There’s some disturbing news on the food front that I want to share with you today. Disturbing mostly because it involves one of our culture’s most common foods (and one of my favorites): eggs.
Let me say quickly that there isn’t a clear, straightforward correlation between eating eggs and cancer risk. But there are some health-related findings that give cause for concern. Specifically, eggs may be linked to the progression of cancer.
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I’m glad to say I’m one of them. And you can be, too…
First, some good news. Eggs are widely known to be loaded with high quality protein, as well as a valuable B vitamin called choline. A large portion of eggs is saturated fat, and between 60 and 70 percent of all calories in an egg come from fat. They’re high in cholesterol, at 213 milligrams per egg on average.
Are these reasons for concern? No. There’s no correlation between cholesterol in the diet and high blood levels of cholesterol in humans. And to take it a step further, the evidence is weak-to-pathetic that high blood cholesterol is a cause of heart disease.
The possible problem with eggs is something else completely. . .
The research raises new concerns
Despite their popularity, eggs appear to have a significant negative effect on certain types of cancer. Let’s start by looking at the effect of eggs on prostate cancer. Harvard researchers looked at over one thousand men with early stage prostate cancer and followed their diets for a few years.
What they found is unsettling: Men who ate even less than one egg a day had a significant two-fold increased risk of prostate cancer progression, when compared to men who hardly ever ate eggs. The only thing that made the risk worse was eating chicken with the skin on it, which gave them a four-fold risk of cancer progression.
In the Harvard study, the researchers concluded it was possible the choline in eggs increased inflammation within the body. Choline may (that word again) increase a person’s overall risk of cancer development, spread, and cancer-related death. And eggs are the most concentrated source of choline in the American diet.
This “guess” on the part of the researchers strikes me as nonsense. It might even be another backdoor attack by mainstream doctors on nutritional medicine. The evidence is overwhelming that most Americans are deficient in choline. I guess it’s possible if someone eats two or three eggs a day and maybe supplements with B vitamins to boot, they’re getting too much choline. It’s a stretch.
I don’t think it’s the choline. But even so, the results suggest something in eggs may be contributing to cancer, and this study is not the only evidence. Let’s go on. . .
Another study published by the New England Journal of Medicine fed participants hard-boiled eggs in place of steak. Interestingly, the egg-eaters experienced a spike in the same toxic TMAO compound you’d normally get from eating red meat, which can lead to disease development including strokes and heart attacks.
In Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention, researchers found an increased risk of ovarian cancer resulting from increased egg consumption. At first, they speculated it was due to the cholesterol content in eggs, but later found that to be unrelated.
One possible explanation proposed by the researchers was the fact that most of the commercially produced eggs available during the study (this was 1996 in Australia) contained residues such as dieldrin and DDT, along with its metabolites DDE and DDD. Interestingly, home-raised eggs were even more likely to contain these residues than commercial eggs. The researchers believe prolonged exposure to these residues could be harmful.
Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Whenever I see one of these studies suggesting that eating meat (and now eggs) raises cancer risk, my first question is whether it’s the pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics in conventional meat that pose the real problem. It’s safe to say that nearly ALL the people in these studies eat conventionally grown food.
Another question I have is what OTHER habits do heavy meat-and-egg eaters have? Over the past thirty years or so, people who are health-conscious have tended to eat little or no meat and they’ve avoided eggs because of the (phony) cholesterol scare. But such people also tend to take supplements, exercise, meditate, get enough sleep, etc. They go the last mile to take care of their health.
I suspect that people who chow down every day on red meat are less likely to practice this constellation of good habits. We also know that a huge proportion of ALL meat consumption takes place in fast food restaurants. If you eat large amounts of meat or eggs, it’s likely you’re doing it at Burger King or MacDonald’s or Ihop.
It’s possible that this heavy meat-and-egg-consuming population has a whole collection of other bad habits that contribute to cancer.
This is all speculation on my part, and I have to admit that some of the evidence against eggs is giving me second thoughts.
In a 1992 analysis published by the International Journal of Cancer, folks who ate just 1.5 eggs a week had almost five times the risk of colon cancer, compared to those who ate fewer than 11 eggs per year.
On top of that, a 2011 study from the National Institutes of Health showed men who ate just 2.5 eggs each week were at 81% increased risk for a deadly form of prostate cancer. And a 2005 study published in International Urology and Nephrology showed moderate egg consumption tripled the risk of bladder cancer.
Is there a safer alternative?
The obvious question may be to ask whether free-range or organic eggs are better than their commercial counterparts.
In some studies, scientists have found that free-range eggs are no better for us than the crowded factory-farm alternative. They have the same levels of vitamins and cholesterol. But the researchers were looking at nutrient levels, not at levels of pesticides or hormones. In short, they didn’t look at the most important difference between organic products and conventionally grown.
Other egg research concludes that free-range eggs do in fact have more nutrition, but that those nutrients are destroyed in the cooking process. The researchers’ recommendation is to eat your eggs raw, making sure they’re pastured organic, so they aren’t contaminated with salmonella bacteria.
I eat from two to four eggs per week (organic, of course). I may cut that down to no more than two, just to be sure I’m dodging whatever bullet may be lurking there. I’ll be watching this topic for further developments.