A new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows that a relatively high intake of dietary cholesterol, or eating one egg every day, is not associated with an elevated risk of coronary heart disease. Furthermore, no association was found among those who were genetically prone to high blood cholesterol.
In most people, cholesterol in food affects blood cholesterol levels only a little. Few studies have linked the intake of dietary cholesterol to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
Globally, many nutrition recommendations no longer set limitations to the intake of dietary cholesterol. However, in people who carry a certain gene variant called apolipoprotein E type 4 allele (APOE4) -- which significantly impacts cholesterol metabolism -- the effect of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol levels is greater. In Finland, the prevalence of the APOE4 allele, which is hereditary, is exceptionally high and approximately one third of the population are carriers.
Research data on the association between a high intake of dietary cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular diseases in this population group hasn't been available until now.
The dietary habits of 1,032 men aged between 42 and 60 years who were free of cardiovascular disease were assessed in 1984-1989 at the University of Eastern Finland. During a follow-up of 21 years, 230 men had a heart attack, and 32.5 per cent of the study participants were carriers of APOE4.
No impact of total food cholesterol or one egg per day
The study found that a high intake of dietary cholesterol was not associated with the risk of coronary heart disease -- not in the entire study population nor in those with the APOE4 gene.
Moreover, the consumption of eggs, which are a significant source of dietary cholesterol, was not associated with the risk of coronary heart disease. As well, the study did not establish a link between dietary cholesterol or eating eggs with thickening of the walls of the carotid arteries. (Carotid arteries are major blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain, neck, and face.)
These findings suggest that a high-cholesterol diet (up to 520 mg per day) or frequent consumption of eggs (up to 1 egg per day) do not increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases even in men who are genetically predisposed to a greater effect of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol levels. (One large egg contains about 190 mg of cholesterol.)
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