Is eating egg yolks as bad as smoking?
Eating egg yolks regularly increases plaque buildup about two-thirds as much as smoking does, according to a new study.
August 15th, 2012
05:38 PM ET

Is eating egg yolks as bad as smoking?

A new study suggests eating egg yolks can accelerate heart disease almost as much as smoking.

The study published online in the journal Atherosclerosis found eating egg yolks regularly increases plaque buildup about two-thirds as much as smoking does. Specifically, patients who ate three or more yolks a week showed significantly more plaque than those who ate two or less yolks per week.

It may seem harsh to compare smoking with eating egg yolks, but lead study author Dr. David Spence says researchers needed a way to put it into perspective since both eating cholesterol and smoking increase cardiovascular risks - but the general public believes smoking is far worse for your health.

The issue is with the yolk, not the egg, says Spence, who is also a professor of neurology at the University of Western Ontario's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. "One jumbo chicken egg yolk has about 237 milligrams of cholesterol."

Keeping a diet low in cholesterol is key, says Spence.  Even if you are young and healthy, eating egg yolks can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases later.

"Just because you are 20 doesn't mean egg yolks aren't going to cause any trouble down the line," he says.

Study: Egg yolk nearly as bad as smoking

For those patients with increased coronary risk, such as diabetics, eating an egg yolk a day can increase coronary risk by two to five-fold, he adds.

Atherosclerosis, also called coronary artery disease, occurs when plaque builds up in the blood vessels leading to the heart, specifically the inner arterial wall, and limits the amount of blood that can pass through.

Doctors write a prescription for fresh produce

In the study, researchers looked at 1,231 patients of the vascular prevention clinics at London Health Sciences Centre's University Hospital, with a mean age of 61.5. Each patient had already experienced a small stroke or  had high blood pressure, hypertension or a family history of cardiovascular disease. Spence says researchers chose to use patients with a higher likelihood of cardiovascular issues because it would have been harder to get visible results using the general population with a lower risk.

Patients were asked to fill out questionnaires about their diet, lifestyle and medications, including how much they smoked and the number of egg yolks they ate.  An ultrasound was performed to examine their plaque buildup. Researchers took into account sex, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, body mass index and diabetes.

In addition to relying completely on the recollection of patients as to what they ate, the study did not account for waist circumference and it did not account for a patient's exercise program.  And perhaps most notably, it only looked at patients with existing cardiovascular issues.

The study confirms what doctors already know about eating cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, says Dr, Gordon Tomaselli, chief of cardiology at John Hopkins University School of Medicine and the former president of the American Heart Association.

"Cholesterol intake should be limited to 300 milligrams a day, particularly in people who do not have underlying heart disease," he says.

However, people with high LDL blood cholesterol levels or those taking a blood cholesterol-lowering medication should eat less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day.

So what can you do to keep your heart healthy?

Talk to your doctor if you have a history of heart disease and consider a change in lifestyle – things like eating better, watching your cholesterol, stopping smoking, and exercising.

"The Last Heart Attack"

soundoff (1,086 Responses)
  1. Neeke

    that's hard to believe. since egg or egg yolk is organic. tar isn't. egg has protein-derived from amino acids. tar has toxic and noxious chemicals in it that your would reject. Is egg yolk really that bad for you?

    August 19, 2012 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Barbara Cooper

    Are these free range organic chicken egg yolks? I would only eat those anyway. The egg yolks we have in our stores are from chickens raised in toxic conditions. Remember that.

    August 19, 2012 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. PaleoDoc

    Sucks (again) for the egg industry. But, maybe the price will go down. More for me!!!

    August 19, 2012 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sam

    *Johns Hopkins University

    August 19, 2012 at 21:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Shawn

    Not sure this is good science. From what I've read, plaque is caused by inflammation and small, sticky LDL particles, which abound in folks who eat lots of carbs. Half of people who have heart attacks have low-normal LDL. I've also read that LDL particle size is inversely proportional to triglyceride levels, and lots of us have high triglycerides. I know people who eats lots of eggs, with yolks, who have normal LDL. Find a different area to report on, like why the USDA Diet guidelines are so heavily skewed in favor of the food industry.

