Most people love the taste of eggs, whether scrambled, poached, softor hard-boiled or in a fancy soufflé. Eggs are one of the best sources of quality protein and also contain a wide variety of other important nutrients, including choline, important to help control stress (another risk for heart disease). But, as everyone knows, egg yolks contain cholesterol. Today, most experts agree that for most people, eating eggs every day is not going to worsen blood cholesterol. (If you’re one of a very small number of people who can’t metabolize cholesterol, it could be a problem. But if that’s the case, most likely you already know your cholesterol is too high — above 250 or 300.)
After decades of medical research, studies have never linked egg consumption to heart disease. Stephen Kritchevsky, Ph.D., director of the J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging at Wake Forest University states: “People should feel secure with the knowledge that the [medical] literature shows regular egg consumption does not have a measurable impact on heart disease risk for healthy adults. In fact, many countries with high egg consumption are notable for low rates of heart disease.” In most healthy people, the body normally compensates to balance cholesterol, even when you eat whole eggs every day. In fact, when you eat more cholesterol your body absorbs a smaller percentage. Consider the following points about consumption of eggs and other foods high in cholesterol:
- Data from the Framingham Study, the largest ongoing medical study, revealed no relationship between cholesterol consumption and blood levels in 16,000 participants tracked over the course of six years.
- The fat in egg yolks is nearly a perfect balance, containing mostly monounsaturated fats, and about 36 percent saturated fat. Monounsaturated fat has been shown to raise HDL cholesterol levels. Studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Internal Medicineindicate that eating whole eggs daily significantly raised the good HDLcholesterol.
- Egg yolks contain linoleic and linolenic acids, which are as important as all other vitamins and minerals, and are crucial in the regulation of cholesterol. The study also showed that without these fats in your diet, your risk for heart disease is increased.
- Egg yolks are high in lecithin, which assists the action of bile from the gall bladder in regulating cholesterol. Cholesterase, an important enzyme in egg yolks, may also help control cholesterol.
With all this scientific evidence, there seems to be little logical reason to avoid eating eggs. But if that’s not enough for you, consider the clinical case of the “Egg Man.” As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, and on popular talk shows a few years ago, an 88-year-old man with a documented history of eating 25 eggs per day was evaluated and found to be in excellent health, including normal weight and no signs, symptoms or history of heart disease, stroke or gall bladder problems. His serum cholesterol over the years has ranged from 150 to 200, despite the fact that he eats about 5,000 mg of cholesterol per day! He is an example of the fact that increasing cholesterol intake, even by significant amounts, may not affect serum cholesterol levels. And, he’s one of the few people I’ve heard of who eats more eggs a day than I do!
y than I do! Will egg phobia end soon? More people are realizing that eating eggs doesn’t raise their cholesterol, and that consuming too many carbohydrates and trans fats can be much more of a risk factor for heart
disease. For those who still want more information, visit the Egg Nutrition Center’s website at www.incredibleegg.org.
Another fat that’s just as important to measure is triglycerides. High triglycerides can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some studies show that the increase in heart disease risk from elevated triglycerides may rival that of LDLcholesterol. Triglycerides include the fats converted from carbohydrates you have eaten. Normally, 40 percent or more of carbohydrates are converted to fat. Some of these triglycerides end up stored as plaque on your artery walls. Many people focus on eliminating saturated fat and are unaware that eating too many carbohydrates is also associated with a higher risk for heart disease. Triglycerides, like LDLcholesterol, must be measured in the fasting state for accuracy. Levels ideally should be under 100 mg/dl, though 150 is considered normal by most labs. If your triglyceride level is above 100, and especially 150, there’s a good chance you’re carbohydrate intolerant and need to cut back on eating these types of foods, especially those made with refined flour and highly processed sugars. Those with very high triglycerides often will see a dramatic reduction, sometimes to normal, after a successful Two-Week Test.
