A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests there is no link between a high-cholesterol diet and an increased risk of heart disease, regardless of any genetic predisposition to a greater effect of dietary cholesterol on cholesterol levels in the blood.
Cholesterol is a lipid molecule that is made by all animal cells. It is essential for cell structure integrity, and is also required for the formation of steroid hormones, digestive bile within the intestines, and vitamin D. Although our bodies naturally produce cholesterol, we can also get it from our diets, mainly from eggs, cheese, pork, poultry, and fish. Cholesterol can be “good” or ”bad”, and is identified by the type of lipoproteins which carry it through the blood (cholesterol carried around by low-density lipoproteins are bad, cholesterol carried by high-density lipoproteins are good).
Although cholesterol is vital for the body to properly function, both good and bad cholesterol are often not thought of separately, and are considered unhealthy and negative influences on the body. Cholesterol intake is often associated with many heart complications but new research suggests that there is not enough evidence to link dietary cholesterol and risks of cardiovascular diseases in the general population. In addition, recent studies suggest that dietary cholesterol may not have a substantial influence on the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. The influence of dietary cholesterol on cholesterol levels in the blood is unknown for those with genetic predispositions, such as individuals that carry the ApoE4 gene, which increases cholesterol metabolism.
A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition investigated the influence of a high egg diet (which is a prominent source of cholesterol) on the increased risk of heart disease in individuals with and without the ApoE4 gene. Researchers examined the baseline dietary habits of 1032 men from Finland (where the prevalence of the ApoE4 gene is high) and followed up with participants after a 20 year period. Results showed that a higher cholesterol intake (ie. 1 egg per day) was not associated with any negative cardiovascular outcomes (including heart disease or thickening of artery walls), in the general population of participants or in those containing the ApoE4 gene.
The results of this study suggest that a diet high in eggs (or cholesterol) do not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, even in individuals that are highly susceptible to cholesterol metabolism.
Virtanen JK, Mursu J, Virtanen HEK, Fogelholm M, Salonen JT, Koskinen TT, Voutilainen S, Tuomainen TP. Associations of egg and cholesterol intakes with carotid intima-media thickness and risk of incident coronary artery disease according to apolipoprotein E phenotype in men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.115.122317
Written by Alexandra Lostun, BSc