    August 19, 2012 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gordio

      Exactly. This is old-school wrong cholesterol theory. New-school inflammation theory, as the one you describe, is correct. I eat 3 whole eggs a day. I guess my six pack abs is a heart attack waiting to happen!

      August 21, 2012 at 20:07 | Report abuse |
    • Dam Spahn

      Shawn, you are correct. Particle size determines whether or not cholesterol harms the arterial walls, causing plaque, Sugar and refined, processed flours have been shown to cause small particle size, so consuming those products is a great way to invite heart attack. This is a confounding variable, and since the authors of the study did not measure this factor, the results, while they make good TV, are not reliable. Never eat an egg, eat the sweet stuff, and you'll get heart disease. Ironically, it's the toast that one eats with the egg that has more potential for harm than they yolk.

      January 16, 2013 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
  6. Maribel Barquie

    I am not a doctor neither a science MaGoo! nevertheless, there are lots of proven home results benefits when it comes to this golden medal "The Egg" I believe that two eggs a week will enhance your health and its carrier "The Chicken" that
    always cures and restores people to wellness. You should eat the entire package except the feathers!

    August 20, 2012 at 05:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. tucsand

    Its not surprising, an egg of course in this sense comes from a chicken, that chicken eats a lot of food that has been sprayed with pesticides, so your eating not just the egg but also the pesticides sprayed on their food.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Poe

      Maybe it's simply poor qatliuy control (different is bad in our society, after all), or grade-AA eggs that were double-yolkers were brought down to grade-A (again, different is bad, so different means imperfect). or maybe you should've played the lottery. I don't know if there's a way to see if an egg has twins before cooking. Kinda cool though. Now I want one.

      September 11, 2012 at 07:28 | Report abuse |
  8. SMF

    Here we go again. For most of my adult lifetime "researchers" have been arguing about eggs, with eggs losing then winning seemingly in alternate years. I for one have had as many as six eggs daily and have never even come close to having cholesterol issues. Whoever funded this "research" must have something against the egg industry. Next year the egg will become "incredible and edible" again.

    August 20, 2012 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Notis

      Bad statistics. Bad design, bad acquisition of data in the worst possible conditions. People with serious health problems or anyone what will give answers are asked about things people do not generally report in precision. Add parameters that are practically impossible to isolate due to the multiple possible answers in each parameter. Ignore the error margin that is practically impossible to calculate with such low dataset quality. Mix, add some nonsense and feed the media. One "study" serves 1000 different pseudoscientific (unfounded) claims! This is not even statistics from a scientific point of view. This is what you get when you replace the scientific method applied in vitro and in vivo by well paid experts that are very good in their field, with a questionnaire, handled by underpaid and undereducated personnel and computers. Contradictions and nonsense. It came out of a computer, it has to be precise, right? 🙂

      October 24, 2012 at 18:55 | Report abuse |
  9. Layperson

    I hope Gupta and Cohen didn't write this, but some freshman intern!!! TERRIBLE ARTICLE SHOULD NOT BE PUBLISHED! I am not a scientist. But... This article says, "Specifically, patients who ate three or more yolks a week showed significantly more plaque than those who ate two or less yolks per week." I have learned that the word "SIGNIFICANTLY" merely means "statistically significant." not "a lot," as wae use it in lay conversation. So, it COULD mean that the difference is trivial, but statistically significant (that is, an actual difference, not due to small study size). THIS ARTICLE NEVER SAYS IF THE IMPACT OF EATING EGG YOLKS IS LARGE OR TINY! Also, well, it looks like lousy science to me. We don't know if the people who ate more egg yolks had worse outcomes (everyone in the study had heart disease). It doesn't take into acct excercise! or other dietary differences. Maybe the ones who ate more eggs were carnivores, and the ones who ate less were vegetarians. So... JUNK SCIENCE!!!!

    Finally, the comparison with smoking is stupid. The problem with smoking is its connection to CANCER. Most of us don't know the correlation between smoking and plaque in the arteries. For all I know, that could also be trivial.

