Moderate egg eating not linked to heart disease risk

In a new study, researchers add to evidence that moderate egg consumption (up to 1 egg per day) is not linked to heart disease risk.

Eggs are an affordable source of high-quality protein, iron, and unsaturated fatty acids, but due to their cholesterol content, the link between egg intake and heart risk has been a topic of intense debate over the past decade.

Many studies have reported conflicting findings, and even previous meta-analyses have not provided consistent results, which has created further confusion.

To evaluate the association between egg intake and heart disease, repeated measures of diet and lifestyle factors over a long period of time are needed.

It is also important to consider the effect of eggs on heart disease risk compared with other animal and plant-based foods.

So a team of US researchers checked the link between egg intake and cases of heart disease—including non-fatal heart attack, fatal coronary heart disease, and stroke—using repeated measures of diet over a period of up to 32 years, starting from 1980.

Their findings are based on data from three large US cohort studies: The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), the NHS II, and the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study (HPFS).

These included 83,349 female nurses aged 30-55; 90,214 female nurses aged 25-44; and 42,055 male health professionals aged 40-75, respectively, who were free of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer at the start of the study.

During the follow-up period, there were 14,806 cases of heart disease, including 9,010 cases of coronary heart disease and 5,903 cases of stroke.

Most people ate between one to five eggs per week, and those with a higher egg intake had a higher BMI, were less likely to be treated with statins, and ate more red meat.

After adjusting for age, lifestyle, and dietary factors, no link was found between egg intake and risk of heart disease.

There was an estimated higher risk of heart disease when the researchers statistically replaced one whole egg a day with one serving of processed red meat (15%), unprocessed meat (10%) or full-fat milk (11%), but foods such as fish, poultry, legumes, cheese and nuts in place of eggs were not linked to heart disease risk.

Results from an updated meta-analysis of 28 observational studies further support the overall lack of a link between egg intake and heart disease risk, but evidence varied between studies conducted in the US, Europe, and Asia.

There was no overall link between egg intake and heart disease risk among US and European studies, but moderate egg consumption was linked to a slightly lower heart disease risk in Asian populations.

This is potentially explained by the fact that in Asian cultures, eggs are typically included in a variety of different dishes, while in Western populations, eggs tend to be eaten with red and processed meats and refined grains.

The team says if frequent egg consumption is occurring in the context of an overall dietary pattern known to be cardioprotective, or eggs are being consumed for essential nutritional needs, then it is probably nothing to worry about.

The study is published in The BMJ.

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