A new study carried out by a group of Finnish researchers is suggesting that the once-maligned egg may not be a heart breaker after all.
The researchers have said that even carriers of a gene — called APOE4 — that increases sensitivity to dietary cholesterol don’t seem to have anything to fear when it comes to the impact of eggs, or any other dietary cholesterol, on heart health.
According to the report they posted in the February 10 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the findings followed over 20 years tracking of dietary habits among more than 1,000 middle-aged Finnish men. All were heart healthy at the study’s start, and about a third carried the APOE4 gene, the researchers said.
One of the researchers, a professor in nutritional epidemiology with the University of Eastern Finland Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition in Kuopio, Finland, Jyrki Virtanen, said, “It is quite well known that dietary cholesterol intake has quite a modest impact on blood cholesterol levels, and cholesterol or egg intakes have not been associated with a higher risk of heart disease in most studies.”
“However, dietary cholesterol intake has a greater impact on blood cholesterol levels among those with [APOE4].
“So it was assumed that cholesterol intake might have a stronger impact on heart disease risk among those people. However, our study did not find an increased risk even among those carrying [APOE4].”
Although the study didn’t find a link between dietary cholesterol and adverse heart health, the study authors said they weren’t able to prove that dietary cholesterol doesn’t have a significant impact on cardiovascular disease. For example, one limitation of the study the authors noted was that they only collected dietary information at the start of the study, and had no way of knowing if people’s diets changed over time.
Finland has a higher-than-average number of APOE4 carriers, with about a third of the population affected, the researchers said. But little is known about whether or not dietary cholesterol intake might affect the hearts of people with the APOE4 gene, the study authors noted.
The researchers said the new study included people between the ages of 42 and 60. On an average, the dietary cholesterol consumed was 398 milligrams, the study found. Averagely, no one reported consuming more than one egg per day. One medium-sized egg has approximately 200 mg of cholesterol.
At the end of the 21-year tracking period, 230 of the men had experienced a heart attack. But, the study authors determined that neither egg habits, nor overall cholesterol consumption, had any bearing on heart attack risk or the risk for hardening of the arterial walls.
Virtanen, however, noted that the result of the study shouldn’t be a ‘license’ to eating as much cholesterol or eggs as one likes, despite the fact that none of the research participants had heart disease or diabetes at the study’s launch, adding that there are some study data from other study populations that egg or cholesterol intakes may increase the risk of heart disease among diabetics.
He said “there might well be a point when cholesterol or egg intakes may become so high that they may increase the risk of heart disease. However, in our study we could not assess what might be too much, because we did not have enough people with extremely high intakes.”