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Why Are Eggs Linked to Cancer Progression?

About two million men in the U.S. are living with prostate cancer, but that’s better than dying from prostate cancer. Catch it when it’s localized and your 5-year survival is practically guaranteed, but once it really starts spreading your chances drop to 1 in 3. So Harvard researchers took more than a thousand men with early stage prostate cancer and followed them for a couple years to see if there was anything in their diet associated with a resurgence of the cancer, such as spread to the bone.

Compared to men who hardly ate any eggs, men who ate even less than a single egg a day had a significant 2-fold increased risk of prostate cancer progression. The only thing worse was poultry (with skin) consumption, which showed up to 4 times the risk of progression among high-risk men. Researchers  believe the higher risk might be caused by the cooked meat carcinogens, heterocyclic amines that build up more in chicken and turkey muscle than in other meats.

But what about the eggs? Why would less than once a day egg consumption double the risk of cancer progression? The Harvard paper suggests that the choline in eggs may increase inflammation.

As I explained in my video Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection, eggs are the most concentrated common source of choline in the American diet, which may increase the risk of cancer emergence, spread, and lethality. Another Harvard study, entitled Choline Intake and the Risk of Lethal Prostate Cancer, found that those with the highest choline intake had a 70% increased risk of fatal prostate cancer. Another recent study found that men who consumed 2 and a half or more eggs per week—that’s just like one egg every three days—had an 81% increased risk of lethal prostate cancer.

In the New England Journal of Medicine the same Cleveland Clinic research team that performed the famous study on carnitine (see my last Care2 post Avoid Carnitine and Lethicin Supplements), tried feeding people hard-boiled eggs instead of steak. As they suspected, the egg-eaters experienced a spike of the same TMAO compound associated with red meat consumption (and strokes, heart attack, and death).

It’s ironic that the choline content of eggs is something the egg industry actually boasts about. And they are aware of the cancer connection. Through the Freedom of Information act I was able to get my hands on an email (displayed in the above video) from the executive director of the industry’s Egg Nutrition Center to an American Egg Board executive talking about how choline may be a culprit in promoting cancer progression: “Certainly worth keeping in mind as we continue to promote choline as another good reason to consume eggs.”

For another behind-the-curtain peek at the egg industry, see Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis and Egg Industry Blind Spot.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos here and watch my full 2012-2013 year-in-review presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Related:
Flaxseeds for Prostate Cancer
Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis
Treating an Enlarged Prostate With Diet

Read more: Health, Cancer, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Men's Health, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at NutritionFacts.org.

70 comments

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7:58AM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

Now I've read other people's comments, I have further thoughts. No matter what factory farmers do to chickens, they are still birds, with the same feelings and instincts as other birds. Now British egg-laying chickens now have to be kept in 'enriched' cages (hmmm....) and I forget the amount of crowding allowed. However a few years ago there was a study done by a celebrity chef on the differences between raising free-range chickens and factory farmed chickens for meat, according to government regulations.

When the factory farmed birds were almost ready for slaughter they were packed in so tight that they were crapping all over each other. They simply couldn't help it! Now birds have a high rate of metabolism that requires plumage to be kept in perfect order. So they kept preening. Of course they couldn't do this without swallowing crap, so that forms part of the diet of the chickens many people are happy to eat!

Duh! I promptly stopped eating cheap chicken!

6:22AM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

The eggs I eat come from free-range happy chickens and they are right up there with chocolate as my two favourite foods! Not that I eat that many eggs - it depends on having the time to drive down the little lanes where eggs are for sale at the farm gate, (with an honesty box for the money) and not expensive because passing traffic is light.

Thre is, and always has been, a food scare about something or other. I suspect this is another Care2 story aimed at turning us all vegan.

1:10AM PDT on Jul 4, 2013

Thanks for posting.

10:29PM PDT on Jun 30, 2013

Could be the hormones used in egg and fowl farming. I don't buy the egg theory. I know a person who never eat eggs and he had prostate cancer and is fine now. This is also the case with my father. Nothing to do with eggs.

11:43AM PDT on Jun 30, 2013

Thanks for sharing!

1:35AM PDT on Jun 29, 2013

Thanks for sharing!

2:53AM PDT on Jun 27, 2013

Would that apply to the eggs laid by our own hens, freely foraging on our herb invested grounds... and are very happy indeed?

6:21PM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

interesting

2:17PM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

smh

10:25PM PDT on Jun 24, 2013

How horrible ... need to think twice before buying ...

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