    August 20, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. @RatnaVichitr

    Yes, I agree that the egg's yoke is as bad as smmoking, or even worse since it can cause a blood clot, particularly for senior citizens or older people. I do not eat it myself. When I want to eat an egg, I eat just the white part, and throw away the yoke.
    With respect and warm greetings to all!

    August 20, 2012 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. ren

    this comparison is sensationalist so-called medical reporting at its finest. the biggest health effect of smoking is on the lungs, not on the heart. it's probably news to a big part of the population that smoking actually causes harm to the arteries.
    The headline might as well have been "Obama almost as bad as Hitler" and in the content then explain "oh no, we are not talking about the whole genocide thing, just that Obama wants to raise taxes like Hitler did."
    completely irresponsible journalism.

    August 20, 2012 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andreia

      I made these cupcakes beofre and the same combo of cake and frosting too! I agree, it's not too delicate so I'm not a super huge fan of them. The look really cute though!

      September 11, 2012 at 10:35 | Report abuse |
  12. sena nyc

    I'd like to see a study that compares nuclear bombs with hamburger buns... this is absurd

    August 20, 2012 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mark

    If the main conclusion as presented in this article were true, the study subjects could nearly stop progression of their heart disease just by eliminating eggs from their diets. Right…

    August 20, 2012 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ambar

      Julia, this is to tell you that I would like to use your waffle putcire on my blog. Because today is Shrove Tuesday I am posting my pancake like recipes. But I don't actually have a putcire of my waffles and you have the same dishes I do, and you waffles look like mine. I hope you don't mind. If you do just let me know.

      September 14, 2012 at 00:19 | Report abuse |
  14. Jacob

    Humans should not be eating anything from an animal. Cow milk is for baby cows, chicken eggs are baby chickens. We drink humnan milk from our mothers when we are small and then it dries up until the next birth. It is not a shock to me becuase we should not be eating the eggs of chickens. It is very cruel and gross. Eggs also make your breath smell like ass.

    August 21, 2012 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • deet

      How dare you say this! You can not impose your vegan ways on humanity, it is cruel and unjust

      August 21, 2012 at 13:55 | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      WTH is cruel about eating an unfertilized egg? I think you might have just exposed your ignorance.

      August 21, 2012 at 23:40 | Report abuse |
    • Marcia

      "chicken eggs are baby chickens" = HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH since when? You didn't know the eggs we eat are not fertilized? Are you for real? You need more protein because your brain is gone, dude. LOL How old are you???

      November 12, 2012 at 19:04 | Report abuse |
  15. JFW

    Your body needs cholesterol. The HDL anyway. This article doesn't say what percentage is HDL LDL or vldl. I'd need more info before I would stop eating egg yokes.

    I've done some research and found there is no evidence that anyone has lived for ever. Everyone at some time is gong to die. You can stop eating egg yokes and get hit by a car.

    August 26, 2012 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. christakis

    There are other rsearches which found that eating eggs is the best food especially for babies !

    August 27, 2012 at 05:33 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Saha

      Go to Easter Eggs Level 1-9. Zoom out your screen. The Golden Egg is hieddn. You have to fling a white bird to the left and backwards of your screen, then drop a egg bomb. After hearing the explosion, the Golden Egg will appear on the far right of your screen. You can see Golden Egg #14 Video Walkthrough at here.

      September 13, 2012 at 22:57 | Report abuse |
  17. Bobby

    If anyone is actually interested in what REALLY causes an increase in susceptibility to heart and circulatory related health conditions you may want to consider reading "What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Heart Disease" by Dr. Mark Houston. He gives a very indepth and well rounded explination as to why injesting cholesterol not only does'nt increase your potential for heart conditions but also why it is absolutely imperative that you consume cholesterol (especially from organic/free range eggs) on a daily basis. He also describes what actually causes heart conditions and what you can do to stay healthy and heart disease free. For those of you that are not farmiliar with bio-chemistry and physiology, every single steroid hormone (including testosterone, progesterone, estrogens and cortisol to name a few) are made from cholesterol and there for if you are not consuming adequit levels of cholesterol steroid hormone levels will indefinitely decrease. This could exlain in part why the average adult american male's testosterone levels are 30% lower than the aveage adult american male's levels were 50 years ago (exposure to environmental toxins and xenoestrogens may be playing a large role as well). If you are not allergic to eggs (simple blood tests from your doctor can indicate food alergies) than you should consider consuming whole organic/free range eggs on a regular basis. They have an excellent profile of broad spectrum amino acids, micronutrients, and an excellent fatty acid profile that could potentially decrease your susceptibility to heart disease.

