Dr. Myers on The Great Egg Debate
May 2nd, 2019
Are chicken eggs good or bad? Are they healthy? You may have heard recently that they aren’t very good for you after all. That’s in the wake of a study that was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in March.1 Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s talk about that research, and whether eggs (and how many!) might be right for you.
The report in JAMA was created by researchers who gathered and scrutinized the results from six different cohort studies. These large, long-term studies were not specifically about eggs. Instead, they were designed to assess the risk of heart problems in men and women across ethnic groups nationwide. The researchers looked at how many people got heart disease, died of heart disease, or died due to other causes during the studies, some of which lasted for 17 years.
Before I tell you what the researchers found, let me explain a little about research. All studies fall into two major types: primary research and secondary research. In the medical world, primary research includes experimental, often performed in a lab on a cellular level; clinical, performed on people in a controlled setting (tests for new treatments and medications fall here); and epidemiological, the study of how and why diseases occur in a population. The most accurate type of primary research is one in which the researcher controls everything, and there is only one variable. This is possible only in experimental studies. The six original cohort studies fall into the epidemiological category.
Cohort studies rely on participants supplying information to researchers. All the participants in the six original cohort studies told the researchers what they ate; the researchers didn’t see that for themselves. Unfortunately, people are notoriously bad at making accurate reports. Understanding the instructions, personality, honesty, and even gender among other things, all affect how people perceive and report data. So the researchers have to rely on information which is likely unreliable to investigate the link between a possible risk factor and a health outcome.2
The recent report in JAMA is even a step removed from that. This report comes from something called a meta-analysis. That’s a kind of secondary research. Basically, that’s a study of other studies. A meta-analysis doesn’t provide any new data at all. It looks into the past to draw conclusions. And in this case, it draws conclusions about something the original researchers weren’t necessarily studying.
So now that we know what was studied and how the researchers gathered their information, let’s take a look at their results. The researchers drew the conclusion that with every extra 300 mg of cholesterol consumed per day above a baseline established at the start of each study, the participants had a higher risk of heart disease and death, whether from heart disease or another cause.
Initially, the study seemed to report that each extra half an egg consumed was associated with a higher risk of heart disease and death. However, the association between egg consumption and death from cardiovascular disease was no longer significant after adjusting for dietary cholesterol consumption.3
What’s going on then? Well, nutrition in general is very hard to study because there are so many variables. In fact, other studies have shown that people with diets high in sugar and processed carbs had a far greater risk of developing coronary vascular disease—in some cases as much as 79% higher—than those who don’t.4 And eating foods high in cholesterol doesn’t necessarily negatively impact the cholesterol levels in your blood. As another scientific article explains, this may be because the response of cholesterol in human blood levels to dietary cholesterol consumption depends on many factors including ethnicity, genetic makeup, hormones, and nutritional status.5
Yes, eggs are a big source of cholesterol. Cholesterol is a big component of all cell membranes and is used to make hormones and fat-soluble vitamins, among other things. It’s vital to your health! A large egg may contain around 186 mg of cholesterol, with just 72 calories.6
Eggs are also a good source of quality protein: a large egg may contain 6.28 grams of protein. A single egg could satisfy about 12% of your daily protein needs.7 Protein is vital for optimal health as it is used by your body to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals, as well as to build your bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.8
Eggs are also packed full of vitamins and minerals. One large boiled egg contains:
- 6% of the RDA of vitamin A
- 5% of the RDA of folate
- 7% of the RDA of vitamin B5
- 9% of the RDA of phosphorus and vitamin B12
- 15% of the RDA of vitamin B2
- 22% of the RDA of selenium9
They also contain vitamin D, E, K, B6, calcium and zinc.
Vitamin A is important for eye and brain health.10 B-complex vitamins help us convert nutrients into energy, and they’re involved in hormone and cholesterol production. Folate is key for cell development—which is why it is recommended for pregnant women—and may play a role in keeping homocysteine levels down.11 This is important because elevated homocysteine levels can contribute to arterial damage and blood clots in your blood vessels.12 Phosphorus helps keep your bones, cells, and teeth healthy.13 Selenium is thought to play an important role in immune system health and acts as a free radical scavenger. Vitamin D is also crucial for good immune health, as well as maintaining healthy bones and balanced calcium and phosphorus levels.14 This is good news for anyone wondering about how eggs might affect their autoimmunity.
Not only are eggs nutritious, they are also inexpensive and easy to source (particularly if you keep your own chickens or have a neighbor who does!).
Other Egg Research And The USDA Dietary Guidelines
The 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines include in their key recommendations that “a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, and eggs,”15 are part of a healthy diet. An update in the 2015 guidelines lifted the previous 300 mg per day cholesterol limit, which was thought to be a win for the egg industry.16,17 The USDA Dietary Guidelines also include 5½ ounces of protein per day stating that, “eggs…can be consumed along with a variety of other choices.”18
To add even more conflicting data, research also shows that the daily nutrient intake of egg consumers is significantly greater than that of non-consumers.19 In fact, one study compared egg consumers with non-consumers and found that non-consumers had higher rates of inadequate intake of vitamin B12 and vitamins A, E and C.20 The same study reported lower mean blood cholesterol concentrations in those who ate four or more eggs per week than in those who ate one or fewer eggs per week.21
To Eat or Not to Eat?
So it turns out eggs are still a controversial food. However, my approach to chicken eggs is pretty straightforward: They may be inflammatory for those on the autoimmune spectrum or with a full-blown autoimmune disease because they contain a variety of bioactive compounds that impact inflammation.22 I recommend following an elimination diet, then adding foods back in one by one. In The Autoimmune Solution, I provide detailed information on how to find out if you tolerate eggs.
As mentioned above, those handy little packages are stuffed with nutrients. So if you can tolerate eggs, then by all means enjoy them! Most people in optimal health can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.23 Organic, pasture-raised eggs are the ideal choice if you do decide to add them to your diet. If you can source local, free-range eggs, even better!24
Those with diabetes should check with their healthcare professional about what’s right for you. Eggs can also be part of a healthy diet for people suffering from Candida overgrowth and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), if they do not have a sensitivity.
If you cannot eat eggs because of a sensitivity, or simply choose to avoid them, you can find recipes such as the Egg-free Breakfast Scramble among my online recipes, which makes it easy to replace eggs with a delicious and nutrient-rich alternative. For baking, try my grass-fed, pasture-raised gelatin, which is an excellent thickening agent for baked goods and casseroles. For more AIP recipes, check out The Myers Way® Autoimmune Protocol Recipes Ebook.