Higher levels of “good” HDL (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol may be linked to lower risks of cancer and heart disease, according to a report published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and reported by Reuter’s Health.

Scientists from the Molecular Cardiology Research Institute at Tufts University in Boston studied 24 clinical trials of statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) to investigate the relationship between HDL and cancer risk.

During an average of five years, researchers tracked a total of 146,000 participants. Scientists gave statins to 76,000 people, and the remaining 70,000 received placebos.

Researchers found that the risk of developing any type of cancer decreased as people’s baseline HDL levels increased. (For every HDL level increase of 10 milligrams per deciliter, people’s cancer risk dipped by 36 percent.)

More research is needed to completely understand how HDL may lower cancer risk, but the health benefit may be due to its antioxidant effects, said Richard Karas, MD, of the Molecular Cardiology Research Institute at Tufts and lead author of the study.

HDL cholesterol could also help the immune system seek and destroy abnormal and possibly cancerous cells, Karas added.

While doctors have yet to establish a direct link between cancer risk and HDL, the “higher [the HDL levels] the better,” Karas said.

You can effectively increase your “good” cholesterol levels by regularly exercising, and eating foods that raise HDL levels, such as olive oil, avocado, fish and oat bran, among others. In addition, you can raise HDL levels by maintaining a healthy weight, drinking alcohol in moderation and, if you smoke, by giving up the habit .

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