One factor associated with cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure, or hypertension. It’s not only a risk factor for heart disease, but overall mortality. Hypertension is generally defined as blood pressures above about 140/90 (the first number is the systolic pressure, and the second diastolic as measured in millimeters of mercury or mm Hg). Intense marketing of hypertension drugs, corresponding with newer definitions of hypertension, have resulted in more people being medicated, and even those with normal blood pressure being told they are in a pre-hypertensive state. Indeed, doctors are now reading in medical journals that cardiovascular risk begins with blood pressures as low as 115/75, and that the blood pressure classification of “prehypertension” is a systolic pressure between 120–139 and diastolic between 80–89 mm Hg. To make matters worse, most patients are prescribed medication for hypertension without seeking the cause of the problem. And, most patients are not given appropriate diet and lifestyle guidelines that may reduce their blood pressure to the point where medication may no longer be needed. Among the problems that may contribute to hypertension is carbohydrate intolerance due to its influence of raising insulin levels. During the Two-Week Test it was recommended that, if your blood pressure is high, have it evaluated before, during and after the Test. That’s because for many people, significantly reducing refined carbohydrates and sugars, which reduces insulin levels, will reduce blood pressure — often dramatically. As a result, if you’re taking medication to control blood pressure, your doctor may need to reduce, or even eliminate it. The vast majority of hypertensive patients I initially saw in practice were able to reduce their blood pressure significantly just by strictly avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugars, especially when easy aerobic exercise was implemented. Most of these patients were able to eliminate their medication. Other important factors include balancing fats, various nutrients that can be obtained from a healthy diet, and controlling stress. Poor aerobic conditioning can also contribute to hypertension. Recall that those who are inactive have a significant amount of blood vessels shut down (these are the vessels in the aerobic muscle fibers). Aerobic exercise is an important factor in both prevention and treatment of hypertension. Even one easy aerobic workout can reduce blood pressure for up to 24 hours. Anaerobic exercise may not be nearly as effective and could even aggravate high blood pressure. It’s important to discuss your particular exercise needs with a health-care professional — especially one who is aware of the potential benefits of food, nutrition and exercise. Other dietary factors that can prevent or help hypertension include eating sufficient amounts of vegetables and fruits. When certain nutrients are low, such as calcium and vitamins A and C, the blood pressure may elevate. Basically, by increasing overall fitness and health, blood pressure can be normalized in the majority of people. It’s important to look at the whole person, as hypertension can mean other problems exist. For example, kidney problems and narrowed or “clogged” arteries are often associated with hypertension.
Sodium and Blood Pressure
Acommon notion about high blood pressure is that sodium causes it. In some people with existing high blood pressure, excessive sodium intake can magnify the problem. About 30 to 40 percent of those with hypertension are sodium-sensitive. For these individuals, even moderate amounts of sodium can increase their blood pressure further. Obviously, these people should regulate their sodium intake. But salt modification for those who have normal blood pressure is not necessary, as sodium will not raise blood pressure in healthy individuals. Sodium is a necessary nutrient, essential for good health. An average healthy man of 150 pounds has about 9,000 milligrams of sodium in his body. One-third of this is contained in healthy bones and most of the remaining two-thirds surrounds the cells throughout the rest of the body, where sodium is a major player in their regulation. Balanced with potassium, sodium acts as an “electrochemical pump.” Sodium also helps regulate the acid/alkaline balance, water balance, the heartbeat and other muscle contractions, sugar metabolism and even blood-pressure balance.
Studies show that some cholesterol-lowering drugs (the statins) can reduce inflammation. But considering the potential side effects of these drugs, and their high cost, statins are an inefficient way to lower cardiac risk by reducing inflammation. The study found the popular drugs Pravachol, Zocor and Lipitor significantly reduced inflammation, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, the long list of side effects for these drugs include liver damage and problems with neurological, intestinal andmuscular function, to name just some. In addition, patients must take this medication for many years and avoid alcohol. These drugs are also contraindicated for children, nursing mothers and women of childbearing age. The irony is that the anti-inflammatory actions of these drugs may be more important than lowering cholesterol. It’s a lot less expensive and safer to use appropriate dietary and lifestyle adjustments in combination with omega-3 fat supplementation to reduce inflammation. Indeed, the American Heart Association recommends first using more conservative means before prescribing medication, including the right foods, balanced nutrition and exercise.
Other Nutritional Factors;
When the topic of nutrition and the heart comes up, many people still think taking a vitamin E (alpha tocopherol) supplement is a healthy habit for their heart. But research shows that the typical dose of vitamin E, 400 IU, can significantly increase the risk of death! High-dose vitamin supplements were discussed in Chapter 17. Like other nutrients, food doses of vitamin E are very important for the heart (and the whole body), but as part of the whole E complex, which includes three other tocopherols and four tocotrienols.
Lower levels of certain B vitamins can significantly increase your risk of heart disease. Inadequate folic acid especially, and also vitamins B6 and B12, can elevate homocysteine levels in the blood, itself a significant risk for heart disease. High homocysteine reflects inadequate levels of these nutrients. Folic acid may be the most important, but many people are unable to benefit from synthetic folic acid and only respond to natural versions as discussed in Chapter 18. Vitamin D is also important for the heart, with low levels associated with an increased risk of heart disease. The best source of vitamin D is from the sun, with fortification of foods being quite inadequate. Other nutrients are important for optimal heart function, including vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin), magnesium and many others. I could make a good argument that all the vitamins and minerals have a significant impact on the heart and blood vessels.
On paper it’s relatively simple: Get more fit and healthy, and you’ll significantly lower your risk for heart disease. Two of the key issues are carbohydrate intolerance and chronic inflammation.