How Unhealthy are Eggs?

As foods go, eggs are very high in cholesterol. Back when it was thought that eating cholesterol caused an increase in blood cholesterol, people with high cholesterol or heart disease were warned away from eggs. But then it was found that while some people’s cholesterol levels rise significantly from eating cholesterol, most people’s do not. So where does that leave eggs?

The findings have been somewhat mixed over the years. The most recent paper I found was a 2008 report from the Physicians’ Health Study (a trial to study low dose aspirin and beta-carotene’s effects on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer among US male physicians) (1). They found the following when comparing consumption of 7+ eggs per week to less than 1 per week:

  • No correlation with stroke or heart attacks
  • A 23% increased risk of mortality (1.23, 1.11-1.36)
  • A doubled risk of mortality among men with type 2 diabetes (2.01, 1.26-3.20)

These results were adjusted for age, body mass index, smoking, hypertension, vitamin intake, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, breakfast cereal consumption, physical activity, treatment group, atrial fibrillation, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, and parental history of premature myocardial infarction.

The authors of this paper reviewed the previous literature on eggs and mortality:

“Limited and inconsistent data have been reported on the association between egg consumption and coronary heart disease. Among 514 Australian Aborigines, consumption of 2+ eggs per week was associated with a 2.6-fold increased risk of coronary heart disease in a prospective analysis (2). Mann et al. (3) reported a 2.7-fold increased risk of death with a higher egg consumption (6+ per week) among British subjects. In contrast, other large prospective cohorts with longer follow-ups did not observe any association between egg consumption and CHD or mortality (4-7).”

They discussed other research showing 7+ eggs increased the risk of heart disease in men and women with diabetes (5).

In conclusion, it appears that in comparison to less than one egg per week, eating 7+ egg per week could increase your risk of early death, especially if you have type 2 diabetes.

References

1. Djousse L, Gaziano JM. Egg consumption in relation to cardiovascular disease and mortality: the Physicians’ Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Apr;87(4):964-9.

2. Burke V, Zhao Y, Lee AH, et al. Health-related behaviours as predictors of mortality and morbidity in Australian Aborigines. Prev Med 2007;44:135–42. [PubMed: 17069878]

3. Mann JI, Appleby PN, Key TJ, Thorogood M. Dietary determinants of ischaemic heart disease in health conscious individuals. Heart 1997;78:450–5. [PubMed: 9415002]

4. Dawber TR, Nickerson RJ, Brand FN, Pool J. Eggs, serum cholesterol, and coronary heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr 1982;36:617–25. [PubMed: 7124663]

5. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, et al. A prospective study of egg consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. JAMA 1999;281:1387–94. [PubMed: 10217054]

6. Nakamura Y, Okamura T, Tamaki S, et al. Egg consumption, serum cholesterol, and cause-specific and all-cause mortality: the National Integrated Project for Prospective Observation of Noncommunicable Disease and Its Trends in the Aged, 1980 (NIPPON DATA80). Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80:58–63. [PubMed: 15213028]

7. Nakamura Y, Iso H, Kita Y, et al. Egg consumption, serum total cholesterol concentrations and coronary heart disease incidence: Japan Public Health Center-based prospective study. Br J Nutr 2006;96:921–8. [PubMed: 17092383]

9 Responses to “How Unhealthy are Eggs?”

  1. Deana Says:

    Thanks for those references.

    Also, a new study in AJCN linked egg consumption to recurrence of prostate cancer.

    http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/prostate-cancer-eggs-and-poultry-with-skin-double-prostate-cancer-recurrence-risk.html

  2. Brian Says:

    I didn’t hear that consumption of cholesterol-rich foods was disproven to raise blood cholesterol. Is there a recommended place to read more (something brief)? Thanks

  3. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Brian,

    Only a minority of the population are cholesterol sensitive, meaning their blood cholesterol levels go up in response to dietary cholesterol. This seems like a sensible explanation of this phonemena:

    http://www.askdrsears.com/html/4/T040800.asp

    Search on “sensitive”.

    However, cholesterol-rich foods do tend to increase cholesterol levels because they are also normally high in saturated fat which increases cholesterol levels.

  4. Marty Says:

    I’m not going to comment on the healthiness of eggs – but I don’t consider eggs to be on a vegan diet – it’s still an animal, even though not fertilized.

    For me, it’s about animal suffering and compassion, in addition to health.

  5. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Marty,

    No one is debating whether eggs are part of a vegan diet. It’s also about suffering and compassion for me. But, that said, we are discussing whether eggs are an unhealthy food or not.

  6. Top Recent Nutrition Articles from JackNorrisRD.com Says:

    [...] How Unhealthy are Eggs? [...]

  7. George D. Henderson Says:

    So much for population studies. But what is actually in eggs that is so unhealthy? Cholesterol is in lots of healthy foods. Saturated fat is not harmful except on a high-carb, low-protein diet (especially the combination of Sat fat and sugar, apparently) Are there perhaps exorphins? Or is the oxidization of cholesterol when eggs are fried (why not isolate such suspect cooking methods in these studies), or some pharmaceutical or pesticide in battery hens? Is it the natural hormones in the egg? Are they different from naturally occuring hormones in meat, or present in larger amounts?
    Is it perhaps supressed guilt about battery farming that is killing some of these people?

  8. Bob Says:

    Are the eggs free range or from factory farms? There is a difference.

  9. Jack Norris RD Says:

    I think we can assume that the vast majority of the eggs consumed in these studies come from factory farms.

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