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Row continues over eggs and cholesterol

UK nutrition experts have challenged the conclusions of a recent US research paper linking egg consumption with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

The paper, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) analysed data from 29,615 healthy adults who were enrolled in six different studies.

Photo: Willem Schouten
Photo: Willem Schouten

The study, which was spread over 31 years, found that people who consumed a higher number of eggs and meat had a significantly greater risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and cardiovascular death.

Eating an additional 300mg of cholesterol a day was significantly associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease (17-18%) while eating an extra three to four eggs a week led to a 6% rise.

But UK nutritionist Dr Juliet Gray said the findings of the study – while interesting – were inconsistent with other studies.

No clinically significant effects

“Previous, robust research, showing that the consumption of an egg a day has no clinically significant effects on serum LDL cholesterol in most people.”

Dr Gray said a number of assumptions were made in analysing dietary data from the six different cohorts. Recent research has also highlighted the importance of separating eggs and other food sources, such as meat, in order to assess their impact on disease endpoints.

“It is known that high egg consumers have historically also been high consumers of processed meat products such as sausages and bacon, as part of traditional breakfasts and fast food meals,” she added. Processed meat contains large quantities of saturated fat, an acknowledged risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, the British Egg Industry Council has also highlighted that a study, also published in the JAMA journal in 1999 reported insignificant risk for the association between eating two to four eggs a week and coronary heart disease.

The risks reported in the new study for the associations between eating 3.5-4.5 eggs/week and cardiovascular disease risk/deaths are in fact lower than the risk data, interpreted as “insignificant”, published 20 years ago, says the BEIC.