On your health: Statins may reduce risk of cancer death

  • November 10, 2012 - 6:54 PM


If you take statins to lower your cholesterol, you may also be lowering your risk of death from cancer, new research suggests.

A report published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine is one of a number of recent papers suggesting that statins not only limit the growth of cancer cells but also make them more vulnerable to certain therapies.

"Regular statin use before and after a diagnosis of cancer could theoretically reduce cancer-related mortality," wrote study leader Sune F. Nielsen, a biochemist at the University of Copenhagen who based his findings on an analysis of more than 5.5 million people in Denmark.

Statins are already used by millions of Americans to improve their cardiovascular health by reducing the liver's production of cholesterol. Though an excessive amount of cholesterol can inhibit blood flow by narrowing or blocking arteries, the waxy substance is actually necessary for good health.

Among other functions, cholesterol helps to build and maintain cell membranes, and is essential to their proliferation. Therefore, when cholesterol production is limited, the ability of cancer cells to reproduce uncontrollably is diminished, scientists say.


Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids slightly reduces the risk for stroke, a large review of studies has found, but taking supplements of omega-3 fatty acids does not have the same effect.

Researchers writing in the online journal BMJ reviewed data from 38 studies that included nearly 800,000 subjects and 34,817 cerebrovascular incidents. The studies varied in size and methodology; some were based on self-reporting of diets, some on blood tests, some on supplements. The researchers reviewed studies of healthy people and of those who had cerebrovascular disease.

The data showed that eating two to four servings of fish a week reduced stroke risk by 6 percent compared with eating one serving or less, and having five servings a week reduced the risk by 12 percent. But the results of the randomized trials that had used omega-3 supplements showed no significant effect on risk.

"We think any beneficial effect of omega-3s is quite small," said lead author Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge.

What you do not eat when you eat fish may be just as important, Chowdhury said. "When you eat fish more frequently," he said, "you eat smaller amounts of potentially bad proteins like red meat."


Resveratrol, the red wine component shown to be helpful in improving metabolic function in obese or diabetic people, has no discernible effect on healthy women who are not obese, a new experiment has found.

In a 12-week randomized, double-blinded trial, researchers gave 29 normal weight postmenopausal women either 75 milligrams a day of resveratrol or a placebo, testing their metabolic function at the start and end of the study.

Blood concentrations of resveratrol increased in the group given the supplements, but the scientists found no difference between them and those given the placebo in body composition, resting metabolic rate or glucose tolerance.

The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that blood pressure, heart rate, C-reactive protein levels (a measure of inflammation), LDL, HDL and total cholesterol were unaffected by resveratrol. Does this mean that resveratrol offers no benefits? Not necessarily, said the senior author, Dr. Samuel Klein, a professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.

"We only show that metabolically healthy people get no benefits to begin with," he said. "We have no way of knowing whether it will prevent future metabolic complications."


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