Cholesterol: Found At The Scene Of The Crime – But NOT GUILTY!
By Nurse Mark
We have recently seen breathless headlines in the mainstream media proclaiming eggs to be almost as deadly as cigarettes. Dr. Myatt answered an inquiry from one of her patients about this in her recent HealthBeat News article Eggs As Bad As Smoking: Really?.
This sensational reporting is in response to a recently published research article titled “Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque” in which the lead researcher goes to great lengths to establish that eating egg yolks can cause some people to have an increase in plaque formation in their arteries. And as we have been told, incessantly and stridently since the 1950′s, cholesterol plaque buildup in our arteries is not a good thing.
Still, being told that eating egg yolks is “almost as bad as smoking” is pretty serious and I wanted to know more. You see, I was a smoker many, many years ago, and I do enjoy eggs frequently now.
It turns out that the lead author of this research paper is David Spence – a Canadian researcher, medical doctor, and university professor who teaches neurological science at University of Western Ontario. He is well-known for his work in using ultrasound to measure plaque build-up in carotid arteries (the big arteries of the neck).
It also seems that this fellow has been on a vitriolic crusade against cholesterol for many years, publishing paper after paper that essentially tell us that:
- cholesterol is a poison that must be purged from our bodies by whatever means necessary and,
- if we would only stop eating cholesterol we would live happily ever after, and,
- the most evil source of cholesterol known to man is surely the lowly egg yolk.
- Therefor, we must all stop eating egg yolks or our arteries will fill up with cholesterol and we’ll die.
(I’m summarizing and paraphrasing a little bit here of course, but that’s the gist of his argument.)
He has published numerous papers and made several videos to support his argument and his bias against cholesterol and eggs is blatantly obvious.
In a 2010 interview with TheHeart.org (a division of WebMD) Spence lamented that “The public’s attention is beginning to drift away from the anti-cholesterol message that doctors have been preaching for 40 years” and went on to complain that “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.”
This interview was in regard to his research paper “Dietary cholesterol and egg yolks: Not for patients at risk of vascular disease” that appeared in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology where he goes on to say that an egg has “even more [cholesterol] than some infamous fast-food items such as KFC’s Double Down or Hardee’s Monster Thickburger.”
Wow – if this is true and if cholesterol is such a poisonous substance I should be able to close my eyes, listen carefully, and just about hear the plaque building up in my carotid arteries…
Now, while I have never had an ultrasound exam of my carotid arteries done, I do have my cholesterol levels checked regularly – and they are just fine thank you very much, all those eggs notwithstanding.
So I wondered, how can this be? After all, those fast food items that we mentioned earlier have been called “heart attack on a plate” and if an egg has more of this bad stuff cholesterol than that…
It turns out that maybe cholesterol isn’t as bad as we are being told. Sure, having big blobs of cholesterol plugging up one’s arteries is not a good thing, but it looks like simply eating foods that contain cholesterol isn’t what makes that happen, and there is plenty of research to back that up.
Still, Dr. Spence addresses that small inconvenience, saying:
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 …
So, if I’m reading that statement correctly, the good doctor feels that if only the studies had been “powered” differently they might have come up with results that made him happier? Is “powered” another way of saying “massage the numbers” or “cook the books”?
This particular researcher talks a lot like someone who works for Big Pharma – making research and studies say what he wants or needs them to… surely it couldn’t be… nah…
But wait – a disclaimer at the bottom of the 2010 heart.org HeartWire article where he complains about the amounts of cholesterol in eggs has the following to say:
Spence and coauthor Dr Jean Davignon (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montreal, QC) report honoraria and speaking fees from several manufacturers of lipid-lowering drugs. Davignon has received support for an annual symposium from Pfizer Canada, and his research has been funded by Pfizer Canada, AstraZeneca Canada, and Merck Frosst Canada.
Hmmm… so maybe his intentions aren’t so pure and academic and altruistic after all… maybe being anti-cholesterol, and promoting the notion that cholesterol must be reduced by whatever means necessary (like drugs?) actually pays pretty well…
All-righty then, what other information is there out there about cholesterol, and eggs, and blocked arteries?
It turns out there is plenty – and a lot of that is not going to make the good Doctor Spence happy.
Dr William Castelli (the director of the Framingham study) said:
“In Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more cholesterol one ate, the more calories one ate, the lower people’s serum cholesterol…we found that the people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories weighed the least and were the most physically active.”
Source: Castelli, William, “Concerning the Possibility of a Nut. . .” Archives of Internal Medicine, Jul 1992, 152:(7):1371-1372
And Ancel Keys, a famous researcher who spent decades working to vilify animal fats and cholesterol is said to have made the following statement at the University of Minnesota in 1997:
“There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in the blood, and we’ve known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn’t matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.”
This, from the man who invented the military K-ration, popularized the Mediterranean Diet, and achieved academic and medical acclaim for his work on the Starvation Studies and the Seven Countries Study.
In another study, from Kansas State University titled “Egg phosphatidylcholine decreases the lymphatic absorption of cholesterol in rats” and published in 2001 finds that a chemical present in egg yolk actually reduces the absorption of cholesterol.
The researcher states:
“If these findings prove to be applicable in humans, they may explain the fact that, although egg yolk contains high levels of cholesterol (260 mg), consuming one or two eggs per day does not increase blood cholesterol levels and CVD risk. Egg yolk contains high levels of phosphatidylcholine (1.3g), which might significantly lower the intestinal uptake of egg cholesterol in humans as well.”
Then there is this study: “Regular egg consumption does not increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases.” done in 2007 by the Epidemiological and Outcomes Research Division, Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Research Center, Department of Neurology and Neurosciences, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey:
“Consumption of greater than 6 eggs per week (average of 1 egg or greater per day) does not increase the risk of stroke and ischemic stroke. The increased risk of coronary artery disease associated with higher egg consumption among diabetics warrants further investigations.”
To be fair, the researchers found that there might be increased risk in diabetics. We’ll look more at why this might be in a little bit.
Let’s look at just one last rat study – though there are plenty more out there. “An egg-enriched diet attenuates plasma lipids and mediates cholesterolmetabolism of high-cholesterol fed rats” was done by the College of Food Science and Technology at Huazhong Agricultural University in China and concludes:
“…rats fed an egg-enriched diet had lower plasma triglycerides, total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, hepatic triglyceride, and cholesterol concentrations, and greater plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration, …than those fed a plain cholesterol diet”
And one last human study titled “Effects of eggs on plasma lipoproteins in healthy populations” from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at The University of Connecticut in which the author concludes:
“…dietary recommendations aimed at restricting egg consumption should be taken with caution and not include all individuals. We need to acknowledge that diverse healthy populations experience no risk in developing coronary heart disease by increasing their intake of cholesterol but in contrast, they may have multiple beneficial effects by the inclusion of eggs in their regular diet.”
Now, you’ll remember that I said, when I briefly discussed the study “Regular egg consumption does not increase the risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases.” that we would look more at why diabetics might be at higher risk. It turns out that carbohydrates – not fats – might be the real villain in all this atherogenic, artery blocking epidemic.
Consider this research article from Austria: “The atherogenic potential of dietary carbohydrate”
The author Dr. Wolfgang Kopp concludes:
“High-carbohydrate diets, particularly in the form of high-glycemic index carbohydrate, have the ability to directly induce atherosclerosis. Based on anthropologic facts, the reason for these dietary-induced, insulin-mediated, atherogenic metabolic perturbations are suggested to be an insufficient adaptation to starch and sugars during human evolution. Restriction of insulinogenic food (starch and sugars) may help to prevent the development of atherosclerosis, one of the most common and costliest human diseases.”
Dr. Kopp is telling us that we are really not very well equipped to digest carbohydrates – our ancestors were better suited to eat fats and proteins.
Certainly our distant ancestors must have taken great delight in finding a honeybee tree, or fruits in season, or a starchy tuber that they managed to pull from the ground, but they were far more likely to stay alive foraging for birds eggs or bunnies or fish or lizards or whatever other concentrated fat and protein source they could find. It was not until the historically quite recent advent of organized agriculture that starches, breads and other concentrated carbohydrates began to replace ancient man’s high fat, high protein diet, and it should come as no surprise that many of our “diseases of modern civilization” – obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer – began to appear at about that same time.
So, my recommendation? Go get yourself your favorite “Heart Attack Burger.” Toss away the bun and the fries and enjoy. Lose the oatmeal and pancakes at breakfast – have yourself some ham and eggs. For supper, a nice, thick, juicy steak – hold the baked potato and dinner rolls though – swap them for broccoli with butter and a crispy green salad.
At the Wellness Club we believe that fats and proteins are not the problem, they are the solution.
The true villain in our epidemic of diseases of modern civilization is our excessive reliance on carbohydrates as a food source.
Carbohydrates cause inflammation – especially within our arteries. Our bodies try to heal that inflammation and damage to the inner surface of the arteries (the endothelium) by producing a fibrin/calcium/cholesterol patch, much the same way your skin responds to damage by producing a protective scab. That scab when it is in your artery is called an atherosclerotic plaque and yes, over time it can build up an cause blockage, or break free and cause stroke. And yes, these plaques contain cholesterol.
But does cholesterol cause atherosclerosis? NO! It is there because it is trying to protect the artery from inflammation.
It’s at the scene of the crime – but NOT GUILTY!
Go eat an egg for heaven’s sake!
Castelli quote – http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/summary/152/7/1371
Ancel Keys info – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancel_Keys
Eggs lower cholesterol absorption – http://www.theheart.org/article/280769.do
Eggs lower cholesterol absorption – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11533279?dopt=Abstract
Eggs don’t increase risk – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17179903?dopt=Abstract
Egg-enriched diet reduces cholesterol – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22234516
Eggs are beneficial – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21776466
Atherogenic potential of carbohydrate – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16540158
Eggs reduce inflammation caused by carbohydrates – http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/5/1/6/
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