HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol has long been referred to as the “good” cholesterol. This is due to the fact that HDL cholesterol carries cholesterol from tissues to the liver, where it is reprocessed and removed from the body.

The study

The Tufts Medical Center’s Molecular Cardiology Research Institute examined data from studies on a total of 76,265 intervention-group participants and 69,478 controls. The results of this meta-analysis of 24 randomized controlled trials found cancer risk decreased 36% for every 10 mg/dl increase in HDL cholesterol.

How does HDL cholesterol lower cancer risk

The reason why individuals with high HDL cholesterol levels have a reduced risk of cancer is not known. Here are a couple of speculations from researchers:

  1. Maybe HDL cholesterol has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which reduce cancer risk.
  2. Maybe HDL cholesterol helps the immune system search/destroy abnormal cells.
  3. Maybe HDL simply indicates other healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Here’s a little clarification on number three. Individuals who live a healthy lifestyle promote high HDL levels and live with a decreased risk of chronic conditions linked to aging and cancer. Individuals with low HDL levels are actually at higher risk of chronic diseases leading to inflammation and insulin resistance. This then may result in the formation of tumors. So, it is possible the link between HDL cholesterol and reduced cancer risk is simply that HDL is an indicator of a healthy lifestyle and there may be nothing inherent to the HDL cholesterol itself resulting in reduced cancer risk. Future research will have to be conducted to learn more about the link between HDL cholesterol and cancer risk.

Tips to increase HDL cholesterol

Raising HDL cholesterol levels is not too difficult (depending on your definition of difficult!), but it may involve lifestyle changes. Here are 4 steps you can take to boost HDL levels:

  1. Exercise regularly – the more, the better
  2. Increase your intake of fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids
  3. Lose weight and/or maintain a healthy weight
  4. Stop smoking
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