Study: Eating More Than 12 Eggs a Week May Not Impact Cholesterol Levels – Health.com

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Having an egg-heavy diet may not impact cholesterol levels as much as once thought, new research shows.

Preliminary results from a new study show that people who ate 12 or more fortified eggs a week had similar cholesterol levels to those who didn’t eat eggs at all. The study will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session on April 6 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Eggs have notoriously received a bad rap due to concerns that they may raise cholesterol levels or worsen heart health. The new research, however, may provide some reassurance that eating eggs may be OK, even for a more high-risk group of people.

“There has been a lot of controversy around how eggs, a food rich in cholesterol, but also protein, can affect cardiovascular health,” Fatima Rodriguez, MD, MPH, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University, told Health. “The question on the health effects of eating large amounts of eggs remains unanswered and this small study gives some insight that can be further studied in an larger study with blinded controls.”

Here’s what you need to know about the newest research on eggs, how they may or may not impact cholesterol levels, and how they can be part of a healthy diet, even for those paying special attention to cardiovascular health.

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For the study, funded by Eggland’s Best, one of the largest egg farmers in the U.S., researchers assessed the effects of consuming a diet high in fortified eggs as compared to a non-egg diet on cardiovascular biomarkers like cholesterol, inflammatory biomarkers, micronutrient levels, and many other endpoints.

Fortified eggs are eggs that have added nutrients like vitamin D, selenium, vitamin B2, 5 and 12, and omega-3 fatty acids. This is a common practice that is done in order to increase a food item’s nutritional value.

140 participants enrolled in the study and were randomized into two groups—the fortified eggs group, which consumed 12 or more fortified eggs a week, and the non-egg diet group, which consumed 2 eggs or fewer per week. Participants were allowed to prepare the eggs in whatever manner they preferred.

All of the participants in the study were over 50 years old and all had experienced one previous cardiovascular event or had at least two cardiovascular risk factors. Twenty-seven percent of the participants were Black and 24% had diabetes.

Participants had in-person appointments at one month and after four months to assess their vital signs and blood cholesterol levels. Researchers also performed phone check-ins through out the study to monitor egg consumption.

Researchers looked at the levels of HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) and LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), of participants divided into the two groups at the beginning of the study and again after four months.

Results after a four-month follow up showed that levels of HDL- and LDL-cholesterol were similar between both study groups. Results showed a small reduction of HDL- and LDL-cholesterol in the fortified egg group versus the non-egg diet group but these changes were not statistically significant.

These results suggests that eating 12 or more fortified eggs each week had no negative effects on blood cholesterol.

This is what is known as a neutral study, a study that which shows there is no statistically significant difference between the study groups. This means, that while there is no evidence of harm, there is no evidence of benefit either as it relates to changes in HDL- and LDL-cholesterol levels.

Study results also showed that blood levels of high-sensitivity troponin (a marker of heart damage) decreased slightly in the the fortified egg group, and levels of vitamin B increased slightly.

“In this small single center study, eating more than 12 fortified eggs per week did not change blood cholesterol levels in a clinically meaningful way after four months,” said Rodriguez. “As physicians, our patients may ask us if it’s okay to eat eggs and this study lends some evidence that this amount of egg consumption may be ok.”

While the data provides some evidence suggesting that the consumption of 12 or more eggs did not have negative effects on blood cholesterol, experts suggest results should be taken with some caution.

The small study was a single-center trial, meaning it was conducted according to a single protocol at a single site. The study was also small and relied on patients self-reporting their egg consumption and other dietary patterns. Additionally, patients knew which group they were in (the egg-eating or non-egg-eating group), which could have influenced their health behaviors.

All of these factors “make it difficult to draw strong conclusions from this study,” according to Matthew Tomey, MD, a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“While I agree that the data shared do not provide evidence of harm with eating more eggs, I might stop short of citing the present study as sufficient ‘reassurance’ of the absence of harm,” Tomey told Health.

Information provided on the study also does not go into details regarding the participant’s diet outside of their egg consumption, including whether they ate fewer overall calories or consumed less saturated fat, or if these results apply to non-fortified eggs, according to Martha Gulati, MD, professor of cardiology and director of preventive cardiology at Cedars-Sinai.

Experts are also interested in knowing more about the long term cardiovascular effects of fortified egg consumption. “Four months is a good follow up period but I would want a longer study. Hopefully, they have food diaries on participants that will be analyzed and perhaps this study will have a long follow up to assess for CV [cardiovascular] outcomes”, said Gulati.

Though the study’s results suggest that egg consumption does not impact cholesterol as much as we once thought, when it comes to diet and cholesterol, it is the entirety of one’s diet that ultimately determines heart health.

“Nutrition is complicated and we need to be careful about looking at any one food in isolation,” said Tomey. “The impact of our diet on our health is a product of the totality of our food choices. When we avoid one food, the question comes, how are we replacing it in our diet?”

“I think dietary guidance is always a bit difficult,” added Gulati. “It is never one food that causes heart disease, it is the entire diet and the total saturated fat.”

As for whether eggs are a safe addition to a daily diet, experts agree that the answer is yes—in moderation and as long as the diet is balanced overall.

“Eggs are so commonly part of the American diet, and people want to know if they can eat eggs. It is a common clinical question posed to me,” said Gulati. “My answer is always this: You can consume eggs in moderation, but I need to know more about your diet and if you consume other sources of saturated fats. Because ultimately it is the total saturated fat consumption that will affect your LDL and increase the risk for atherosclerosis.”

For people who are looking to make a change to their diet, Tomey said it’s more important to zoom out and look at the big picture, rather than focusing on one ingredient. “I would encourage anyone considering a dietary change for health promotion,” he said, “to evaluate the diet holistically.”

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