tokyo, Japan) is that the use of probiotics is promising as a treatment for preventing recurrence of bladder cancer.  Presently, just a small percentage of physicians understand how probiotics can apply to patient care, so they are not widely recognized as a treatment or preventative measure of disease.  However, medical experts and health authorities, as well as a general public paradigm shift towards the acceptance of alternative treatments, have continued to make the benefits of probiotics an area of focus in human and animal health.