Dietary Cholesterol & Cancer

Cholesterol was back in the headlines recently as the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines has removed the limit on cholesterol intake. However, the guidelines stated that individual should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible because foods that are higher in cholesterol are also higher in saturated fats.

Research suggests it is the saturated fats in foods like fatty meat, high fat dairy products and oily foods that increase the blood cholesterol level. High level of blood cholesterol can cause plaque to form in arteries, leading to blockage, which increases the risk for heart disease.

Eating eggs didn’t increase blood cholesterol level as much as saturated fat does because egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but not high in saturated fat.

How does dietary cholesterol affect cancer risk? To date, research has not shown any strong connection between dietary cholesterol and cancer risk. Dietary cholesterol may not have a direct effect on cancer risk. However, diet high in cholesterol often includes high amounts of fatty foods that could increase the risk of overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity is linked to higher risk of cancer, including colorectal, postmenopausal breast and endometrial cancer.

As the recommendation to restrict dietary cholesterol is dropped, many nutrition researchers are now focusing on dietary patterns or habits to understand how we eat affects health and cancer risk, rather than focusing on specific nutrients or compounds, like cholesterol.

Patients on chemotherapy and radiotherapy should not have worries on dietary cholesterol. For example, eggs are packed with protein which is an important nutrient for patients during treatment. Eggs should be included in diet planning for cancer patients.

You can always seek your dietitian’s advice if ever you feel unsure about your diet.

Further reading:

(1) The Cancer-Cholesterol Connection. American Institute of Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/cancer-research-update/2015/02_18/cru_the-cancer-cholesterol-connection.html

(2) New U.S. dietary guidelines limit sugar, rethink cholesterol. Cable News Network. http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/07/health/2015-dietary-guidelines/

Marcus Lee, Dietitian