New research published by the American Association of Cancer Prevention presents intriguing findings about the link between cholesterol levels and cancer. The evidence suggests that cholesterol levels may point towards the existence of certain kinds of cancers. Researchers’ understanding of cholesterol has changed quite a bit over the years.
What Is Cholesterol?
For many years now, patients have been warned by their doctors to lower their blood cholesterol readings if the laboratory analysis indicates a total cholesterol level of 200-250 or more. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, sticky substance produced by the body. While it is found in certain foods such as meat, eggs and dairy products, changing the diet reduces cholesterol very little; the body appears to regulate its own cholesterol levels. According to Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, M.D., P.h.D., author of the book “The Cholesterol Myth”, high cholesterol, especially high LDL cholesterol, is a symptom of inflammation.
Within the total cholesterol count are two separate counts: HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol, and LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol. Much of the newer research indicates that it is not so much the total number but more the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol that hints at health or problems to come.
High HDL Cholesterol Desirable to Protect Against Cancer
A pair of studies published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention and reported by the American Association for Cancer Research in October 2009 link high HDL cholesterol to possible cancer prevention. According to the study, researchers followed over 29,000 men from the Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study for 18 years. In this long-term study, researchers noted that “Higher levels of HDL cholesterol were associated with a 14 percent decreased risk.”
Cholesterol forms a portion of the cell membrane and some cholesterol is absolutely essential for overall good health. Researchers at UT Southwestern published an article in the journal Science in which they reveal that cholesterol in the cell membrane actually helps control cell division by facilitating “communication” in the cell during division. Without cholesterol, the cell can divide uncontrollably, which is what happens in cancer.
Cholesterol Level Confusion
The idea that high HDL cholesterol levels may lower cancer risk, particularly prostrate cancer, coupled with the notion that overall lower cholesterol levels may lower the risk of cancer is confusing for many people. It helps to remember that having a high HDL number doesn’t meant that the overall cholesterol reading is high. Rather, it means that the HDL cholesterol level is higher than the LDL level. The total readings still recommended for health and wellness are around 200-250, depending on which source is cited.
Key Takeaways on Cholesterol and Cancer
What should the average person take away from all this new research about the link between cancer and cholesterol?
- The body needs some cholesterol for basic health. Too low levels may be just as bad as levels that are too high.
- The overall cholesterol reading should be around 200-250, with the HDL reading much higher than the LDL reading.
- Low cholesterol levels may not be healthy. This can be a sign of cancer.
The biggest takeaway from all of these studies is that the cause and effect of cholesterol and cancer is by no means established. In fact, many of the so-called “truths” about cholesterol have been shattered in recent years. Dietary cholesterol, once thought to be the primary driver of high cholesterol levels, is now thought to have only a small effect on total blood cholesterol levels. The lay person should do what he’s always done for good health: eat a balanced, whole food diet, get plenty of exercise, and ask his doctor any questions he may have.