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Dietary cholesterol raises cancer risk

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday Sept 1, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- Eating meat, particularly processed and red meat has been associated with increased risk of cancer. A new study in Annals of Oncology suggests that dietary cholesterol found only in animal-based foods may be partially responsible for the increased risk of cancer induced or promoted by meat consumption.

Early studies have suggested preservatives such as nitrite and nitrate used in processed meat and thermally generated carcinogens in cooked meats such as barbecued, grilled and fried meats increase risk of cancer.

For the current study, Dr J. Hu of Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Public Health Agency of Canada and colleagues surveyed thousands of patients with various types of cancers and controls without cancer for their dietary habits two years prior to the study to estimate their dietary cholesterol intakes. 

Patients included in the study were 1182 with stomach cancer, 1727 with colon cancer, 1447 with rectal cancer, 628 with pancreatic cancer, 3341 with lung cancer, 2362 with breast cancer, 442 with ovarian cancer, 1799 with prostate  cancer, 686 with testis cancer, 1345 with kidney cancer, 1009 with brain cancer, 1666 non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, and 1069 leukemia.

The researchers found dietary cholesterol was positively correlated with risk of stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectum cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer (mainly in postmenopausal women), kidney cancer, bladder cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Those who had the highest intake of cholesterol were 40 to 70 percent more likely to develop these cancers compared to those with the lowest intake.

Interestingly, dietary cholesterol intake was inversely associated with prostate cancer.

The researchers concluded "Our findings add to the evidence that high cholesterol intake is linked to increased risk of various cancers. A diet low in cholesterol may play a role in the prevention of several cancers."

In his book China Study,  Dr. T Colin Campbell, a distinguished nutrition professor at Cornell University reports his research saying that in rural China where much less meat and dairy products were consumed compared to the U.S., incidence of cancer was very low and some types of cancers were non-existent.

Food consumers may sometimes read some articles circulating over the Internet saying that dietary cholesterol is good for their health because humans need cholesterol.  This is like saying humans produce estrogen and oral estrogen used in contraceptives and hormone retherapy is good for men and women, which is false.

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