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The Surprising Cancer and Cholesterol Link

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Innocent. That’s the verdict. It only took fifty years of incarceration to prove that it was not the criminal. The media warned society to keep away. A 1984 Time magazine cover condemned it. People avoided it like the plague. And now, finally, it has cleared its name. So who is this that was so wrongfully accused, you ask? Cholesterol. 

No one wants to sit innocently behind bars for decades. In the case of cholesterol, the tragedy is that it was just trying to help. It arrived on the scene to serve a life-saving purpose, as it so often does. 

Instead of being the cause of premature death, cholesterol is the hero. 

While it’s now proven that cholesterol does not cause heart disease, scientists are also beginning to appreciate the link between cholesterol and cancer. Could this mighty substance be protective against cancer? The answer might surprise you.

What is cholesterol?

The words fat and cholesterol are often used interchangeably. However, they are very different. Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance classified as a sterol, a combination of a steroid and alcohol. 

Although many have portrayed cholesterol as something that hangs out in the bloodstream, it’s more complicated than that. Like oil and water, cholesterol and blood don’t mix well. Therefore, for cholesterol to move smoothly through the body, it’s encased and carried by lipoproteins. Like little boats or vehicles, lipoproteins transport cholesterol and essential fats, hormones, and enzymes through the body.

Some lipoproteins are higher density than others. At the very basic level, they are categorized as either low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or high-density lipoproteins (HDL). However, a deeper dive shows that the best health indicators are lipoprotein particle size and LDL to HDL ratio. 

Where does cholesterol come from?

Cholesterol presents in our body in one of two ways. While it can enter via the food we eat, most cholesterol production happens in the liver. 

The body tightly regulates the amount of circulating cholesterol. In other words, when dietary cholesterol intake is low, the body makes more.

What role does cholesterol play in the body?

Present in every single cell of the body, cholesterol serves many vital functions, including: 

  • Cell wall formation, integrity, and function
  • Creation of essential hormones, including sex hormones
  • Precursor for vitamin D
  • Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Plays a role in digestion by creating bile salts 
  • Helps regulate the nervous system and supports brain health

Cholesterol as the body’s repair system

In addition to the benefits already listed, cholesterol plays a vital role in repairing the body. Cholesterol repairs wounds, including tears or irritations in the arteries. When an arterial wall is damaged, cholesterol comes to the rescue, attempting to repair the injury. 

After all, it’s cholesterol’s job to make up the cell wall. So while it was long believed that cholesterol was the cause of plaque buildup, it’s now understood that cholesterol is there to fix the underlying problem: inflammation

Cholesterol as a disease fighter?

Now that we know that cholesterol arrives on the scene to serve, it begs the question: could cholesterol help fight cancer? 

Cancer is a complicated disease caused by various factors, including poor diet, exposure to environmental toxins, smoking, obesity, and stress, to name a few. Since we all face some of these dangers, why doesn’t everyone get cancer? The answer may lie in the immune system. 

At any given moment, our bodies contain DNA-damaged cells. These cells have the potential to become cancerous. However, in most cases, the immune system destroys these cancerous cells before multiplying and spreading. Any impairment of immunity can negate this process. 

Multiple studies have found a link between cholesterol levels and infectious disease. For example, a recent 2020 study found blood cholesterol levels are much lower in those with severe Covid-19. As a result, medical professionals concluded that Covid-19 patients should immediately stop taking cholesterol-lowering drugs

Further, evidence suggests that cholesterol acts as an antioxidant against free radicals. For example, multiple studies have found HDL to have protective antioxidant qualities. Cholesterol may play a role in combating oxidative stress in the body, thus reducing cancer risk.

What kind of cancer might cholesterol protect against?

Evidence is mounting on the cancer-protective effects of cholesterol. Science illustrates that higher cholesterol may reduce the risk of the following cancers:  

Prostate cancer and cholesterol

LDL may play an important role in protecting against prostate cancer. For example, in a study of 371 men undergoing radiation and surgery for prostate cancer, those with the highest LDL levels fared better. The study found that individuals with the highest LDL levels had 33 percent less cancer recurrence compared to those with the lowest LDL levels. 

Lung cancer and cholesterol

According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer rates have risen steadily, especially among women. A study from the 1990s showed that low cholesterol levels caused a significant increase in lung cancer deaths in older women. Since then, researchers have confirmed the association. A recent study found that lung cancer patients with the highest cholesterol levels had a 67 percent lower risk of dying.

Breast cancer and cholesterol

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States. A large 2017 study concluded that women over 40 with high cholesterol were 45 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those without high cholesterol. Moreover, of the women who developed breast cancer, those with higher cholesterol levels had a 40 percent lower risk of death. 

Pancreatic cancer and cholesterol

Pancreatic cancer is called the silent killer, as it often does not exhibit symptoms until it’s too late. Studies have found that men with the highest cholesterol levels had a 48 percent lower risk of pancreatic cancer. The study also concluded that these same men had a 33 percent lower risk of non-melanoma skin cancer, 86 percent lower risk of liver/gallbladder cancer, and a 32 percent lower risk of lymphoma and leukemia.

Colorectal cancer  and cholesterol

The impacts of colorectal cancer are far-reaching — it is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States. A 2016 study suggests that individuals with higher cholesterol levels are more protected from colorectal cancer than those with lower levels. 

