Week of July 16, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is it true that working to raise my HDL level is not likely to lower my risk of heart attack after all?

A: Studies that tested people’s HDL (“good”) cholesterol and then watched their health have long linked higher blood levels of HDL with lower risk of heart attack. Two main steps that raise HDL cholesterol – boosting physical activity and losing weight if overweight – do lead to lower risk of heart attack. Researchers identified several small genetic differences that can also lead to higher levels of HDL, regardless of lifestyle. A recent study found that people whose elevated HDL was due to one of these specific genetic traits did not have lower heart attack risk. Authors of the new study concluded that we can’t assume that all methods of raising HDL will have the same effect on heart disease. This fits in with previous studies, such as findings that hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women increased HDL levels but did not reduce heart attack risk. Other research has shown that HDL cholesterol actually includes up to 14 different subclasses, and the subclass “HDL 2b” alone may account for most of the protective action of removing cholesterol from blood vessel walls. HDL 2b does seem to go up with exercise and having both a healthy weight and waist size. Raising HDL by healthy changes in physical activity or weight – which likely means increased HDL 2b – remains a smart strategy to reduce risk of heart attack, regardless of whether HDL causes the change or is simply a marker of it. The bonus: these healthy changes in activity level and weight are also linked to reduced risk of cancer and diabetes. Keep up those strategies for overall health!

Q: How do melons like cantaloupe and watermelon rate for nutrition?

A: All melons, especially cantaloupe, are excellent sources of vitamin C. A little less than a cup of cantaloupe provides an adult with half to two-thirds of current recommended amounts of vitamin C for the day. Cantaloupe and watermelon are also rich in beta-carotene. In laboratory studies, beta-carotene seems to reduce inflammation, improve immune function, protect DNA and help control cell growth in ways that may reduce cancer risk. In addition, cantaloupe is a good source of potassium, which seems to help control blood pressure, and watermelon is an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. All this with no cooking on a hot summer day! To maximize health benefits, if the melon is uncut, keep it at room temperature for up to a week or until fully ripe, then refrigerate for up to 5 days. Not only will the melon get better tasting, research on uncut watermelon shows that lycopene and beta-carotene content may increase during room temperature storage. Refrigerate cut melon in a tightly covered container and use within five days. Vitamin C and carotenoid content will drop only a little if at all during that time, so don’t hesitate to buy a whole melon rather than partial pieces to keep your grocery bill lower.

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