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Colon cancer linked to cholesterol

HELSINKI, FINLAND. There is considerable evidence that the risk of colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is intimately linked to diet. For example, it is clear that a high consumption of cured meats and salted and smoked fish is a potent risk factor. Some studies have found that a high intake of red meat, animal fat, and total fat also increases the risk, but other studies have found no such connection.

A team of Finnish and Swedish researchers now reports that a high intake of cholesterol is a potent risk factor. Their study involved almost 10,000 Finnish men and women who were enrolled in 1967. By late 1999 54 of the men and 55 of the women had developed cancer of the colon (63 cases) or the rectum (46 cases). The researchers found that men who consumed more than 668 mg/day of cholesterol had a 3.26 times greater risk of colorectal cancer than did men who only consumed 402 mg/day or less. The corresponding values for women were more than 501 mg/day as compared to less than 288 mg/day for a risk increase of 3.26 times. Note: One medium-sized egg contains about 300 mg of cholesterol. The risk estimate was after correcting for age, sex, body mass index, occupation, smoking, geographic region, energy intake, and consumption of vegetables, fruits and cereals. The researchers found no statistically significant association between colon cancer risk and the intake of total fat and intake of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. There was a trend for the risk to increase with higher intakes of eggs (especially fried eggs) and red meat, but this trend did not reach statistical significance.

The researchers make the interesting observation that it may not be so much a high cholesterol intake that increases the risk, but rather a low ratio between the intake of plant sterols (from vegetable fats) and cholesterol. Apparently most study participants had especially low intakes of vegetable fats.
Jarvinen, R., et al. Dietary fat, cholesterol and colorectal cancer in a prospective study. British Journal of Cancer, Vol. 85, No. 3, August 3, 2001, pp. 357-61

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