Adding more milk or yoghurt to your diet could help reduce the risk of bowel cancer

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world - but researchers from Otago have found increased consumption of dairy products could improve those grim statistics.

A multi-year study by a team from Otago University has found the nutrient-rich drink could help protect against bowel cancer.

Associate professor Brian Cox from Otago Medical School told Newshub milk, in particular, has a strong relationship with reduced risk. 

Other dairy products like yoghurt showed similar benefits, provided there are at least three servings a week.

"It's not clear whether that's related to something else which is associated with the disease, or whether it's the primary reason for a reduced risk. So that still needs to be teased out," said Cox.

Natalie Reynolds was diagnosed with bowel cancer a week after her 26th birthday.

She welcomes any progress in understanding how to prevent bowel cancer in others - including her two young children.

"I would definitely say make sure you've got all of those milk and yoghurt products in the kids' lunches and making sure that they're having it for their cereal and things," she told Newshub.

"My kids are big yoghurt eaters, so nothing will change there."

More than 3000 Kiwis a year are diagnosed with the disease and Bowel Cancer New Zealand - which helped fund the research - says it's important to find out why.

Spokesperson Patricia Cooney says New Zealand has a higher rate of bowel cancer compared to the rest of the world. 

"We need to be looking at why we've got this high rate.. and what are the potential causes of it."

Researchers also recommend reducing the amount of red meat and processed foods in your diet along with avoiding alcohol and cigarettes and getting more exercise.