By: J. David MD FRCPC, Spence David J.A. MD PhD FRCP, and Jenkins Jean Davignon MD MSc FRCPC
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. There are good reasons for long-standing recommendations that dietary cholesterol should be limited to less than 200 mg/day; a single large egg yolk contains approximately 275 mg of cholesterol (more than a day's worth of cholesterol). Although some studies showed no harm from consumption of eggs in healthy people, this outcome may have been due to lack of power to detect clinically relevant increases in a low-risk population. Moreover, the same studies showed that among participants who became diabetic during observation, consumption of one egg a day doubled their risk compared with less than one egg a week.
Diet is not just about fasting cholesterol; it is mainly about the postprandial effects of cholesterol, saturated fats, oxidative stress and inflammation. A misplaced focus on fasting lipids obscures three key issues. Dietary cholesterol increases the susceptibility of low-density lipoprotein to oxidation, increases postprandial lipemia and potentiates the adverse effects of dietary saturated fat. Dietary cholesterol, including egg yolks, is harmful to the arteries.
Patients at risk of cardiovascular disease should limit their intake of cholesterol. Stopping the consumption of egg yolks after a stroke or myocardial infarction would be like quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer: a necessary action, but late. The evidence presented in the current review suggests that the widespread perception among the public and health care professionals that dietary cholesterol is benign is misplaced, and that improved education is needed to correct this misconception.