The study involving nearly 30,000 people found those averaging two eggs a day had their risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular episodes rise by 27 per cent, and of dying from any cause rise by 34 per cent.
Average US consumption – roughly an egg every other day – was associated with a smaller, but still significant increase in cardiovascular disease (6 per cent) and an 8 per cent higher risk of dying prematurely.
The authors of the study, from Northwestern University, said there had been conflicting information from recent studies, and US health guidelines recommend people eat eggs regularly.
“We want to remind people there is cholesterol in eggs, specifically yolks, and this has a harmful effect,” said Dr Norrina Allen, one of the authors and an associate professor of preventative medicine.
“As part of a healthy diet, people need to consume lower amounts of cholesterol. People who consume less cholesterol have a lower risk of heart disease.”
Cholesterol is a type of fat used to fuel the body’s cells and is contained in foods like meat and particularly egg yolk, but is also produced in the liver from breaking down other fats.
The latest US guidelines dropped an upper limit for dietary cholesterol as well as promoting weekly egg consumption, which Dr Allen and colleagues said could be harmful.
In their study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, participants were followed over 17 years and there were 5,400 heart attacks or strokes, and 6,132 deaths from all causes.
On average, adults in the study ate just one egg every three days; around 11 per cent had a heart attack or incident during the study and 12 per cent died.
While people eating two eggs or more per day had the biggest risks of heart disease and early death they only accounted for 2 per cent of the 29,615 participants studied.
However, the authors warn egg consumption could rise more in the future due to lack of awareness of the risks of cholesterol among the public, which they said could be “harmful for prevention of CVD [cardiovascular disease] and premature death”.
Dr Robert Eckel, a researcher from the University of Colorado who was not involved in this research, said the findings were “important” in the context of previous conflicting studies.
“The association of egg consumption and dietary cholesterol with cardiovascular disease and death, although debated for decades, has more recently been thought to be less important,” he said.
But, he added, the latest study is “far more comprehensive, with enough data to make a strong statement that eggs and overall dietary cholesterol intake remain important in affecting the risk”.
UK researchers said the US diet is higher in cholesterol, featuring 600mg per day on average compared to 225mg a day in Britain. Although both average around three to four eggs a week, rising egg consumption and dietary cholesterol on top of an already poor diet could have further risks.
Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said the study also couldn’t rule out other unhealthy habits like smoking, or cooking with more butter, being more common in people who eat more eggs.
She added: “Eggs are a nutritious food and, while this study focuses on the amount we’re eating, it’s just as important to pay attention to how the eggs are cooked and to the trimmings that come with them.”
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