The People's Perspective on Medicine

Eggs are Exonerated in Finnish Heart Study

You've been told to avoid eggs, cut back on cholesterol and stay away from saturated fat. The Finnish Heart Study Turns that advice upside down.

For more than five decades Americans have been told that cholesterol causes heart disease. That’s why nutrition experts, cardiologists and family practice physicians advised their patients to limit egg consumption and avoid butter. It’s also why statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs have been billion-dollar bonanzas for the pharmaceutical industry.

To this day, many people think of eggs as a sinful indulgence. The dairy counter is filled with low-fat or no-fat yogurt, skim milk and cheese substitutes. And a lot of health professionals still tell people to ration foods containing cholesterol. After all, beliefs die hard.

The Finnish Heart Study:

A new study from Finland, however, may be the final nail in the cholesterol coffin (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online, Feb. 10, 2016).

The researchers in Kuopio have followed more than 1000 healthy middle-aged men for over 20 years. At the beginning of the study in the 1980s the men filled out detailed records of their eating habits.

Dietary Cholesterol OK:

Now, the results are in and both eggs and cholesterol have been exonerated. After analyzing the decades-long data, the investigators found no connection between egg consumption and heart disease. There was also no link between cholesterol in the diet and atherosclerosis in the carotid arteries.

The Finnish Heart Study included a group of high-risk patients. Approximately one third of these men carry a gene called ApoE4 that predisposes them to both heart disease and Alzheimer’s. In other words, these highly susceptible individuals were a little like canaries in the coal mine. As much as an egg a day or moderate-to-high cholesterol consumption did not appear to increase the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke among these men.

Could Eating Eggs Actually Be Healthy?

Even more surprising, there are studies suggesting that people who eat more eggs have larger, less dense artery-clogging LDL cholesterol particles (Metabolism, March, 2013).  Such “fluffy” particles are less likely to contribute to arterial plaque. Other research demonstrates that egg consumption raises good HDL cholesterol, lowers inflammation and improves blood sugar control (Lipids, June, 2013).

Diet Dictocrats Beginning to Change Course:

It takes the nutrition establishment a long time to reconsider long-established policies. That’s because “experts” hate to look foolish and appear to flip flop on long-held beliefs and recommendations.

But American policy makers are finally beginning to catch up with the science. After years of strict prohibitions on high-cholesterol foods, especially eggs, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued in 2015 no longer limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day (one egg contains 180 mg of cholesterol). They do recommend, however, that “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible…”

It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Many health professionals will find it challenging to accept the new data from the Finnish Heart Study. But the writing has been on the wall for quite a few years that the evidence supporting dietary cholesterol as the culprit behind heart disease was weak.

What About Saturated Fat?

Despite the reversal on eggs and dietary cholesterol, saturated fat remains forbidden. The cardiology community is still convinced that this fat will clog arteries and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines frown upon “sat fat”.

A Canadian meta-analysis (BMJ, online, Aug. 12, 2015) of the data on saturated fat intake and its relationship to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and death found:

“In this synthesis of observational evidence we found no clear association between higher intake of saturated fats and all cause mortality, CHD [coronary heart disease], CHD mortality, ischemic stroke, or type 2 diabetes among apparently healthy adults”

Conversely, trans fats that were found in margarine and so many so-called heart-healthy foods produced decidedly disastrous results:

“Consumption of trans unsaturated fatty acids, however, was associated with a 34% increase in all cause mortality, a 28% increased risk of CHD mortality, and a 21% increase in the risk of CHD.”

So, the very foods we were told to eat for decades to protect are hearts were actually causing coronary heart disease.

The Dutch Drive the Nail Deeper:

As if the Canadian analysis weren’t enough, there is now the Netherlands Cohort study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Feb., 2016). Over 35,000 Dutch men and women were recruited between 1993 and 1997 and followed for 12 years.

The more saturated fat these people consumed, especially from dairy products, the less coronary artery disease they experienced. Highly processed carbohydrates found in bread, pizza, pasta, cookies and cakes were linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

In other words, the advice we have all been given for the last 50+ years has been turned upside down.

We Predicted This:

To learn more about this controversy and the other risk factors that may play an important role in heart disease, you may wish to read our chapter “Heart Disease and High Cholesterol” in Best Choices from The People’s Pharmacy. You can purchase the book online at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Other nutritional disputes remain unresolved. Salt is still considered a dietary evil. Only time will tell if we will need to reevaluate this prohibition as well. You can read about the “Salt Wars” in Best Choices to find out why this dietary advice also remains controversial.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Hi Joe, Just came across your blog. Nicely done.

