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Acne & Cancer Connection

The hormones present in cow’s milk may help explain the association between certain diseases and dairy consumption.

November 17, 2010 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to Caitlin Regan.


In volume 3, I talked about the link between these hormones in dairy and the stimulation of sebaceous glands, resulting in acne. But as we’re learning the growth of acne is not the only thing the hormones in milk can stimulate the growth of. Acne, dairy, and cancer, published last year in the journal demato-endocrinology A potent link to dairy seems to exist for acne, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, but why? Maybe it’s 5-alpha-P. What is 5-alpha P?
5-alpha pregnanedione is another sex steroid hormone present in cow’s milk that is a direct precurser to a testosterone metabolite that not only drives acne, but may promote both prostate and breast cancer like the other dairy hormones. The article starts out how, over the past 35 years parts of a highly important jigsaw puzzle have gradually come to light. First, all any doctor has to do is take a medical history to learn that, for example, extensive back acne is almost exclusively due to excess dairy intake, but not necessarily milk itself—it could be other dairy products.
Now we’d like to do controlled clinical studies, but the problem is there’s no control. Dairy without the offending hormones does not exist. Even organic milk, where they’re not allowed to inject cows with hormones, has growth hormones in it because biologically, that’s the whole point of milk, to put a couple hundred pounds on a baby calf.
The problem with humans drinking cow hormones is that there’s no natural feedback loop. For our own hormones, if we have too much estrogen or something, our brain damps it down, but this protective feedback system is bypassed when the system is “invaded” by these dihydrotestosterone precursors in dairy products.
See the human endocrine system didn’t evolve under the influence of ingested dairy and other external hormones and growth factors, and we’re just not equipped to cope with such a quote-unquote sneak attack. In summary, the evidence suggests that dairy-sourced hormones, not being subject to any innate feedback inhibition, may be the source of the steroid sex hormones that drive acne, prostate and breast cancer. This is the most promising unifying hypothesis—or theory—available, to explain the cause of diverse diseases that blemish, scar, shorten and take, the lives of millions.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on acne. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Stool Size and Breast Cancer RiskBreast Cancer and Diet, and  Are Bioidentical Hormones Safe?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on acne. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • kerem

    Hello from the Israel… (sorry in advance for my horrible English..)
    I’m doing a little research about the estrogen in milk my self (I’m a vegan nutritionist my self..).
    I read the article you’re talking about in this video but I was disappointed to find out that they check less then 20 people… so I just can’t take it seriously… Is there any other articles dealing with this question?

    I have another question, I know that the milk industry claims that Estrogen is collapse until the consumers are drinking it. but i couldn’t find any information about what happens to this destroyed Estrogen, maybe he is still act like Estrogen (and this can also explain the finding on this Japanese study.
    Oh and your website is just great and really Inspiring :-)
    Thank you!

    • Toxins

      Kerem, I recommend going through the other videos regarding estrogen and excretion as the questions you posed are answered in Dr. Greger’s videos.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Breast Cancer and Diet!

  • Vanessavannicola

    Is there a link betwen baby acne and the hormones in human  breastmilk  being linked to cancer.  Both my children had baby acne as newborns and I wonder if there are increased hormones in m breastmilk that could lead to an increased risk for breast cancer.

  • cody

    what about raw dairy products from grass-fed cows?

    • Don Forrester MD

      Great food for baby cows not for humans. Raw dairy can be associated with infectious agents. The best way to avoid the myriad of problems associated with dairy products is not to consume them either raw or pasturized. Dr. Greger’s videos on diary and cheese go over these problems in detail. Go to View All Topics and chose between the 79 videos on dairy plus the overview on dairy by Denise on the first page of the dairy videos.

  • Sofia

    Besides dairy free, what other advice you have for acne? I got acne when I went frutarian, now cooked vegan have it.

    • Nina Greif

      It kinda makes me think, the healthier I ate the worst my acne got! I believe it was a coincidence, but it was a rather funny observation.

      • Thea

        Nina: That’s too bad. But I have a lot of respect for you. Humans have a hard time believing in coincidence. Sounds like you were able to put some logical perspective on things (and took the logical step of going to a dermatologist).

        I hope the skin thing clears up for you!

  • aishwarya sitaram

    hello Dr.Greger, Iam a Pathologist from India and i too m a vegan i agree with everything here but i have one question…these IGF and other growth factors, arent they heat sensitive? dont they get destroyed when subject to high temperatures say during pasteurisation?

  • Larissa

    Dear Dr. Greger,

    I am suffering from acne for almost 10 years now and I am desperatley searching for some medication / advice that could help me fighting my acne. Since I switched my diet to vegan it is better but not gone.

    Now I have heard about methylsulfonylmethane as a treatment for acne and seasonal allergic rhinitis, from which I am suffering, too. I could not find articles providing scientific evidence for these promises. Could you please tell me if it works and how it works? I really don’t want to take something without knowing that it can help and that it does not have severe side effects.

    Kind regards from Germany :)

  • Sebastian Tristan

    I suffered from back acne for a lot of years and I can testify that when I stopped consuming dairy my back acne improved 50%. Also, I had to take Accutane twice (once at 16 and once at 26) and the only time it worked was when I wasn’t consuming dairy.

  • Tom Goff

    A 2013 journal article concluded “This analysis of African-American women provides little support for associations of dairy and meat intake with breast cancer risk.”

    A 2011 study stated that the “findings of the present meta-analysis indicate that increased consumption of total dairy food, but not milk, may be associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.”
    Do you have any comments on these studies?

  • Nina Greif

    well, I think dairy may aggravate the condition in those predisposed. For me, my acne was never bad until this year, Ive been vegan for three years and the past few months have been the worst for me. and i have even tried going oil free. I finally went to the dermatologist to help. Diet is a not a cure for acne, and dairy does cause it can, but I do believe that it can aggravate it if you are so inclined to have it. P.S, for years I had clear skin before I was vegan (probably due to birth control pills which don’t seem to be working now) and during that time I ate badly, lots of meat and dairy and still had beautiful clear skin (though 10lbs overweight!)

    I gave up on the diet connection. I eat my well rounded vegan diet but i no longer expect miracles from it.

  • DanielFaster

    Cows are great mothers. Each one loads her milk up with 5-alpha-pregnanedione and other hormones to help her baby pack on 500 pounds. And she gets even when you take away her baby’s milk – with poxes of zits, breast cancer and prostate cancer on whoever breaks the laws of nature!