The crypt cell production rate was measured in 14 patients with adenomatous colorectal polyps, 17 patients with colorectal cancer and 12 control subjects. The median (interquartile range) rate (cells per crypt per hour) was found to be significantly higher (P less than 0.001) in the polyp (2.45 (1.94-3.20)) and cancer (3.01 (2.35-3.68)) groups compared with controls (1.25 (0.70-1.85)). A double-blind cross-over study was performed in patients with adenomatous polyps consisting of 2 months' treatment, 2 weeks' washout, followed by 2 months' treatment with dietary calcium supplementation (1.25 g day-1) versus placebo. A significant reduction in the crypt cell production rate occurred with calcium treatment compared with the placebo (1.25 (0.6-2.25) versus 2.15 (1.58-3.08) cells per crypt per hour, P = 0.035). This study demonstrates a significant reduction in mucosal cell proliferation by dietary calcium supplementation in patients with adenomatous polyps. Such treatment may be worthy of further investigation in patients at high risk of developing colorectal polyps.