Nutrition experts are often split on whether eggs are healthy — some say they are great sources of vitamins and minerals, while others point to their high cholesterol content as a reason to avoid them. Now, a new study in the The Journal of the American Medical Association lends more strength to the argument of those in the latter group by linking eggs to an increased risk of heart disease and death. In particular, the data suggest that every additional 300 milligrams a day of cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
As The New York Times reports, the researchers behind the study examined data from six large prospective studies, totaling nearly 30,000 participants. After analyzing the results, the team concluded that every additional 300 milligrams per day of cholesterol were linked to a 17 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 percent higher risk of death from any cause. In addition, each half-egg — about 185 milligrams of cholesterol — was linked to a 6 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and an 8 percent higher risk of premature death.
The researchers were careful to account for diet quality as well. For example, people that follow healthy diets are more likely to eat eggs due to their high protein content. But the data showed that even healthy diets do not curb the negative effects of eggs and cholesterol.
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The team used the results of their study to suggest a re-evaluation of current U.S. dietary guidelines, which don’t limit egg or cholesterol consumption, CBS News reports.
“The take-home message is really about cholesterol, which happens to be high in eggs and specifically yolks,” said Norrina Allen, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and senior author on the study. “As part of a healthy diet, people need to consume lower amounts of cholesterol. People who consume less cholesterol have a lower risk of heart disease.”
Of course, it’s important to note that the findings are observational and can’t be used to determine a specific cause and effect relationship. In addition, dietary cholesterol affects people in different ways. For example, some people don’t absorb as much cholesterol into their blood even when they consume lots of eggs. And since the study examined cholesterol consumption at a population level, it couldn’t account for such individual variation.
Regardless, the data suggests that no matter how healthy a person’s diet, more cholesterol — from eggs or other dietary sources — means a higher risk of stroke, cardiovascular events, coronary heart disease, heart disease, and premature death.