According to a brand-new study, we common folks have a real problem with our diets:  namely, we don’t appear to be letting bad scientists scare us away from real foods quite as much as we once did:

The public’s attention is beginning to drift away from the anti-cholesterol message that doctors have been preaching for 40 years, according to the authors of a review in the November 2010 issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

“A widespread misconception has been developing among the Canadian public and among physicians. It is increasingly believed that consumption of dietary cholesterol and egg yolks is harmless,” Dr J. David Spence and colleagues state.

Hmmm … perhaps the public believes egg yolks are harmless because egg yolks are harmless. After years of making omelets with Egg Beaters and other frankenfoods, it could be that people are thinking to themselves, “You know, my grandma ate eggs every day, and she was 97 before the yolks finally killed her.”

The long-standing recommendation to limit dietary cholesterol is still important, especially for people at risk for cardiovascular disease, but a single egg yolk contains approximately 215 mg to 275 mg of cholesterol, more than the 200-mg daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association and National Cholesterol Education Program, and even more than some infamous fast-food items such as KFC’s Double Down or Hardee’s Monster Thickburger, the authors note.

Allow me to interpret that gobbledygook:  Eggs are bad because a single yolk contains more cholesterol than the daily limit recommended by organizations that don’t know diddly about heart disease and believe Cocoa Puffs are good for your heart.

Also, eggs are bad because they contain more cholesterol than foods that don’t actually contain much cholesterol, such as chicken and hamburgers. This is akin to saying strawberries are bad because just 10 of them contain more fructose than 50 pounds of sausage.

“We have become increasingly concerned about the pervasive success of egg marketing propaganda,” including a brochure touting the benefits of eggs promoted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, “quoting directly from the egg marketing propaganda,” Spence told HeartWire. “After I received that, I called the HSF and offered to meet with them to discuss the evidence, but I was brushed off as if I were someone they had never heard of.”

Oh, now, I don’t think they brushed you off as if you were someone they’ve never heard of. I’m guessing you were brushed off precisely because they have heard of you. I’ll bet the conversation in their offices went something like this:

“It’s Dr. Spence on the phone. Again.”

“Who?”

“You know, the nut-job who still thinks eggs are killers in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.”

“Oh, him.  Uh … tell him we’re busy.”

“Despite widespread belief to the contrary, it is simply not true that dietary cholesterol is harmless,” because research over the past 40 years supports reducing dietary cholesterol to reduce LDL levels, which in turn reduces coronary risk, according to the authors.

Ah, yes … teleoanalysis in action. In case you didn’t watch the video of my Big Fat Fiasco speech, here’s how teleoanalysis works:

We cannot prove, in spite of many clinical-study attempts, that A (low-cholesterol diet) causes C (reduction in heart disease).  But … if we can prove that A (low-cholesterol diet) sometimes leads to B (lower cholesterol in the blood) and B (lower cholesterol via statins) sometimes leads to C (reduction in heart disease), we can still claim that A causes C.

So that proves egg yolks will kill you … see?

The only trouble with Dr. Spence’s logic (besides the fact that teleoanlysis is utter hogwash) is that several studies have shown no connection between the amount of cholesterol you consume and the level of cholesterol in your blood — even Ancel Keys eventually admitted that fact.  And of course, the link between high cholesterol and heart disease is about as statistically weak as you can get.

Epidemiological studies of egg consumption that failed to show a link between eggs and cardiovascular disease in healthy people were not powered to show an effect in healthy people …

Allow me to interpret again:  dangit, if only we’d had a chance to crunch the numbers ourselves, we could have “powered” the data into producing the result we wanted.

… but did show an increased risk of cardiovascular disease with egg consumption among diabetics.

Or as a separate article in Science Daily about the same study explained:

The authors point out that in both studies, those who developed diabetes while consuming an egg a day doubled their risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those eating less than an egg a week.

We’ve covered those observational studies before. Eggs were associated with heart disease among people who also developed type 2 diabetes, but not among those who didn’t.  In other words, the link only shows up in people with lousy diets overall.

Those would be people Dr. Mike Eades calls “non-adherers” and I call “people who don’t give a @#$%.”  They don’t care if eggs are (supposedly) bad for them.  They also don’t care if sugar is bad for them, or if smoking is bad for them.  One of the studies noted specifically that the subjects who consumed more than one egg per day were also older, fatter, and more likely to smoke.

The studies also showed a significant increase of new onset diabetes with regular egg consumption.

Wowzers … such bad-science thinking, they didn’t even bother with the phrase “was associated with” this time. Read that sentence without knowing any better, and you’d think eating eggs causes diabetes. So let’s see how that idea holds up against actual evidence.

In the chart below, I plotted the rate of diabetes over the past several decades (in red), along with the per-capita consumption of eggs during the same period (in blue).

Hmmm … looks like back in the 1950s, when egg consumption was far higher than it is today, we had an amazingly low rate of diabetes.  It would also appear that diabetes rates went up while per-capita egg consumption was going down.  So what can we conclude from this?  Thinking … thinking … aha, I’ve got it! — eggs don’t actually cause diabetes, or we’d see consistent and repeatable evidence that they do.  No consistency, no scientific validity.

The authors conclude, “There is no question that egg white is classed as a valuable source of high-quality protein. Egg yolks, however, are not something that should be eaten indiscriminately by adults without regard to their global cardiovascular risk, genetic predisposition to heart attacks and overall food habits.”

The blogger concludes:  the authors are lousy scientists.

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62 Responses to “More Bad Science? That’s Eggsactly What It Is”
  1. Isabel says:

    My employee, a Home Health Aide, reported that her patient’s new girlfriend had insructed her not to feed him any more eggs for breakfast. She was “killing him” with his breakfast! Give him oatmeal or cereal and toast instead!
    Did I mention he is a veteran in his 80’s…with diabetes?
    Lord help us! He’s been eating 2 eggs a day since he was a child. Let him eat what he enjoys!
    My family of 4 consumes at least 3 dozen eggs a week, and I have lost 44 lbs this year on low carb. My 15 year old lost 12 lbs in the last couple of months, just by sticking to a low carb breakfast…eggs! Hopefully, he will continue this for his life-long health.

    Congratulations on the weight loss … both of you. Keep eating those eggs!

    Oatmeal, cereal and toast for a diabetic … lord help him.

  2. This is so sad. My first instinct is for the Home Health Aide to ask the girlfriend, “And where is your nutrition degree from?” It’s just so ingrained in me.

    The right reply, of course, is to ask her for the research that supports her request. But then you’re arguing science with the girlfriend of an 80-year-old. Probably not a productive use of anyone’s time.

  3. Alan says:

    I often eat 8 to 10 eggs a day and always have 2 in my post WO shake.
    There is an item on an 88 year old who eats 24 eggs a day and has done for years.
    http://bud.ca/2010/03/25/an-all-egg-diet-what-whould-happen/

    Jimmy Moore tried an all egg diet for a month with good results.
    Eggs are a beautiful little package of protein and fats that can be eaten many different ways. Get into them..

  4. Brendan says:

    Nice graph! Those Scientists should at least look at the actual evidence before doing a study on nutrition.

    By the way more bad science here for your reading pleasure:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11712569

    Look out for the comment from two academics, Professor Bernard Cheung and Professor Karen Lam, from the University of Hong Kong on this study published in the Lancet:

    “At the population level, statins are underused, so the urgent priority is to identify people who would benefit most from statin therapy and to lower their LDL cholesterol aggressively, with the more potent statins if necessary.”

    I see their analysis was partly funded by the British Heart Foundation. I’d like to know who funded the rest … but I think I can guess.

