David A. Frantz, J.D.
Eggs and cigarettes? No, we aren’t talking about some deranged rockstar brunch or the grocery list of an over-worked grad student. The association between these two plainly different things is found, most prominently at least, in the documentary “What The Health?”. The initial argument on this topic is relatively plain: Eggs are bad. So bad, however, that according to their research, eating one egg is akin to smoking 5 cigarettes. This claim is dubious in more ways than one.
The Purple Cow Effect
The initial objective for information-providers in 2017, when information flows more freely and abundantly over the internet than the waters tumbling over Niagara Falls, is to make one’s information stand out. People will look at a purple cow surrounded by hundreds of its ordinary brethren. Unique and terrifying headlines are the greatest (or at least most common) weapon in the war for people’s attention. Hence, placing eggs and cigarettes in the same sentence.
Of course, I did mention, in a rather clunky metaphor just above this paragraph, that information is out there in droves, easily accessible to millions thanks to the internet. All of this information claims to be true and accurate, the divine word, the final say on all things nutrition, or bigfoot, or great wonders of the world that aliens may or may not have built. The point is, to the unindoctrinated, or even to the unexpecting consumer of this information, it can be difficult to find one singular concrete fact to apply to your own life and diet.
Before we go on, we all here at DIOXYME feel it is necessary to make one thing clear: we are subjected to no lobbying efforts on either side of the Egg debate, nor are we influenced by any external forces in making what we believe are intelligent, informed, and helpful recommendations.
Here is a true story: for son’s my sixth-grade science project on extrasensory perception (ESP) he interviewed a grand total of two people. Two. With respect to my son, who is much older and at least a bit wiser, I can say that his “study” was inarguably terrible.
And that is what I want you to pay attention to when studies are published. You don’t need a scientist to criticize a study like most tend to—lazily, lacking specifics, saying things like “the methods used were unsophisticated”—because the reliability of a study is based on logical factors. Let’s dissect the obvious reason why the ESP study was a failure. The sample size, or the amount of data collected, was wildly and insanely low. It’s like watching two minutes of a two-hour movie—you don’t know what it’s about, what happens in it, or whether or not its good enough to recommend to a friend.
Unfortunately, in the context of scientific studies, “watching the whole flick” would mean testing all 7 billion humans alive on the planet today. We don’t need to get into why that just isn’t happening. But, the closer we can get to that number, the more we can learn.
Cigarettes and Eggs; Vol. 2
The cigarette and egg analogy was born out of this study:
Effect of Dietary Cholesterol and Egg Consumption On Mortality And Cardiovascular Risk in the REGARDS Study
J David Spence, Suzanne Judd, Virginia Howard, Monika Safford, George Howard Stroke. 2015;46:A83 Link
We are going to discuss why methodology in studies is critically important to measure a study’s reliability, so let’s break down the “Methods” section of this study’s abstract:
A longitudinal cohort study of 30,239 community-dwelling black and white individuals aged 45+ years, recruited between January 2003 and October 2007 from the 48 contiguous states. The study oversampled black participants (44%), and residents of the southeastern “stroke belt” (56%). We analyzed total mortality and atherosclerotic events (ischemic stroke, myocardial infarction and revascularization) after 4.9 (SD 1.7) years of follow up.
Ok. Pump the brakes for a second. A “longitudinal cohort study?” I’ll explain: Cohort studies are epidemiologic studies– they try to look at cause and effect in a population. They can implicate the cause of disease, but they work best for rare diseases that have a very specific cause and effect.
The biggest problem with this cohort study is that it was based on a large number of people who simply told their physicians what they ate. It was not a controlled study—in other words, not only were there many other variables out there that could have changed or influenced the results of the study, but the researches don’t seem to have even asked about the other variables. It is essentially a scientific study born out of a two or three question survey.
Correlation vs. Causation
There is a difference between correlation and causation. The concepts are easily explained with the help of the beloved, watermelon-smashing comedian, Gallagher. A person standing outside the theater every day will likely notice that while some people walk in clean, they walk out covered in smashed up watermelon. The observer doesn’t see anyone else walking out of other places with pieces of traumatized fruits all over them, and so he makes a connection: there is a relationship between people who go to Gallagher shows, and people who walk out of them covered in pink goo.
The observer cannot tell why this is happening. He is not inside the theater, watching Gallagher maniacally send his wooden mallet swooping into the giant green fruits. Of course, it is that barbarian-like action that causes the audience members’ stained clothing. But the observer would need to get closer to find that out.
The egg study showed a correlation between health risks and egg consumption—but that doesn’t mean one caused the other. That means that the cigarette and egg argument boils down to this: the charts and graphs on cardiovascular disease in egg eaters and cigarette smokers looked surprisingly similar. Doesn’t sound as sexy or as shocking as “eating an egg is the same as smoking five cigarettes,” does it?
Seriously, Can I Eat Eggs or Not?!
Yes. Of course. But now that we’ve gotten past the bombastic claims about eggs and cigarettes, know that eggs still aren’t all good or all bad. Let’s take a look a couple studies, briefly:
- 2016 Study published by the American Society for Nutrition.
- In this study, the researches singled out 1000 men who, by their genetic makeup, are considered highly-susceptible to Coronary Artery Disease, or CAD.
- Scientists conducted the study over five years and concluded that Egg or cholesterol intakes were not associated with increased CAD risk.
- 2005 Study published by the International Journal of Cardiology.
- This study examined egg consumption and endothelial function, which is a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease.
- The study was well controlled, however, scientists administered the trials over a 6 week period with a sample size of 49 men.
- The study concluded that “short-term egg consumption does not adversely affect endothelial function in healthy adults, supporting the view that dietary cholesterol may be less detrimental to cardiovascular health than previously thought.”
- So, although increased egg consumption did not harm these individuals, replacing them with oats did show benefits in their endothelial function, as well as lowered overall cholesterol.
- 2010 Study published by the Nutrition Journal.
- Researchers studied 40 people, this time with elevated cholesterol levels, and noted that eating eggs and other seemingly unhealthy foods did not heighten their cholesterol levels.
- Most importantly, however, the study showed that avoiding and replacing those eggs with egg whites did lower the overall cholesterol numbers.
A Changed Approach
The egg and cigarette analogy is, at its ugliest, a scare tactic. We don’t believe that sort of approach is necessary or helpful. When broad, sweeping claims like that one are paraded about in the media, it always pays to take a closer look.
There is a more powerful conclusion to be made here: the evidence suggests that substituting eggs with egg whites, oatmeal, and other alternatives can have positive, beneficial effects on a person’s overall health. Additionally, in our opinion, anything taken to an extreme may be detrimental.
With that said, there are now numerous studies that can be performed to give you a baseline on where your health may be: lipid fractions, cholesterol, LDL, HDL, ultrafast CT scan of the heart, ultrasound, etc. Certain choices you make in diet and supplementation can positively and negatively affect your health. The options are there, the choices are there. It is best to educate yourself on what you feel is important and modify, moderate, adjust what you need to enjoy your life and make it the way you want it to be.