Researchers at the Molecular Cardiology Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center in Boston have found that keeping your cholesterol at healthy levels may have a very important extra benefit: cancer prevention. Their analysis of 24 trials investigated the pros and cons of cholesterol treatment interventions, such as the use of statins.
What they found was that high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, can cut the risk of cancer. And with each 10-point rise in HDL levels came a 36 percent decrease in a person’s risk for developing cancer. HDL cholesterol is best known to help against heart disease.
The researchers say that the biological mechanisms in which HDL may protect one from cancer are unclear. In fact, the findings do not suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between cholesterol and cancer. But some theories of why higher levels of HDL can be associated with a decreased risk of cancer include the following:
- HDL may have antioxidant properties that protect against cell damage, which increases the risk of cancer development.
- HDL may positively affect the immune system, helping the body better defend itself against cancer.
- HDL may also have anti-inflammatory properties that suppress cancer cell growth and help foster an environment where cancer cells have a hard time thriving.
“There is a strong and important relationship between the level of good cholesterol that people have in their blood and their risk of getting cancer. This supports another potentially important role for HDL in the body,” said study researcher Richard Karas, MD, PhD, executive director at the Molecular Cardiology Research Institute.