Eggs Aren't Heart Disease Culprit, Even for the High Risk

shutterstock_264610943 Eggs courtesy of Shutterstock

We've said it before egg consumption, indeed dietary cholesterol intake, is not a major risk factor for heart disease. A new study from Finland bolsters the strength of that conclusion even for those considered to be at an elevated risk for coronary artery disease (CAD).

Dr. Jyrki K Virtanen from the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland, and colleagues acknowledged that it is accepted that dietary cholesterol has only a modest effect, if any, on blood cholesterol levels. As part of the Kupio Ischaemic Heart Disease Study, they asked whether that conclusion could be extended to individuals considered to be at higher than usual risk of heart disease because they carry a particular gene allele the ApoE4. They investigated this question by examining the association between egg consumption (egg yolks are major sources of dietary cholesterol) and the thickness of the carotid artery intima (intimal thickness is the combined thickness of the innermost 2 layers of an artery, and is used as an indicator of cardiovascular disease risk).

Their study included about 1000 men who were between 42 and 60 years old when they were enrolled. There were data on the carotid artery intimal thickness for about 850 of them. Participants completed 4-day food intake questionnaires as the basis for dietary analyses. Approximately 33 percent of the participants carried the ApoE4 allele, and thus would be considered at higher than normal risk of heart disease. The men were followed for an average of 21 years.

When the data were analyzed, the researchers found no association between consumption of either eggs or cholesterol and the risk of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). This was true in both carriers and non-carriers of the ApoE4 allele. In addition, consumption of eggs or cholesterol were not associated with an increase in carotid artery intimal thickness.

In this long-term prospective study, even middle-aged men at higher than usual risk of heart disease did not increase their risk by consuming eggs. Thus, the authors concluded, "Overall, egg or cholesterol intakes do not appear to be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes in general populations, and according to the results from our study, the associations are similar even in hyperresponders to dietary cholesterol (i.e., ApoEe4 carriers)."

While the usual caveats associated with dietary recall data apply here, it is important to note that recall of the number of individual units (i.e. eggs) is likely to be more accurate than that of less specific ones such as amounts of red meats or vegetables.