Disease Proof

Low Cholesterol and Cancer, Linked?

Admittedly, I don’t know much about this. But apparently some scientists believe if cholesterol is too low, there’s an increased risk of cancer. Take this study for example. New research provides evidence for a link between low LDL levels and cancer risk. More from EurekAlert:
The authors of the study, published in the July 31, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), set out to understand how and why statins cause side effects, particularly damage to the liver and muscle cells. The study findings support taking multiple medications rather than high-dose statins to minimize those side effects. The researchers did not expect to find the increased cancer risk (one additional incident per 1,000 patients) from low LDL levels, and additional studies have already begun to investigate this potential risk further. A key component in future studies will be to confirm the risk and to identify whether the risk may be a side effect of statins or just low LDL.

“This analysis doesn’t implicate the statin in increasing the risk of cancer,” said lead author Richard H. Karas, M.D., F.A.C.C., professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. “The demonstrated benefits of statins in lowering the risk of heart disease remain clear; however, certain aspects of lowering LDL with statins remain controversial and merit further research.”

The researchers found one additional incident of cancer per 1,000 patients with low LDL levels when compared to patients with higher LDL levels. In their evaluation of randomized controlled statin trials published before November 2005, the researchers looked at 13 treatment arms consisting of 41,173 patients.
(via The Diabetes Blog)
Now, as an Eat to Liver I know my vegetable-based diet is working to reduce my cholesterol to disease-proofing range. So naturally, this research doesn’t make much sense to me. In order to clear this up—and basically shoot down this study—I dug up this post: Can Cholesterol Be Too Low? Here’s an excerpt:
There was some controversy years ago about striving for lower, protective cholesterol levels after some studies in the eighties noted that depression, suicide, hemorrhagic stroke, cancer, and death from other causes, were higher in some groups with very low cholesterol groups. Larger, recent investigations studying larger populations did not confirm these questionable findings.

When investigators looked more carefully at the individual characteristics of the studied populations they were able to explain the earlier findings. This issue is complicated because these studies evaluated individuals who were eating the modern American diet, rich in saturated fat and other components of animal products that raise cholesterol, and low in plant derived anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, and essential fatty acids that improve cholesterol ratios. Those who demonstrated very low (ideal) cholesterol levels, while following the traditional, modern, cholesterol-promoting diet, may actually have a compromised health status or undetected chronic disease.

For instance, we know cancer causes less cholesterol production in the liver. Low cholesterol may be associated with cancer, but does not cause it. Researchers showed that cholesterol starts to fall up to 8 years prior to a person dying of cancer, and that those with the greatest drop in cholesterol in a 4 year period without dietary improvements to lower cholesterol were those most likely to develop cancer.1 The low cholesterol did not cause the cancer; the cancer caused the low cholesterol. Those who work to lower cholesterol by avoiding saturated fats, eating a high nutrient diet with lots of raw vegetables, cooked green vegetables, and beans do not have a pathological condition causing their low cholesterol. They earned it.

This is why in rural China where the diets are nearly vegetarian, the average cholesterol levels are low and you see lower cancer rates, not higher. Those with the lowest cholesterol in the China study actually had the lowest cancer rates as well. Obviously, there is a difference between one who has a low cholesterol because his dietary style earns it, and one whose cholesterol seems unjustifiably low on a modern heart-disease-promoting diet that almost everyone in the west eats.
Now in my humble— and very layman—opinion, the above study is just the kind of junk science that misinforms people and leads them down the path of disease and premature death. Consider this: Increased Risk of Cancer Associated with The Atkins Diet.
1. SJ Sharp, SJ Pocock. Time trends in serum cholesterol before cancer death. Epidemiology 8: (MAR 1997):132-136. M Zureik, D Courbon, P Ducimetiere. Decline in serum total cholesterol and the risk of death from cancer. Epidemiology 8: 2 (MAR 1997):137-143.
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