Journal of Dairy Research

Research Article

Proliferative effect of whey from cows' milk obtained at two different stages of pregnancy measured in MCF-7 cells

Tina S Nielsena1 c1, Charlotte Andersena2, Kris Sejrsena1 and Stig Purupa1

a1 Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, Aarhus University, Blichers Allé 20, P.O. Box 50, 8830 Tjele, Denmark

a2 Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Dietary estrogens may play a role in the etiology of hormone-dependent cancers like breast cancer. Cow's milk contains various endogenous estrogens and feed derived phytoestrogens that potentially contribute to an estrogenic effect of milk in consumers, and therefore we evaluated the effect of milk (whey) in a proliferation assay with estrogen-sensitive MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Milk samples were obtained from 22 cows representing different stages of pregnancy (first and second half) and whey was produced from the milk. 0·1, 0·25 or 0·5% whey was included in the cell culture medium and after 6 days of treatment cell proliferation was assessed by a colorimetric method with a fluorometer. Whey induced significant (P<0·05) proliferative effects compared with control cells with no added whey at all concentrations tested. There was no difference in the proliferative effect of whey depending on the stage of pregnancy from which the milk was obtained. We did not observe anti-proliferative effects when whey was tested in the presence of 10 pm estradiol in the medium. In conclusion, these results indicate that whey, irrespective of the pregnancy stage from which the milk was obtained induced a significant proliferative response in MCF-7 cells and no anti-proliferative effect, which may be caused, at least in part, by estrogens present in milk. The implications of our findings in relation to for example breast cancer will have to be studied further in other model systems preferentially in vivo.

(Received March 22 2011)

(Accepted August 22 2011)

(Online publication October 03 2011)


c1 For correspondence; e-mail: