Are eggs good or bad for your health?

Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is one of the skeptics. Willett, who co-authored a study last year that found that eating one egg per day did not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, commented on the new findings in a February 9, 2021, CNN article. “The study results are problematic because they only asked people once about their egg consumption, then followed them for many years without checking to see if their diet had changed,” he said. “They’re only getting a snapshot in time.”

While there has been ongoing concern that the cholesterol in eggs could lead to health problems, Willett said that cholesterol’s role in the diet is “more complicated than we used to think.” He said that the key is to look at the overall nutritional pros and cons of a particular food, as well as what that food is replacing in the diet.

“If someone replaces eggs with doughnuts, other refined starches and sugar or saturated fats, I’d rather they eat eggs,” Willett said. “But for someone who really wants to be in optimal health, putting the emphasis on plant-based protein sources like steel-cut oatmeal and nuts would be a better way to go.” He added that certain populations, such as people on cholesterol-lowering medications, “would be better off keeping eggs on the low side.”

In general, he said, “I think the old recommendation of not more than two eggs per week for most people is actually still a good recommendation.”

Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps reduce the risk of dementia

People can reduce their risk of dementia by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, according to new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) today.

Exercise help helps reduce the risk of dementia. Photo credit: Harvard Health

“In the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We need to do everything we can to reduce our risk of dementia. The scientific evidence gathered for these Guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain.”

The Guidelines provide the knowledge base for health-care providers to advise patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia. They will also be useful for governments, policy-makers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programmes that encourage healthy lifestyles.

The reduction of risk factors for dementia is one of several areas of action included in WHO’s Global action plan for the public health response to dementia. Other areas include: strengthening information systems for dementia; diagnosis, treatment and care; supporting carers of people with dementia; and research and innovation.

WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory, launched in December 2017, is a compilation of information about country activities and resources for dementia, such as national plans, dementia-friendly initiatives, awareness campaigns and facilities for care. Data from 21 countries, including Bangladesh, Chile, France, Japan, Jordan and Togo, have already been included, with a total of 80 countries now engaged in providing data.

Creating national policies and plans for dementia are among WHO’s key recommendations for countries in their efforts to manage this growing health challenge. During 2018, WHO provided support to countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Qatar, Slovenia and Sri Lanka to help them develop a comprehensive, multi-sectoral public health response to dementia.

An essential element of every national dementia plan is support for carers of people with dementia, said Dr Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO. “Dementia carers are very often family members who need to make considerable adjustments to their family and professional lives to care for their loved ones. This is why WHO created iSupport. iSupport is an online training programme providing carers of people with dementia with advice on overall management of care, dealing with behaviour changes and how to look after their own health.”

iSupport  is currently being used in eight countries, with more expected to follow.

Dementia: a rapidly growing public health problem

Dementia is an illness characterized by a deterioration in cognitive function beyond what might be expected from normal ageing. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement. Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer disease or stroke.

Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally. There are nearly 10 million new cases every year. Dementia is a major cause of disability and dependency among older people. Additionally, the disease inflicts a heavy economic burden on societies as a whole, with the costs of caring for people with dementia estimated to rise to US$ 2 trillion annually by 2030.

Moderate egg consumption likely OK for most healthy people

Last month, a study reported that consuming as few as three eggs a week could increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and premature death. But an April 22, 2019 New York Times article suggests that people consider the study in context before giving eggs up.

Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said that the new study contradicts previous research, most of which suggests that moderate egg consumption is not associated with a significant increase in cardiovascular risk. He said that eating three or four eggs a week doesn’t appear to have a major effect on blood cholesterol for people who don’t already have high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.

One reason for the study’s contradictory findings may be its design, Hu said. Because it only looked at egg consumption—and not on the overall diets of participants—it’s hard to know if eggs are truly the culprit behind the apparent increase in disease risk. Hu said that the foods people ate with their eggs, or instead of eggs, makes a difference. If those who ate fewer eggs were instead eating low-fat yogurt with fruit, nuts, or whole grains, they would likely demonstrate good health, Hu said. And people who eat more eggs may also be loading up on foods like sausage, bacon, and buttered white toast, which could negatively affect their health.

Contradictory findings are a normal part of the scientific process, Hu said, noting, “In forming guidelines, you have to look at the totality of evidence rather than overreact to a single new study.”