It can be quite confusing when you surf the net to look for research on eggs and health. You find appearing on the first page articles such as “Eggs and Heart Disease” and “Latest Research on Health Benefits of Eggs” arguing against the concern that the high cholesterol content of egg yolks raises heart disease risk. “Eggs and Heart Disease” was even written by the reputable Harvard School of Public Health.
The Cholesterol in Egg and Heart Disease Controversy
In the WebMD website article entitled “Cutting through the Cholesterol Confusion”, by Peter Jaret, is this claim: “Part of the confusion comes from the fact that cholesterol in food isn’t the same thing as the cholesterol that clogs arteries.” While this is true, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that dietary cholesterol affects blood cholesterol. The article goes on to admit that “to be sure, foods high in cholesterol can cause blood levels of cholesterol to rise.” This is followed by an attempt to dampen this admission with the statement, “but only about one in three people seem to be especially susceptible to the effects of cholesterol in food.” There was no supporting evidence quoted to back up this statistic. Further down the article it says that “there’s never been good evidence that eggs are a major factor in high blood cholesterol levels or a contributing cause of heart disease.”
Really? How about Spence JD and his colleagues’ research entitled “Dietary Cholesterol and Egg Yolks Not for Patients at Risk of Vascular Disease” (Can J Cardiol 2010; 26:336-339)? This research showed that those who ate the most eggs experienced an increase in their risk of cardiovascular disease of 19%, and even an increase of 83% for those who already had diabetes. What about another study by Tang WHW, et. al. (The New England Journal of Medicine 2013;368:1575-1584) that suggests that a byproduct of choline, which is highly concentrated in eggs, increases one’s risk of a heart attack or stroke? The mechanism for this is explained in the medical journal “Atherosclerosis.”
This medical journal shows that egg yolk consumption appears to damage and thicken the arteries, almost as much as does smoking. The researchers found that those who ate three or more yolks a week had significant amounts of plaque build-up compared with those who ate two or fewer yolks a week. It is the trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) production due to excess choline in egg yolks that contributes to plaque build-up in people’s arteries. The high choline content in eggs also leads to gut flora metabolism of phosphatidylcholine which promotes cardiovascular disease (The New England Journal of Medicine, April 25, 2014, vol. 368, no. 17). In the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, heart disease risk was increased among diabetics who ate one or more eggs a day. Thus both the choline and the cholesterol in eggs increase heart disease risk.
Unless we weigh all the evidence critically, we may be misled into accepting the false conclusion that eating eggs does not increase the risk of heart attacks. The truth is there is overwhelming and reliable scientific evidence that egg consumption does increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. The Federal Trade Commissiontold the National Commission on Egg Nutrition to “cease and desist” in its misleading newspaper ads about eggs in nutrition. Consider these facts: eggs have zero dietary fiber, more than 60% fat calories, 3.3 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams, an average of nearly 200 mg of cholesterol per egg and a whopping 1007 mg of choline.
Eating Eggs Raises Diabetes Risk
The risk of diabetes increases in proportion to increases in egg consumption. Eggs significantly increase the risk of diabetes by 68% according to a review of 14 studies in the journal Atherosclerosis. In the Physicians’ Health Study I, those who consumed seven or more eggs per week had almost 25% higher risk of death, and if the participants were diabetic, the risk of death was twofold compared to those who ate the least amount of eggs. Egg consumption even increased the risk of gestational diabetes according to two studies in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The reason is the high fat in eggs increases blood sugar levels and leads to insulin resistance.
Eggs and Cancer
The World Health Organization found that eating eggs is associated with death from colorectal cancers and even moderate egg consumption triples the risk of developing bladder cancer. A case-control study in Argentina showed that those who consumed one and a half eggs a week had nearly five times the colorectal cancer risk as those who consumed less than eleven eggs a year. Egg consumption was also linked to prostate cancer in a 2011 Harvard study funded by the National Institute of Health. By consuming only 2.5 eggs per week, men increased their risk for a lethal form of prostate cancer by 81% compared to those who consumed less than half an egg per week. Men who ate a single egg a day had a significant increase in prostate cancer progression and death. The high content of choline and cholesterol was implicated in this outcome. (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) 2010; 91:712-21, Cancer Prev Res 2011;4(12) and AJCN 2012; 96:855-63)
Other Problems Associated with Egg Consumption
Even egg whites can add to the high protein burden on kidneys, leading to kidney disease, kidney stones and some types of cancer.
Egg shells, being fragile and porous, tend to harbor salmonella which is a leading cause of food poisoning in the U.S.
The high choline content in eggs, which leads to the excretion of trimethylamine, can give your breath, urine, sweat, saliva and vaginal secretions an odor resembling rotten dead fish.
Eggs are also implicated in arthritis because it is associated with inflammation, and arthritis is an inflammatory disease. There was a report of clinical improvement in 24 of 72 rheumatoid patients put on an exclusion diet, and eggs were excluded in 5 of them.
Given the overwhelming scientific evidence and explanations for how egg consumption increases the risk of the leading causes of death, namely, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, and also salmonella food poisoning, is it any wonder that eggs fail the test for being considered as healthy?
Diana earned a Master Degree in Public Health Nutrition and Health Education from Loma Linda University, California. She worked in Youngberg Adventist Hospital foodservice department, Youngberg Wellness Center and Seventh-Day Adventist Wellness Center as a registered dietician, health educator and corporate wellness program speaker. She also has more than 10 years experience in conducting live-in NEWSTART lifestyle programs, health education and nutrition. She is currently an assistant professor teaching in the health department of Hong Kong Adventist College.