Eggs and Cardiovascular Disease – What’s the Story?
Easter is around the corner and what do we typically associate this occasion with? Eggs! So I thought it particularly timely to take a closer look at a story that hit the headlines recently, linking eggs to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Such headlines cause real confusion and leave us wondering what we should do for the best. To put the story straight, Professor Tom Sanders, Honorary Nutritional Director of HEART UK, wrote an excellent piece for The Conversation. This is what he had to say…
The recent news story was based on a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which followed nearly 30,000 participants for an average of 17 years. The researchers found that each egg consumed was associated with a 2.2% greater absolute risk of CVD over the follow-up period (roughly 22 extra cases of cardiovascular disease per 1,000 participants). While a large study, and using data from six studies, representing the ethnic diversity of the US population, Professor Sanders described the study’s limitations:
- This is an observational type study and such studies can really only show associations, they cannot prove causation.
- The diet was assessed at the beginning of the study only, which assumes the same diet was eaten for the whole period of follow-up, which could have been as much as 30 years and averaged 17.5 years.
- Eggs may just be a marker for other aspects of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, and it maybe these other factors are influencing the results. While the researchers attempted to take these into account, it is difficult to account for everything. For example, in the US eggs are often eaten with bacon, sausages or burgers, so it’s impossible to disentangle the effects on CVD risk of eggs from these fatty meat products.
- This study is probably only relevant to the USA diet, and not to the UK diet. The average US intake of cholesterol can be up to 600 mg per day – this is much higher than the average UK diet.
- The increased risk was much greater than would be predicted from the known effects of eggs on blood cholesterol levels. Findings from controlled trials have shown eggs only have a small effect on raising blood cholesterol.
As a nation our average intake of dietary cholesterol is around 200 to 250mg a day and we typically eat 3 to 4 eggs a week. At this intake, people with high blood cholesterol can still enjoy eggs. For people with familial hypercholesterolaemia Professor Sanders recommends no more than 300 mg and ideally less 200 mg of cholesterol a day. While that’s similar to the amount of cholesterol most people in the UK eat, and so eating 3 to 4 eggs a week should be fine, it’s also important to consider other cholesterol rich foods in the diet.
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