Low cholesterol may be a sign of cancer

While the “dangers” of high cholesterol are reiterated repeatedly by health care professionals, the actual concern might be low cholesterol. Multiple studies have found associations between low total cholesterol levels and increased cancer risks. 

A 2009 study found that men with lower cholesterol levels had an 18 percent higher cancer risk. Researchers also concluded that men with higher HDL cholesterol levels had a 14 percent lower cancer risk. But, as we know, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. The authors suggest that lowered cholesterol levels may result from undetected cancer instead of the cause.  

A 2016 study reiterates these findings. Researchers conclude that unexplained decreases in total cholesterol should be a red flag for doctors, alerting them to consider colon cancer as a possible cause. In addition, a recent 2020 study found that low HDL levels contributed to an increased risk of several cancers, specifically blood and nervous system cancers. 

Inflammation is the culprit

The relationship between cholesterol and cancer is complex. Many of the factors that influence cholesterol levels also impact cancer. For example, a diet high in sugar, processed grains, and artificial trans fats contributes to impaired cholesterol and increased cancer rates. The biggest commonality between cholesterol and cancer is that they both are aggravated by inflammation. 

Next steps

After being the villain for many years, cholesterol is finally getting the credit it rightfully deserves. However, it’s a complex conclusion with some caveats. 

The best way to optimize cholesterol levels and reduce your cancer risk is to focus on a nutrient-dense, organic, 100 Year Heart Diet. Add in regular exercise. Reduce your stress and surround yourself with loving people. Consume only high-quality water. Prioritize your sleep and sunlight exposure by rising and falling with the sun. Finally, do all you can to eliminate exposure to toxins.

Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well 

Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD

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About Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD, FACC

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About Dr. Jack Wolfson DO, FACC

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Dr. Jack Wolfson is a board-certified cardiologist, Amazon best-selling author, husband, father, and the nation’s #1 Natural Heart Doctor.

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Our health coaches use evidence based skillful conversation, clinical interventions, and strategies to engage you actively and safely in health behavior changes.

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We use the most advanced testing in the world to assess heart health and to identify the root cause of your health issues.

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Schedule an office visit with one of our cardiologists, holistic physicians, chiropractor, or health coaches.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I’d like to receive an online second opinion from Natural Heart Doctor. What do I do next?

You can initiate a second opinion online through our website at any time. To begin, select the team member you’d like to speak with and open an account.

Click here for cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson.

Naturopathic Medical Doctor Dr. Lauren Lattanza. Get details.

Naturopathic Medical Doctor Dr. Tonia Rainier. Get details.

Click here for  Natural Heart Doctor Health Coach.

Alternatively, you can email health@naturalheartdoctor.com. A member of our care team will help guide you through the process of starting a second opinion.

What is the cost of a Natural Heart Doctor Online Second Opinion?

The cost for most second opinions varies by team member. This fee includes information collection, a phone or video consultation, a second opinion from a Natural Heart Doctor specialist and guidance throughout the process from your personal Care Team at Natural Heart Doctor.

Cardiologist Dr. Jack Wolfson’s Second Opinion Fee is $1500.

Holistic Physician’s Dr. Lauren Lattanza’s Second Opinion Fee is $250.

Naturopathic Physician Dr. Tonia Rainier’s Second Opinion Fee is $250.

Note: We apply the Online Second Opinion Call fee as a credit to any future consultations with Natural Heart Doctor, should you choose them.

Will my insurance cover the cost of a Natural Heart Doctor Online Second Opinion?

Most likely, no. Most health plans do not cover online second opinions or consultations. You are responsible for the cost of our second opinion. Natural Heart Doctor cannot file a claim with your insurance carrier, nor can we provide a procedure (CPT) code for this service.

What is the timeline to receive an online second opinion?

We do our best to schedule your second opinion as quickly as possible. Typically, it takes 5 to 7 business days after your information has been collected to receive your phone or video online second opinion.

What information do you need in advance of our call?

Our office will send you a short questionnaire to complete and return. We DO NOT need your complete medical records.

How many questions can I ask the expert during our call?

You may ask a maximum of five questions. This is to ensure that the expert has sufficient time to devote to each question. All questions must be finalized before your online meeting.

What should I expect to receive once my second opinion is complete?

You will receive a summary of our discussion along with our second opinion. The second opinion will be in written form. After you have reviewed the second opinion, a Natural Heart Doctor clinician will follow up with you by phone to address general medical questions about the information provided in the second opinion.

What if I have follow-up questions for the expert after I have reviewed my second opinion?

If you have a clarifying question about an expert’s response to one of the questions in your second opinion, and the Natural Heart Doctor clinician is unable to address it, then you may request a follow up session for an additional fee. 

Is my medical and payment information secure?

Natural Heart Doctor is strongly committed to protecting the privacy and security of all our patients. Our website meets all federal requirements for protecting personal health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). All financial transactions are processed by Natural Heart Doctor securely using industry standard payment processing tools.

I would rather visit Natural Heart Doctor for an in-person appointment. What should I do next?

If you would prefer an in-person appointment at Natural Heart Doctor instead of an online second opinion, please call (480) 535-6844 for details and scheduling.

Can I schedule a follow up appointment with the specialist who provided my online second opinion?

Yes, we’re happy to help you on an extended basis. Our clinician can discuss options with you when presenting our second opinion summary.