The news outlets were all a-flutter recently with headlines like Egg Yolk Consumption Almost as Bad as Smoking When It Comes to Atherosclerosis, Study Suggests (Source: ScienceDaily.com).
Way at the very, very end of the article it mentions, almost as an after-thought, that the researchers did not take into account exercise or waist circumference. And it seems that either the researchers or the author of the ScienceDaily article forgot to add that they also did not take alcohol consumption and other risk factors into account.
It’s the alarmist energy behind the headlines and the fact that the headlines are misleading that frustrates me so. I do not mean to single out ScienceDaily because this was all over the news media. (I just had expected more from ScienceDaily.)
I have learned that Googling the alarming information along with the words PubMed will usually get down to the real story. PubMed has a section called Behind the Headlines which is a good source of unbiased, non-sensationalistic information about medical/health related news.
PubMed’s conclusion about the study is as follows:
This study found that egg yolk consumption was associated with increased fatty build-up in the arteries of the neck, though this was small when compared to the build-up expected with age. This study has important limitations which mean that it cannot be concluded that egg yolks are as bad for you as smoking:
- Average egg yolk consumption per week and duration was evaluated through a questionnaire response. These are only estimates and may include a considerable degree of inaccuracy. Consumption may vary over time. We also don’t know how these eggs were prepared (boiled, fried in oil, scrambled in butter, etc).
- This wasn’t a trial, and so people are choosing the number of egg yolks they eat. People who ate more egg yolks may differ in other health and lifestyle factors from people who ate less, and this may account for their different artery build-up. For example, as the researchers rightly acknowledge, they did not thoroughly assess other dietary factors, exercise or waist circumference. It is possible that higher egg yolk consumption could be associated with less exercise and higher overall saturated fat intake – both well known risk factors for heart disease. The small changes in fatty build-up in the arteries seen with higher egg yolk consumption could have been accounted for by these other factors.
- None of the participants in this study were reported to be suffering from heart disease and the heart arteries were not examined.
- We do not know how or whether the extent of fatty build-up in the neck arteries was associated with build-up in the heart arteries.
- This is a relatively small, select sample of people attending a vascular clinic in Canada, and further quality studies would be needed to better assess the question.
This study perhaps best supports the notion of all things in moderation. Eggs are a good source of protein in addition to other vitamins and minerals and most experts advise that they can form part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Now in all fairness to ScienceDaily, at the end of the abstract of the study on the Atherosclerosis website, the author or editor put a “Highlights” section that was quite sensationalistic. It is clear from many of the news articles that if the journalists even looked at the abstract, then they just looked at the “Highlights” section. It appears to me that that was expected, probably even hoped for, by the journal and/or the authors.
Sensationalism makes news, so if you make the “Highlights” sensationalist you run a better chance that your “news” will get picked up by the media . . . and thusly misinformation can get spread!
- University of Western Ontario. “Egg yolk consumption almost as bad as smoking when it comes to atherosclerosis, study suggests.” ScienceDaily, 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 1 Sep. 2012.
- PubMed Health. “Eating egg yolks as ‘bad as smoking’.” Behind the Headlines, 15 Aug. 2012
- J. David Spence, David J.A. Jenkins, Jean Davignon. “Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque.” Atherosclerosis, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2012.07.032