Earlier this week, the Internet was filled with the news that “you might as well be a smoker if you eat eggs,” as our Deborah put it. What’s that joke about someone on the Internet being wrong? Well, whatever: Someone on the Internet was wrong! But not just on the Internet, I guess, because this news came from a fancy study published in a fancy journal called Atherosclerosis. But it was still wrong (or at least not right). Eat your (cage-free, organic) eggs, people! And don’t smoke.
Earlier in the week when I read headlines about this study, my first reaction was: I thought we’d all decided eggs weren’t killing us anymore? I should look into this further … And then I forgot about it. Until today. Because today eggs are back in the news, and also probably back to not killing us. Hooray!
Let me back it up a sec. The study: It looked at a bunch of patients with an average age of 62, some of whom really loved eggs and some of whom really loved cigarettes. Researcher David Spence then measured the amount of plaque in these folks arteries. The results? Both smoking and eating eggs were independently associated with plaque increases, and our incredible edible friends were almost as bad as cigarettes.
“The effect size of egg yolks appears to be approximately 2/3 that of smoking,” wrote Spence. “Probably egg yolks should be avoided by persons at risk of vascular disease.”
Here’s the problem, though: The conclusions are based on self-reported lifetime history of smoking and egg-eating — and only of smoking and egg-eating. While it’s entirely possible that people who ate a bunch of eggs filled the rest of their diets with kale and dust and steel-cut oats, it’s just as possible they were eating those eggs alongside bacon and sausage and Hollandaise sauce. In other words: Maybe eggs aren’t solely to blame here. In fact, we have no way of telling, based on this study, what role eggs specifically played in the development of these arterial plaques.
Antonis Zampelos, a nutrition professor of and Atherosclerosis’ “expert on dietary matters,” told Canada’s CBC News that these results lack validity.
“The results are not as strong as the statement that came out … I’m not saying that this is not an interesting study. I’m saying that you can’t really make such a strong statement about smoking.”
Spence said he agrees more information would have added weight to his research, “but he doesn’t think the results would have been any different.”
That’s all very well and good, Spence, except that the point of scientific research is to go above and beyond what one merely “thinks.” In fact, you might say that’s the major difference between, say, a journal like Atherosclerosis and The Internet, where people are so frequently wrong. In scientific journals, you don’t get to just declare things as true because you think them.
“This is very poor quality research that should not influence patient’s dietary choices,” Steven Nissen, chair of the department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, told ABC News. “It is extremely important to understand the differences between ‘association’ and ‘causation’.”