Cholesterol in eggs may not increase heart disease risk

February 25, 2016

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eggs may not increase the risk for heart disease, even among those that carry the gene APOE4, which increases sensitivity to dietary cholesterol.

The study tracked the dietary habits of 1,032 Finnish men, aged 42–60. All were heart healthy at the study’s start and about a third carried the APOE4 gene. 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 found that on average the participants consumed 398 mg of dietary cholesterol a day. No one reported consuming more than one egg per day, on average. One medium-sized egg has approximately 200 mg of cholesterol, the study authors said. After 21 years of tracking, 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.

“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,” said study author Jyrki Virtanen, adjunct professor in nutritional epidemiology with the University of Eastern Finland Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition. “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].”

It should be noted that the authors only collected dietary information at the start of the study, and had no way of knowing if people’s diets changed over time.