After being demonized in the past, several studies appeared pointing to the fact that eggs were safe to consume. Now, a new report, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association from March 15, combining data from six earlier studies, found a 6 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease when the average number of eggs consumed per day went up by half an egg. The team from Northwestern University in the USA analyzed data pooled from six studies involving a total of 29.615 people followed up for a median of 17.5 years.
At the start of the study, people filled in questionnaires detailing the foods they ate. Over time, there were 5.400 cardiovascular-related adverse outcomes, including 2.088 fatal and non-fatal heart disease events, 1.302 fatal and non-fatal stroke events, 1.897 fatal and non-fatal heart failure events, and 113 other cardiovascular disease deaths. After analyzing the data, the researchers found an association between egg consumption and participants risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
As egg consumption rose, so did the risk. When accounting for total cholesterol consumption, the association was weakened to the point where it was no longer statistically significant, meaning that the association between eggs and heart disease is explained by the cholesterol in the eggs.
While eggs contain a lot of cholesterol, about 200 mg, mainly in the yolk, which is the maximum daily amount recommended in current guidelines, eggs in moderation are probably acceptable from a nutritional standpoint, moderation meaning less than half an egg a day in average, including eggs in foods such as bread. There are some limitations to the study, too.
A big issue is the fact that a lot of the egg-eating participants also appeared to be consuming large amounts of meat and processed meats. As the study is observational, it can only show that there is an association between egg consumption and heart disease, but it cannot prove that eggs are the culprit. It may just be that people that are consuming a lot of eggs, are consuming a lot of bacon, too.
Even after taking into account the conclusions of the study, researchers warn against abandoning cholesterol-rich foods like eggs and red meat altogether, for they contain vital nutrients like choline, iron and amino acids. This comes as a relief to you columnist, who enjoys indulging on scrambled eggs for breakfast, but keeps this pleasure limited to once a week.
MICHAEL ROY SMITH, M.D.