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When you remember family members or friends who have had cancer, one of your next thoughts may be, “How can I keep it from happening to me?”

There is no simple answer, but as scientists work to determine the factors involved, they have come up with findings that decrease cancer risk. Some of these findings could apply to you.

INCREASE YOUR GOOD CHOLESTEROL

The surprising result of studying many controlled trials indicates that for every 10 mg/dl higher increase of HDL (good) cholesterol, cancer risk dropped by 36%. This analysis was done by Tufts Medical Center’s Molecular Cardiology Research Institute and colleagues.

While researchers can’t say for sure how high-density lipoprotein does it, they say HDL probably has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects that can reduce cancer risk. Or HDL might also be helping the body’s immune system search out and destroy abnormal cells that could grow into tumors.

They do know that HDL carries bad cholesterol from tissues to the liver, which removes it from the body.

HOW TO RAISE HDL LEVELS

  • One great way is to eat fish. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (as found in fish) is associated with HDL increases. For every 10% increase in omega-3s, HDL levels rose by about 2.5 mg/dl.
  • Lower levels of omega-3s are found in walnuts and leafy green vegetables, flaxseed and soy products.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages is associated with modestly higher HDL levels; of course if it is done in moderation.
  • HDL levels are also increased by regular exercise, avoiding overweight and not smoking.

Researchers say the optimum HDL level for heart protection is 60 mg/dl. That number is probably a worthy target for cancer prevention as well.