    August 27, 2012 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sheila

      Oh, but do I agree with you TOTALLY. Tired of people making false conclusions on something that is quite good for us. My grandmother is a feisty, healthy, 107 year old who, thank God does not have dementia/alzheimers. This wonderful lady has eaten her two eggs for breakfast (whole egg) every day since she was but a toddler and drank her WHOLE milk too!!!!!!!!! I understand she may be the exception but I am just sooooooooooooo tired of "so called well educated scientists" saying eggs are bad for you......as bad as smoking cigarettes??????!!!!! Wait, I got to go eat my eggs...:)

      November 10, 2012 at 12:43 | Report abuse |
  18. Curvature tensor

    And guess WHO funded the study?
    and i have seen john's hopkins FABRICATE results before..well known fact that medicine has become a pseudo science
    The great cholesterol problem was a marketing SHAM>

    August 27, 2012 at 15:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Santhosh

    I have those bad parents too and gnprdaarents etc all of them gave me the high cholesterol. I work out and eat fairly healthy but the number didn't come down without the lipator. I figure, 2 grandfathers died of heart attacks in their 50's, grandmothers and mom have all had strokes that I will take my chances with the lipator. I was switch to a statin because of the cost of lipator and had such horrible muscle pains I couldn't walk must less run! Went back to the lipator.

    September 11, 2012 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Hotse

    – This is so funny, I eat hard boiled eggs every once in alhiwe on my salads. But Kelsey LOVES eggs and I have been meaning to make her hard boiled to see if she likes them. I never seem to get it just right. I will write this down and hopefully be as lucky as you to make the perfect hard boiled egg! Thanks!

    September 11, 2012 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Merkhaat

    I have watched Shrek so many times (having 5 year old and 3 1/2 year old boys) and I can here dnekoy saying the waffle quote perfectly. Thanks for sharing your recipe with me. Sundays are our days to make a hot breakfest. Linda (LSN on SCS)

    September 14, 2012 at 02:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Aziz Shavershian

    And contrary to this article one would say the omega 3's in eggs help lower the ratio of omega6:omega3s reducing inflammation also factor in whether these eggs are organic, pastured, or your typical bleach white eggs

    November 15, 2012 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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  30. nomoreeggs

    The only reason I googled this is because I have just been dx with atherosclerosis. I am a 61 year old woman who looks in my 40's. I have always taken care of my health and eaten right through the years – or so I thought. I never had a problem with my cholesterol levels – my last LDL was 71. But, all of a sudden in the last few months, I couldn't feel my wrist pulses. I am going through all kinds of tests now, but the dx is atherosclerosis. While I was working the last 5 years or so I would take a hard boiled egg to work along with fruits, yogurt, healthy things. At dinner on some days I would make scrambled eggs with veggies. I never kept track of how much cholesterol I was eating because there didn't seem to be a problem blood test wise. I have now eliminated egg yolks completely and only eat the whites. Hopefully, the statins I have started can turn this around along with my low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet I am eating.

    October 17, 2013 at 22:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Anthony

    What did they eat in conjunction with egg yolk??? I am assuming a high carb/sugar diet as well. Egg yolk on their own are extremely nutritious, but if you eat the standard American which is high in fat AND carbs (DEADLY) then sure don't eat more egg yolks. Also, the participants may have filled out questionnaires but they did not have to follow any particular diet, so therefore this study is bogus and uses the typical American diet as a "crutch" to support their claims.

    December 13, 2013 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Ron Redlin

    It might not be the cholesterol, but it might be the huge amount of arachidonic acid found in egg yolks. This arachidonic acid can then lead to the over production in one's body of the bad eicosanoids\, leading to heart disease as well as a whole host of other ailments such as diabetes.

    See books written by Barry Sears, (Enter the Zone) or Protein Power by Michael R. Eades, MD for complete lucidation.

    January 27, 2014 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.