Can eating eggs raise your cholesterol? Many experts claim that it doesn't.

As background, in the area of cardiovascular disease, recent studies have shown no increased risk of either heart attack or stroke in conjunction with egg intake of one to six eggs per week. Interestingly, these studies have also shown the ability of egg intake to increase levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol). Not only did egg intake increase the number of HDL molecules, it also improved their composition and allowed them to function more effectively. This improved function may have been the result of more phosphatidylethanolamine being added to the HDL molecules. (The addition of phosphatidylethanolamine, in turn, might have been related to the rich initial choline content of the eggs.)

Not all egg studies show potential cardiovascular benefits, however, and in some studies, egg intake has been related to some increased mortality risk. However, it's been difficult for researchers to separate out the possible role of other foods in many studies. Particularly in mortality studies, which often examine diet in very general terms, they are unable to look closely at specific egg amounts in the diet.

One further note about the relationship between egg intake and cardiovascular risk: some persons with type 2 diabetes may be more susceptible to unwanted cardiovascular problems in relationship to egg intake if their type 2 diabetes has also created problems with cholesterol transport through the bloodstream. (These transport problems often correspond to low levels of apolipoprotein E and high levels of apolipoprotein C-III in the blood, which can be determined by lab testing.) Given this connection, persons with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to consult with their healthcare provider when making decisions about eggs in their meal plan.

We would also like to share this daily tip with you that covers a related topic, which suggests several eggs per week are appropriate for most healthy individuals to consume each week.

Are eggs still considered a forbidden food for those concerned about their cholesterol?

If you are concerned about cholesterol, eggs are still a food that you should think about in a separate category due to their relatively high cholesterol content and much ongoing debate in research studies about their health impact. At present, there is evidence that egg consumption may actually be beneficial for some individuals concerned about cholesterol, harmful for others, and in some instances, relatively neutral when it comes to cholesterol and disease risk. Since one egg averages between 175-200 milligrams of cholesterol, and since the stricter versions of many public health guidelines recommend total dietary cholesterol intake of 200 milligrams or less, the history of concern in this area still makes sense to me.

Without doing genetic testing, you probably aren't going to know whether you are a "hyporesponder" or "hyperresponder" to eggs. Research shows that many of us are "hyporesponders" and experience, at most, a very mild increase in our blood cholesterol level when we regularly consume eggs. As many as 70% of all U.S. adults are thought to fall into this category. In some studies of hyporesponders, subjects have been able to eat three eggs per day over a 30-day period and not have this egg consumption increase their LDL cholesterol level. But some people who are definitely "hyperresponders" see their LDL cholesterol being increased as a result of egg consumption. Since I don't know exactly what makes a person fall into either category ("hyporesponder" or "hyperresponder") this information only points to one basic action step that you can take. If you have high cholesterol or are at risk for high cholesterol, and you love eggs, we strongly encourage you to talk with your healthcare practitioner about the best steps for you to take.

The "hyporesponder" and "hyperresponder" story isn't all there is to the egg debate. Recent research suggests that there may be heart-protective aspects to egg consumption, even in the case of "hyperresponders." This protection may be partly related to the impressive amounts of carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin in eggs. There is also research suggesting that our carb intake may play a key role in the egg-cholesterol debate. Some studies show that overweight men who eat eggs while keeping their carbs down can actually increase their levels of HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the "good" kind of cholesterol that most of us want to increase.

All of these factors make it difficult to call eggs a "forbidden food." But at the same time, their impact on cholesterol may be very different for different individuals. I suspect that several eggs per week will provide health benefits for many people, and may even provide benefits for people concerned about their cholesterol levels. But if you are considering a higher amount of egg in your eating plan, or if cholesterol is of special concern in your personal health situation, a consultation with your healthcare provider is still my top recommendation.

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