Eating Egg Yolks Almost as Bad as Smoking for Stroke, Heart Attack Risk
‘Eating egg yolk regularly should be avoided by those at risk of cardiovascular disease’
Aug. 13, 2012 - Eating egg yolks accelerates atherosclerosis in a manner similar to smoking cigarettes, according to a
researcher who surveyed more than 1200 patients. He says regular consumption of egg yolks is about two-thirds as bad as smoking, when it comes
to increased build-up of carotid plaque, a risk factor for stroke and heart attack.
The research led by Dr. David Spence of Western University, Canada, is published online in the journal Atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis, also called coronary artery disease, is a disorder of the arteries where plaques, aggravated by
cholesterol, form on the inner arterial wall. Plaque rupture is the usual cause of most heart attacks and many strokes.
The study looked at data from 1231 men and women, with a mean age of 61.5, who were patients attending vascular
prevention clinics at London Health Sciences Centre's University Hospital.
Ultrasound was used to establish a measurement of total plaque area and questionnaires were filled out regarding their
lifestyle and medications including pack-years of smoking (number of packs per day of cigarettes times the number of years), and the number of
egg yolks consumed per week times the number of years consumed (egg yolk-years).
The researchers found carotid plaque area increased linearly with age after age 40, but increased exponentially with
pack-years of smoking and egg yolk-years. In other words, compared to age, both tobacco smoking and egg yolk consumption accelerate
atherosclerosis. The study also found those eating three or more yolks a week had significantly more plaque area than those who ate two or
fewer yolks per week.
"The mantra 'eggs can be part of a healthy diet for healthy people' has confused the issue,” says Dr. Spence.
“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."
Dr. Spence is a Professor of Neurology at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and the Director of its
Stroke Prevention and Atherosclerosis Research Centre (SPARC) at the Robarts Research Institute.
"What we have shown is that with aging, plaque builds up gradually in the arteries of Canadians, and egg yolks make it
build up faster - about two-thirds as much as smoking. In the long haul, egg yolks are not okay for most Canadians."
Dr. Spence adds the effect of egg yolk consumption over time on increasing the amount of plaque in the arteries was
independent of sex, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, body mass index and diabetes.
And, while he says more research should be done to take in possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference,
he stresses that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.
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