The Obsessed Culture of Lowering Cholesterol May Actually Be Causing Cancer
We have become a culture so obsessed with eating foods low in cholesterol and fat that many health experts are now questioning the consequences. Could we really maintain a dietary lifestyle that was so foreign to many of our ancestral populations without any ill effects on our health? Many researchers are now concluding that the answer to that question is "NO." Current data is now suggesting that lower cholesterol levels predate the development of cancer. What is certain is that the 'little knowledge' that the media often imparts means many folks assume cholesterol is simply a 'bad' thing. Alternately, a good number of us may have heard the terms 'good' cholesterol and 'bad' cholesterol bandied about without knowing much about what this really means. In fact it is a fairly safe bet that if you asked anyone on the street for his or her instinctive response, if asked about cholesterol, they would probably say that we simply need to 'reduce it'.
The 'noddy-science' offered by marketing men to a generally scientifically-naive public has led many people to believe that we should replace certain food choices with specially developed products that can help 'reduce cholesterol'. Naturally this comes at a price and requires those who can afford it to pay maybe four or five times what a 'typical ordinary' product might cost. But is this apparent 'blanket need' to strive towards lowering our cholesterol justified? And, indeed, is it healthy?
Steve Riechman, a researcher in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, says the study reveals that LDL is not the evil Darth Vader of health it has been made out to be in recent years and that new attitudes need to be adopted in regards to the substance. His work, with help from colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, is published in the Journal of Gerontology.
Riechman and colleagues examined 52 adults from ages to 60 to 69 who were in generally good health but not physically active, and none of them were participating in a training program. The study showed that after fairly vigorous workouts, participants who had gained the most muscle mass also had the highest levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, “a very unexpected result and one that surprised us.
“It shows that you do need a certain amount of LDL to gain more muscle mass. There’s no doubt you need both -- the LDL and the HDL -- and the truth is, it (cholesterol) is all good. You simply can’t remove all the ‘bad’ cholesterol from your body without serious problems occurring.
The 'noddy-science' of the so-called 'functional food' manufacturers would have us believe that there is such a thing as 'bad' cholesterol and 'good' cholesterol. This is, in fact, totally untrue. The cholesterol itself, whether being transported by LDL or HDL, is exactly the same. Cholesterol is simply a necessary ingredient that is required to be regularly delivered around the body for the efficient healthy development, maintenance and functioning of our cells. The difference is in the 'transporters' (the lipoproteins HDL and LDL) and both types are essential for the human body's delivery logistics to work effectively.
Problems can occur, however, when the LDL particles are both small and their carrying capacity outweighs the transportation potential of available HDL. This can lead to more cholesterol being 'delivered' around the body with lower resources for returning excess capacity to the liver.
Does cancer cause low levels of LDL cholesterol, or are lower levels of LDL cholesterol a precursor to the development of cancer? New data from the Framingham HeartStudy (FHS) offspring cohort help shed light on the question, mainly by eliminating the reverse-causality hypothesis that cancer is responsible for significantly lower serum concentrations of LDL cholesterol.
"The question we wanted to address is whether low cholesterol happens when the cancer is already there or is it there before the cancer develops," lead investigator Dr Paul Michael Lavigne (Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA) told heartwire. "Based on these data, it would suggest that lower cholesterol predated the development of cancer by quite a long time. Now, that doesn't necessarily speak to [low cholesterol] causing the cancer; it could have been related to something else altogether, but it's not supportive of the hypothesis that cancer caused the low levels of LDL cholesterol. We don't know why it predates cancer, but it would be premature to attribute it to the cancer itself."
Presenting at the American College of Cardiology 2012 Scientific Sessions, Lavigne said the association between serum cholesterol levels and cancer incidence was first documented more than 30 years ago. More recently, a 2007 meta-analysis by Drs Alawi Alsheikh-Ali and Richard Karas (Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA) showed there was a "significant and linear relationship" between LDL levels achieved and risk of new cancer cases. Another study published in 2008 by the same researchers showed a similar relationship between low LDL-cholesterol levels and incident cancer.
"Most of the studies that have previously addressed this issue have looked at the relationship at one point in time," said Lavigne. "It's really difficult to trend the values to determine, for instance, if the cancer and control patients had cholesterol values that were the same, but then there was a preclinical cancer that caused a divergence. In our study, while the difference between the two groups was relatively modest, the relationship between [controls and cancer patients] was consistent, which means that whatever relationship was there was likely present before any cancer would have developed. In a sense, the lower LDL-cholesterol levels that were there predate any occurrence of cancer."
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.