In studies discussed in the media, there has often been some controversy regarding dietary cholesterol. The following study provides some strong evidence that it is associated with heart disease:
Kromhout D, Menotti A, Bloemberg B, Aravanis C, Blackburn H, Buzina R, Dontas AS, Fidanza F, Giampaoli S, Jansen A
Division of Public Health Research, National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection, Bilthoven, The Netherlands.
Preventive Medicine [1995, 24(3):308-315]
BACKGROUND: In the Seven Countries Study associations between intake of individual fatty acids and dietary cholesterol were studied in relation to serum cholesterol and 25-year mortality from coronary heart disease. All analyses concern only intercohort comparisons.
METHODS: In the baseline surveys carried out between 1958 and 1964, risk factors for coronary heart disease were measured among 12,763 middle-aged men constituting 16 cohorts in seven countries. In 1987 and 1988 equivalent food composites representing the average food intake of each cohort at baseline were collected locally and analyzed in a central laboratory. The vital status of all participants was verified at regular intervals during 25 years of follow-up.
RESULTS: Of the individual saturated fatty acids, the average population intake of lauric and myristic acid was most strongly related to the average serum cholesterol level (r > 0.8, P < 0.001). Strong positive associations were observed between 25-year death rates from coronary heart disease and average intake of the four major saturated fatty acids, lauric, myristic, palmitic, and stearic acid (r > 0.8, P < 0.001); the trans fatty acid elaidic acid (r = 0.78, P < 0.001); and dietary cholesterol (r = 0.55, P < 0.05).
CONCLUSIONS: Interpreted in the light of experimental and clinical studies, the results of these cross-cultural analyses suggest that dietary saturated and trans fatty acids and dietary cholesterol are important determinants of differences in population rates of coronary heart disease death.
* Lauric acid's the component of triglycerides that's found in coconut oil. Myristic acid's found in butter and animal fats. Stearic acid's especially common in animal fats.
A 1997 study by Downie and colleagues tried to calculate the effect of switching the source of calories.
Objective: To determine the quantitative importance of dietary fatty acids and dietary cholesterol to blood concentrations of total, low density lipoprotein, and high density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Design: Meta-analysis of metabolic ward studies of solid food diets in healthy volunteers.
Subjects: 395 dietary experiments (median duration 1 month) among 129 groups of individuals.
Results: Isocaloric replacement of saturated fats by complex carbohydrates for 10% of dietary calories resulted in blood total cholesterol falling by 0.52 (SE 0.03) mmol/l and low density lipoprotein cholesterol falling by 0.36 (0.05) mmol/l. Isocaloric replacement of complex carbohydrates by polyunsaturated fats for 5% of dietary calories resulted in total cholesterol falling by a further 0.13 (0.02) mmol/l and low density lipoprotein cholesterol falling by 0.11 (0.02) mmol/l. Similar replacement of carbohydrates by monounsaturated fats produced no significant effect on total or low density lipoprotein cholesterol. Avoiding 200 mg/day dietary cholesterol further decreased blood total cholesterol by 0.13 (0.02) mmol/l and low density lipoprotein cholesterol by 0.10 (0.02) mmol/l.
Conclusions: In typical British diets replacing 60% of saturated fats by other fats and avoiding 60% of dietary cholesterol would reduce blood total cholesterol by about 0.8 mmol/l (that is, by 10-15%), with four fifths of this reduction being in low density lipoprotein cholesterol.
The following 2010 paper by Spence and colleagues specifically takes on the idea that egg yolks are okay for those with high cholesterol:
A widespread misconception has been developing among the Canadian public and among physicians. It is increasingly believed that consumption of dietary cholesterol and egg yolks is harmless. There are good reasons for long-standing recommendations that dietary cholesterol should be limited to less than 200 mg/day; a single large egg yolk contains approximately 275 mg of cholesterol (more than a day’s worth of cholesterol). Although some studies showed no harm from consumption of eggs in healthy people, this outcome may have been due to lack of power to detect clinically relevant increases in a low-risk population. Moreover, the same studies showed that among participants who became diabetic during observation, consumption of one egg a day doubled their risk compared with less than one egg a week.
Diet is not just about fasting cholesterol; it is mainly about the postprandial effects of cholesterol, saturated fats, oxidative stress and inflammation. A misplaced focus on fasting lipids obscures three key issues. Dietary cholesterol increases the susceptibility of low-density lipoprotein to oxidation, increases postprandial lipemia and potentiates the adverse effects of dietary saturated fat. Dietary cholesterol, including egg yolks, is harmful to the arteries.
Patients at risk of cardiovascular disease should limit their intake of cholesterol. Stopping the consumption of egg yolks after a stroke or myocardial infarction would be like quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer: a necessary action, but late. The evidence presented in the current review suggests that the widespread perception among the public and health care professionals that dietary cholesterol is benign is misplaced, and that improved education is needed to correct this misconception.