Originally published 1/10/2017
When it comes to observing how cholesterol impacts prostate cancer risk, China may be the world’s biggest laboratory. It’s possible to compare differences in the overall Chinese diet from traditional healthy eating several decades ago to the “new” craving for a Western style diet. Yes, food in China has changed.
According to a 2017 report from Business Insider, “Today’s Chinese citizens have grown hungry for fatty, high-protein foods.” As a result, Chinese men who scarf down burgers and fries are unwittingly putting themselves at risk for deadly prostate cancer because of the increased amount of cholesterol and fatty acids.
According to a paper by Wang, et al. (2022), “Our study suggests that the steady rise in prostate cancer incidence and mortality among Chinese population during the last several decades may be attribute to a combinational effect of fatty acid and cholesterol…”[i]
They arrived at this conclusion through animal studies in which they analyzed the biochemical processes by which fat and cholesterol compounds trigger genomic changes, causing healthy tissues to become cancerous.
Is there a way to prevent this? The authors suggest reducing dietary fat and cholesterol could “…slow down the progression from occult (hidden) lesions to prostate cancer.” Let this be an important science lesson for all men!
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!
NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.
[i] Wang X, Sun B, Wei L, Jian X, Shan K, He Q, Huang F, Ge X, Gao X, Feng N, Chen YQ. Cholesterol and saturated fatty acids synergistically promote the malignant progression of prostate cancer. Neoplasia. 2022 Feb;24(2):86-97