  5. Brendan says:

    You can find the summary of the study here: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60310-8/abstract

    “6031 participants were allocated 80 mg simvastatin daily, and 6033 allocated 20 mg simvastatin daily. Major vascular events occurred in 1477 (24·5%) participants allocated 80 mg simvastatin versus 1553 (25·7%) of those allocated 20 mg…6% proportional reduction (risk ratio 0·94, 95% CI 0·88—1·01; p=0·10)”

    p=0.10? The result is not even statistically significant! Also there’s an even higher incidence of myopathy for the 80 mg group, 53 cases against 2 cases in the 20 mg group. But judging from the commentaries in the news, Merck will have nothing to worry about.

    Disgusting, isn’t it? They’re touting this as proof that more people need statins.

  6. Gay Weddings says:

    Bravo! Well said. I love your strawberry to sausage comparison. The reality is that all of this bad stuff has been around for years. Remember watching tv shows as a kid when they drank raw eggs for breakfast? How about when we were kids and they didn’t want us to eat cookie dough because it was raw and now it is in ice cream and a ton of other foods. Great article!

  7. David Spence says:

    These ad hominem attacks are amusing, but not illuminating.

    Anyone who wants to read the evidence instead of reacting to news reports can download the paper free of charge at:
    http://www.pulsus.com/journals/toc.jsp?sCurrPg=journal&jnlKy=1&fold=Current Issue

    Keep in mind who might be more likely to be right: egg marketers, or some of the world’s leading experts in cardiovascular prevention.

    Ad hominem? I didn’t attack your personality, your face, your political affiliations or your taste in clothes, sir. I attacked the conclusions you reached based on weak observational evidence and flimsy logic.

    And I can’t help but notice that after accusing me of relying on the weak debating tactic of ad hominem attacks, you immediately asked us to ignore one set of evidence merely because the egg marketers are (supposedly) behind it, then chose the even weaker tactic of appeals to authority. If your contention is that we can’t believe scientists who agree with egg marketers because the egg marketers have a financial interest, then let’s apply that logic to you: We can’t believe you, because you have financial ties to the cholesterol-lowering drug industry.

    Considering all the evidence I’ve seen produced by PhDs who completely disagree with you, I take it your defintion of a “leading expert” is “someone who agrees with me.”

  8. Mats J C Wiman says:

    Hi,
    Let me tell you all: I have been living in death’s waiting room now for four years.
    I am a diebatic type 2, but with an HbA1c of 35, i.e. healthy diabetic (compare: sober alcoholic). eating 8 eggs a day, min 250 g of saturated fat and I have never been healthier. (except for my auricular fibrillation, which has not been affected)
    My LCHF (LowCarbHighFat) diet has helped many tens of thousands of overweight, obesse and diabetic patients in Scandinavia (in Sweden 5% of the population practise strict LCHF, i.e. less than 5g of carbs/day)

    You can contact me at LCHF@MatsWiman.se

    A good link: DietDoctor.com (Swedish diet icon Andreas Eenfeldt but in English)

    Best

    Mats Wiman

    Sure, we’re big fans of Dr. Eenfeldt over here. He’s been on my blogroll for some time.

  9. Wyatt Oring says:

    It’s not how many eggs Americans are eating, it’s what’s IN the eggs. POPs (Persitant Organic Pollutants), harmful chemicals that store in a body’s fat cells, were not in food circulation a few decades ago, but because of industrial farming, now 90% of exposure to POPs are through animal-based foods. Those who have any amount of POPs were 14x more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who had none, and those with higher levels of POPs were 38x more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16801591) Eggs have a HUGE amount of these chemicals, as they are basically a very concentrated form of chicken. Eggs today are different than eggs a few decades ago.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Never heard of POPs being a problem with eggs before. Since I get my eggs from my own chickens, I won’t worry about it.

  10. Caroline says:

    Hi,
    I know this is an old post, but I would be very grateful if you could share your source for the diabetes prevalence over time. I find it difficult to find data that goes as far back as 1958.
    Thanks!!

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