Just a couple of comments: Firstly, isolating one or two dietary components and searching for global health associations is a prescription for type 2 (false negative) error.

Example: If a person eats more of one thing, then he/she likely eats less of something else. Maybe people who eat more eggs eat less white toast and jam. But what about people who don’t eat eggs and instead eat steel cut oats without sugar? The point is that it’s impossibly complex.

Regarding the Dutch study, the authors themselves pointed out the fatal flaw, in both their abstract and discussion. Perhaps people with higher saturated fat intake were more likely to receive medical interventions, such as statins and anti-platelet drugs, in an era of widespread blood cholesterol screening in a country like the Netherlands, with universal health care. So high saturated fat –> higher cholesterol levels –> more statins and anti-platelet therapy –> fewer CV events.

With regard to real world population intervention studies, the North Karelia (Finland) study is, I think, the most compelling. Perhaps you might address the implications of this experience at some future point in time.

Warm regards, Larry

Total consumption of eggs AND milk AND meat, increase the risk of a lethal form of prostate cancer, based upon the following studies:

Egg, red meat, and poultry intake and risk of lethal prostate cancer in the prostate specific antigen-era: incidence and survival
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3232297/

Choline intake and risk of lethal prostate cancer: incidence and survival
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3441112/

I’m happy to learn that eggs are now OK.

I’m confused. I thought LDL was the bad cholesterol and the large, “fluffy” particles contribute to artery clogging. (I learned that HDL is the “happy” cholesterol, high density particles – high levels of this are good; LDL is the “lousy” cholesterol, low density particles – where high levels are bad). This article seems to be saying the opposite. Can you explain, People’s Pharmacy?

Where can I buy eggs from Finland?

Why are statins presumed dangerous to health? All of my doctors have debunked this and say the benefits of statins outweigh the negatives. May I have your opinion? Thanks, maureen

I had to ‘share’ this article in Facebook! And this is what I said:

I remember many years ago when all the Big Deal was made about ‘how bad eggs were for us!’.

And I said ‘NO! That’s Bulls**t, they are trying to give eggs a bad rap, trying to ruin that industry, meanwhile all kinds of bad food was coming into the SuperMarkets! With artificial flavor so, artificial colors, & just plain junk! I mean look at ‘margarine’, & we ate it for years!! Not anymore!!

The same goes for Salt. If you already have High Blood Pressure, Yes watch your salt intake. But Salt does Not cause High Blood Pressure! & that’s also mentioned here at the end of this article!

I never believed all the alarmist yammering about eggs and fat anyway.

I’m 65 and for the last fifty years they’ve been telling that lie, I never bought into it. I stayed away from processed foods, ate eggs every day and the fat on meat, butter, and full fat foods like yogurt and cottage cheese, nuts, avocados, and all that stuff they said to stay away from and I never had high cholesterol. In fact 173 is pretty good. I’m not obese and have done just fine, contrary to all of those who believed the very conniving and convincing advise from the food corporations who profited insanely at the expense of people’s health.

If Dr. Atkins were still alive, he’d be saying, “I told you so.”

Excellent, Gail. As a breast-feeder some 30 years ago, I had always eaten foods as close to nature as possible. There is such a plethora of conflicting information out here now (yay internet) that so many new mothers have become confused. Kind of scary.

So glad I found this site, though, as i listen to he People’s Pharmacy radio show every weekend and LOVE it. I have used so much of the information Terry and Joe have brought out to the public

Years ago when my children were babies, I became a certified La Leche League Leader, qualified to help mothers with breastfeeding. One of the main principles of LLL is “good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.” Eggs, butter, and oils are natural foods. Margarine and vegetable shortening are not.

We’ve seen studies before now that were leading to this. The medical profession needs to catch up and give back Big Pharma’s ring–they’re doing the drug industry big favors and their patients not so much. But if you risk a high cholesterol count when you go for your checkups and don’t take the prescribed medicine–nearly always the dangerous statins–and you have any crisis that can be contributed to noncompliance with prescribed drugs, your insurance company will likely deny coverage. The patient/consumer–or probably it should be the CONSUMER/patient–since we see who’s more important–is between a rock and a hard place–between the pharmaceutical dictators and the insurance tyrants.

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