We all know that high cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, right? But guess what – it’s a risk factor for prostate cancer. And not just prostate cancer; studies have linked high total cholesterol (“good” plus “bad” cholesterol) with cancer of the colon, testicles and rectum.
Cholesterol is one of the fatty substances called lipids that circulate in the bloodstream. While cholesterol is useful because it helps build cells, an excess of it can lead to waxy accumulations on the lining of blood vessels. When too much of it collects in one place, it can block the blood flow and lead to heart disease. In addition, if not enough blood is able to reach the brain, it can contribute to a stroke.
So, what does this have to do with prostate cancer?
Researchers who study how prostate cells mutate into prostate cancer hypothesize that cholesterol plays an important role in nurturing and spurring the growth of prostate cancer cells. Just as cholesterol helps healthy cells develop, cancerous cells likewise synthesize this lipid for the same purpose. In fact, there is evidence that the prostate cancer cells are able to modulate growth signaling factors to raise cholesterol levels and become more efficient in utilizing it for their own metabolism (the chemical reactions needed to sustain life).
To come at this another way, studies have shown that statins – the drugs used to control cholesterol levels – reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer. However, there is no clear connection yet between statin use and preventing prostate cancer from beginning. More research needs to be done in that area.
The bottom line is: if you have high cholesterol and your doctor wants to put you on statins, you have every reason to hop on board. While statins are proven effective in lowering cholesterol and are considered very safe, discuss with your doctor any possible side effects. If you have any reservations, ask your doctor about alternatives to statins. And always take medication as directed.
You can take even more control over your cholesterol by making lifestyle changes that can help reduce it. Do your research – there’s plenty of useful information on the internet. The Harvard Health newsletter has some great advice on dietary ways to lower the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) without feeling totally deprived: substitute healthy plant-derived oils such as olive oil for animal fats like butter; eat more colorful fruits and vegetables that have anti-cholesterol properties; and steer away from refined grains and sugars.
Remember: a heart-healthy lifestyle is also an investment in prostate health. Make the most of it!