Cholesterol is a fat-like compound that our cells produce and need for structuring, as well as to synthesize vitamin D, hormones, and bile salts, all of which are essential for digestion. Our bodies can synthesize all of the cholesterol we require, but we also consume cholesterol via our food. Cholesterol circulates in the body with the help of lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are compounds that are responsible for carrying cholesterol in the blood. There are several lipoproteins but the most important ones are High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): LDL is responsible for transporting cholesterol particles throughout the body, accounting for 60–70% of total blood lipoproteins. It’s commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol since it’s related to increasing the risk of atherosclerosis, or plaque formation in arteries and other cardiac diseases. LDL lipoproteins carrying a lot of cholesterol are directly linked to an elevated risk of heart disease. In a broad sense, the more the number of LDL particles in the blood, the higher the risk of heart disease and other inflammatory health conditions.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL collects cholesterol from all over the body and transports it to the liver, where it can be utilized or eliminated. According to some research, HDL protects against plaque formation in the arteries and thus lowering the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. It is also called the ‘good cholesterol’. Food products like meat, dairy products, and other animal-based products are sources of dietary cholesterol. Generally, foods that contain high amounts of saturated fats increase the risk of raising blood cholesterol levels for example Dairy products such as full-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream, butter, ghee, margarine, and spreads derived from animal fats, red meat, and processed meat products like sausages. Trans fats are another kind of fat that should be either avoided or used sparingly as they tend to raise LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and decrease the levels of HDL (good cholesterol) in the body. Foods that contain trans fats are french fries, deep-fried food products, chips, crackers, bakery products like cakes, biscuits, cookies, etc. Saturated fats and trans fats can also increase inflammation in the body thus increasing the risks of several other lifestyle diseases including cancer.
However, not all fats are created equal and to manage the blood cholesterol levels. Including unsaturated fats in your diet is a must. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats help decrease blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of various diseases. Foods that contain unsaturated fats are nuts, seeds, vegetable oils (olive oil, peanut oil), avocado, nut, butter, fatty fish, tuna, and soy products like tofu.
Although healthier fats are an important component of your diet, it’s still important to consume them in moderate amounts because all fats are dense in calories. It’s a good option to include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet. It will benefit the heart while also improving the overall quality of life.
Dietary cholesterol and cancer risk
There is not a direct relationship between dietary cholesterol and cancer risk, according to studies. Even though dietary cholesterol may not have a direct influence on cancer risk, a high-cholesterol diet frequently contains high amounts of food items that may increase the risk of developing cancer risk. There is evidence that eating a lot of red meat raises the risk of colorectal cancer. Consumption of processed meat regularly also raises the risk.
Many studies show that consuming a diet high in plant foods and low in animal foods lowers the risk of many prevalent malignancies. The evidence on the link between milk, cheese, and other dairy products and cancer risk is conflicting. Milk and calcium-rich diets are linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, although there is evidence of a connection between calcium-rich diets and an increased risk of prostate cancer.
AICR does not provide any recommendations when it comes to cancer and the consumption of dairy products. Pastries and baked products with additional butter and cream are high in cholesterol and typically high in fat. Foods that are loaded with calories, such as those high in fat, should be minimized or completely avoided. Such foods just add on to overall calorie intake providing either little or no nutritional benefits.
These foods being rich in saturated fat and trans fat, further lead to weight gain and obesity. Obesity has shown to be associated with an increased chance of developing various malignancies like colorectal cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, etc.
The link between high blood cholesterol levels and cancer
Increased blood cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) levels have been linked to an increased risk of malignancies such colon, rectal, prostate, and testicular cancer. According to a meta-analysis, eating foods high in saturated and trans-fat. Fats increase cholesterol levels and raises the risk of breast cancer. Few observational studies have shown a positive link between high blood cholesterol levels and cancer development. A high-cholesterol diet was discovered to decrease tumor development latency and increase tumor growth and metastasis. A study on mice indicated that cholesterol promoted colon cancer cell formation by activating inflammatory markers. In general, clinical studies and animal experiments suggest that hypercholesterolemia may have a role in some forms of cancer, such as breast and prostate cancer.
Following a diet that is rich in saturated fats, trans fats increase the risk of various illnesses and health complications like hypertension, cardiac diseases, atherosclerosis, obesity, and various types of cancers. The evidence for high dietary cholesterol and cancer development is still unclear. But as per various animal experiments and studies, it is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer. Elevated blood cholesterol levels
also increase the risk of cancerous cell growth and metastasis. To lead a healthy, disease-free life it is best to cut back on foods that raise LDL levels and instead consume good fats (unsaturated fats), fiber-rich whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based protein lean chicken, and eggs. There should be a correct proportion of these foods to ensure a healthy diet regime helps in lowering the risk of not only cancer but several other preventable lifestyle disorders.