Which Came First? The Egg or Heart Disease?


New research published in the recent issue of the journal Atherosclerosis cracks the shell on eggs as a healthy food choice, linking egg yolk consumption with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and early death.

If this sounds familiar, it's likely because this isn’t the first study to call into question the almighty egg's effects on our health. Scores of studies have pointed to risks connected with eating eggs—from the salmonella contamination of conventional eggs to the cholesterol compounding yolks.  A 2011 Harvard Nurses' Health Study found consuming the cholesterol from one egg daily had the equivalent effect on a woman's health as smoking 25,000 cigarettes.

Read more about natural ways to manage your cholesterol

This most recent study was a collaboration between experts in the field: David Spence, Director of the Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre at Western University in Ontario; Jean Davignon, Director of the Hyperlipidemia and Atherosclerosis Research Group at the Institute for Clinical Research in Montreal and Dr. David Jenkins, University of Toronto and creator of the glycemic index, which measures glucose levels in blood.

This latest research measured carotid plaque in arteries of more than 1,200 subjects—patients at various cardiovascular clinics. It was compared with the carotid plaque of smokers. Researchers identified a trend in the 20 percent of participants who ate at least three egg yolks per week: significantly increased arterial plaque buildup.

 

Clogged arteries due to plaque are precursors to life-threatening cardiovascular illnesses including heart attack and stroke, which kill more Americans than any other disease. They narrow the space where blood flows, putting pressure on the heart, which must pump harder to move the blood. The subjects who ate more than three eggs per week increased their risk of illness or early death associated with clogged arteries by two-thirds more than the group of cigarette smokers who smoked a pack per day for at least 40 years.

The study brings the discussion of cholesterol in the diet back to the plate. Once thought that cholesterol-rich foods lead to high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream, many Americans began to avoid cholesterol-containing foods like eggs. One medium-sized egg contains approximately 180 milligrams of cholesterol. The recommended daily maximum is no more than 300 milligrams. 

Read more about heart disease

But new concerns about the role of cholesterol in the diet have emerged as a result of the study's conclusions that cholesterol may be more important to heart-health than previously believed. Study authors suggest that the risk factors associated with cholesterol containing foods warrant a "reassessment" of cholesterol in the diet, most specifically from eggs.

The study's lead author, Dr. Spence was reported as telling the press that egg yolks should not be regarded as a food that's "suitable for human diets."

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Photo credit: Sean Rogers1


By Jill Ettinger| October 24, 2013
Categories:  Eat
Keywords:  EatFood and Nutrition

About the Author

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a freelance journalist and marketing specialist primarily focused on the organic and natural industries, she bridges her love for changing the food system with her lifelong passion for writing and connecting people in their shared values. You can connect with Jill on Twitter and Instagram.

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