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Michael Greger MD

Michael Greger MD

Posted April 28, 2016

Published in Health

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Egg Consumption and LDL Cholesterol Size

Read More: American Egg Board, cholesterol, choline, corn, eggs, HDL cholesterol, heart disease, heart health, industry influence, LDL cholesterol, lutein, mortality, phytonutrients, spinach, stroke, zeaxanthin

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NF-Apr26 Does Cholesterol Size Matter.jpeg

Maria Fernandez has received nearly a half million dollars from the egg industry and writes papers like "Rethinking dietary cholesterol." She admits that eggs can raise LDL cholesterol, bad cholesterol, but argues that HDL, so-called "good cholesterol," also rises, thereby maintaining the ratio of bad to good. To support this assertion, she cites one study that she performed with Egg Board money that involved 42 people.

If we look at a meta-analysis, a measure of the balance of evidence, the rise in bad is much more than the rise in good with increasing cholesterol intake. The analysis of 17 different studies showed that dietary cholesterol increases the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol, suggesting that the favorable rise in HDL fails to compensate for the adverse rise in total and LDL cholesterol. Therefore, increased intake of dietary cholesterol from eggs may indeed raise the risk of coronary heart disease.

The Egg Board responded (as seen in my video, Does Cholesterol Size Matter?) by saying that the increased heart disease risk associated with eating eggs needs to be put in perspective relative to other risk factors, arguing that it's worse to be overweight than it is to eat eggs, to which the authors of the meta-analysis replied, "Be that as it may, many people do not find it a major hardship to cut back on egg intake, whereas most people find it impossible to lose weight permanently."

Fine, Fernandez admitted, eggs increase LDL, but she claims that the increase is in large LDL, arguing that large, fluffy LDL particles are not as bad as small, dense particles. Indeed, large LDL only raises heart disease risk of women by 44%, instead of 63% for small LDL. Light large buoyant LDL still significantly increases our risk of dying from our #1 killer. The difference is similar for men: large LDL only increases risk of heart attack or death by 31%, instead of 44%. As the latest review on the subject concluded, LDL cholesterol has "clearly been established as a causal agent in atherosclerosis ... Regardless of size, LDL particles are atherogenic." Yet Egg Board researcher, Fernandez, wrote that the formation of larger LDL from eggs is considered protective against heart disease, relative to small LDL. That's like saying getting stabbed with a knife is protective--relative to getting shot!

Health practitioners should bear in mind, she writes, that "restricting dietary cholesterol puts a burden on egg intake" and leads to the avoidance of a food that contains dietary components like carotenoids and choline. She wrote this in 2012, before the landmark 2013 study showing that choline from eggs appears to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and death, so she can be excused for that. But what about the carotenoids in eggs, like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are so important for protecting vision and reducing cholesterol oxidation? As I explored previously, the amounts of these phytonutrients in eggs are miniscule. One spoonful of spinach contains as much as nine eggs. Comparing the predictable effects on eye health of organic free-range eggs versus corn and spinach, the effect of eggs is tiny.

What about the effects of eggs on cholesterol oxidation? We've known for decades that LDL cholesterol is bad, but oxidized LDL is even worse. Therefore, according to Fernandez, since eggs have trace amounts of antioxidants, eggs may prevent cholesterol oxidation. But the science shows the exact opposite. Consumption of eggs increases the susceptibility of LDL cholesterol to oxidation. The researchers found that not only does eating eggs raise LDL levels, but also increases LDL oxidizability, in addition to the oxidizability of our entire bloodstream. This was published 18 years ago, yet Fernandez still tries to insinuate that eggs would reduce oxidation.

She acknowledges receiving funding from the American Egg Board, and then claims she has no conflicts of interest.

This is why a site like NutritionFacts.org can be so useful, because even when a paper is published in the peer-reviewed medical literature, it can misrepresent the science. But who has time to check the primary sources? I do! If you'd like to support this work, please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

Here are some other videos in which I contrast the available science with what the egg industry asserts:

Only the meat industry may be as bold: BOLD Indeed: Beef Lowers Cholesterol?

For more on the role of cholesterol, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Kool skatkat / Flickr

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