Dr. Roach: The controversial role of eggs as a dietary component

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: My friend thinks I eat too many eggs. I have eggs every day. I make an omelet of two egg whites and one whole egg about three or four times a week. Other days, I have omelets made with three egg whites. With my cholesterol in the 200-225 range, is that too many eggs? I am on a low-carb, high-protein, weight-loss plan. I have no heart issues.

— C.V.

Dear C.V.: There remains a great deal of controversy about many dietary components and styles as they relate to health risks. Eggs in particular have mixed results from studies, with some large studies showing no increase in heart risk, and others showing modest risk increase. One recent study showed a significant increase in total mortality risk (7% increased risk per HALF of a whole egg daily). That same study showed a significant decrease in risk from eating egg whites, suggesting the fat and cholesterol found within the egg yolks is the risky part. However, I want to emphasize that the degree of certainty about risk from egg consumption is low, despite several recent studies.

Dr. Keith Roach

Anytime you see a study about one dietary component decreasing or increasing risk, it’s important to consider what happens to the rest of the diet when a person adds or takes away a particular food, and not all studies look carefully at this.

The protein in eggs (egg white is essentially pure protein) makes most people feel more satisfied than an equal number of calories from carbohydrates, especially starches. There can be effects on a person’s weight when changing protein sources (like eggs or egg whites) to or from other macronutrients (like the almost pure carbohydrate in oatmeal).

Your cholesterol is slightly above optimal range at 200-225. The effect of dietary cholesterol from egg yolks on blood cholesterol is modest. Blood cholesterol comes from both what we eat and from what our body makes, so if you eat more cholesterol, the body tends to make less to keep the blood levels about the same.

It sounds like you are having about three or four whole eggs a week, and I would not recommend reducing your intake in a person with no heart disease.

Dear Dr. Roach: I saw an advertisement for a brain supplement containing omega-3 oil, coenzyme Q, vitamin E and turmeric. Would this be safe to use?

— D.D.

Dear D.D.: These components are all considered generally safe, whether individually or in combination. What I can’t tell you (and the manufacturer can’t either) is whether this will be effective at improving brain function or preventing brain disease like Alzheimer’s disease. There is some evidence from clinical trials that vitamin E slows reduction in brain function. Observational trials seemed to show that people who ate more omega-3 oil had less dementia than people who ate less, but clinical trials did not show a benefit. Similarly, low levels of coenzyme Q10 in the blood seems to make dementia more likely, but actually giving people CoQ10 did not lead to benefit. Finally, there are animal studies and cellular studies that show promise for turmeric, but not solid enough evidence that I would recommend using turmeric for the purpose of treating or preventing dementia.

Looking at the ads for these types of supplements, you will read this statement: “This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease,” which is sometimes at odds with what the rest of the advertisement seems to say.

Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.