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Egg yolks almost as bad for the heart as smoking: study

Kimberly Gillan
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Egg yolk
Thinkstock

Eating eggs regularly is about two thirds as bad for the heart as smoking, according to a new UK study.

More than 1200 patients were surveyed about their egg consumption and the researchers said people who ate three eggs per day increased their risk of atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease).

In atherosclerosis, plaque, which is aggravated by cholesterol, builds up on the inner arterial wall. Rupturing plaque is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes.

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The study participants, who had a mean age of 61.5, underwent ultrasounds to measure the total plaque area and were questioned about their lifestyle, smoking and the number of egg yolks they consumed each week.

The researchers found that plaque build-up automatically increased with age, but was a lot higher in people who had smoked or had eaten egg yolks for a long time.

They found people who ate three or more egg yolks each week had significantly more plaque than those who ate two or fewer yolks each week.

"The mantra 'eggs can be part of a healthy diet for healthy people' has confused the issue," Dr David Spence, a professor of Neurology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said in a media release.

"It has been known for a long time that a high cholesterol intake increases the risk of cardiovascular events, and egg yolks have a very high cholesterol content. In diabetics, an egg a day increases coronary risk by two to five-fold."

But Barbara Eden, the senior manager of food supply at the Australian Heart Foundation, told ninemsn that more comprehensive studies have found saturated fat is the biggest dietary contributor to atherosclerosis.

"All evidence points to the intake of saturated fat as being the key nutrient that's associated with build-up of atherosclerosis. I'm a little concerned that he didn't look at that in the study," Eden said.

"Our review found that the type of fat that bumps up our cholesterol is really the saturated type that is found in butter, full cream milk, takeaway foods and baked goods."

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The Heart Foundation says Australians can have up to six eggs per week.

"Eggs are a nutritious food," Eden said.

"They contain vitamins and minerals and protein that's easily absorbed by children and the elderly. They're an easy quick healthy meal component for everyone."

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