April 26, 2019

Eggcellent Advice: The Relationship Between High Cholesterol and Eggs

By Sam LaRose

Eggs and high cholesterolIt’s been reported that consuming eggs in some form as a part of our daily breakfast has been part of our morning rituals in America since the end of the Civil War. Ever since, eggs have remained a mainstay in the American diet.

“Eggs are the No. 1 source of dietary cholesterol in the US. Chicken – because we eat so much of it and not because it is higher in cholesterol than other meats – is No. 2,” explains Brian Asbill, MD, of Asheville Cardiology Associates and Mission Heart.

In March, you may have read headlines claiming that eggs may increase risks of cardiovascular disease. The study states that people who eat three or more eggs a day — 300 milligrams of dietary cholesterol — have a higher risk of early death and heart disease in comparison to those who eat fewer eggs.

In light of this study, you may consider eliminating eggs from your diet to avoid eggs-acerbating your cholesterol levels. However – are eggs solely the culprit for the high rates of cholesterol, as these studies have suggested? Are there ways to moderate your egg intake without negatively impacting your health?

The Study by Victor Zhong

In the study, Victor Zhong, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University Fienberg School of Medicine, claimed that “eggs, specifically the yolk, are a major source of dietary cholesterol.”

Zhong measured data from six US study groups. These study groups included over 29,000 people observed for an average of 17.5 years. Over the follow-up period, roughly 5,400 cardiovascular events occurred. These included 1,302 fatal and nonfatal strokes, 1,897 episodes of fatal and nonfatal heart failure, and 113 other deaths caused by heart disease. In addition to these numbers, 6,132 other individuals died from other miscellaneous causes.

“People eat a variety of foods, and it is the pattern that ultimately affects our health.”

Dr. Asbill’s Takeaways

“There are many factors that we try and ‘correct’ for when we look at studies like this,” said Dr. Asbill. “I think that one of the reasons we seem to be perpetually confused by these studies – are eggs good or bad? – is that we continue to look at individual nutrients or dietary components instead of looking at the larger picture. People eat a variety of foods, and it is the pattern that ultimately affects our health.”

There is some consensus that an occasional egg as part of a healthy eating pattern is not a major issue, but eggs are certainly not essential. “We would rather you eat eggs than Lucky Charms, but oats with berries would be a better choice,” said Dr. Asbill.

If you’re concerned about cholesterol levels, turn to plants such as fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. “Cholesterol is only found in animal products, so the more animal products you eat – meats, dairy, eggs – the more dietary cholesterol you consume,” said Dr. Asbill. “We have made eating way too complicated. Seventy-five years ago we ate way less processed junk, way less meat and dairy, though we did eat it, and were better off.”

Brian Asbill, MD, is cardiologist and board-certified lipidologist at Asheville Cardiology Associates, an affiliate of Mission Health.

Learn more about heart care and services with Mission Health at missionhealth.org/heart.