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Scientists Develop Eggs That Don’t Boost Human Cholesterol Levels

May 2, 1988

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) _ Eggs laid by hens that were fed fish oil reduced blood pressure and blood fats in a small group of people and, unlike regular eggs, didn’t raise their cholesterol levels, a scientist said Monday.

The eggs used in the study smelled and tasted like fish, but that could probably be avoided by feeding hens deodorized fish oil, Suk Y. Oh, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Utah, said during the annual meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

If Oh’s preliminary findings are confirmed in a larger study, ″consumption of such eggs will not increase the risk of developing coronary heart disease″ no matter how many are consumed, he said.

Oh said fish oil-enriched eggs could join existing low-cholesterol egg substitutes in markets by summer 1989, but because of the price of fish oil, the eggs would probably cost about 40 percent more than regular eggs.

″It sounds really wonderful″ because U.S. egg consumption dropped in recent years due to public concern over cholesterol in eggs, said Pam Peterson, nutrition manager for the Egg Nutrition Center operated by the United Egg Producers and American Egg Board.

Oh’s development of the eggs drew cautious praise from the American Heart Association, which recommends people eat no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily because high levels of the fat-like substance in blood are linked to increased risk of hardening of the arteries, heart attacks and strokes.

A regular egg averages 274 milligrams of cholesterol, so ″the egg has taken, pardon the pun, a ... beating″ from heart specialists, despite their high nutritional value, said association spokesman Howard Lewis.

Oh’s study, funded by a fish oil manufacturer, ″is the type of research that is needed to find out how foods can be altered to make diets more healthful,″ Lewis said by telephone from Dallas. ″It’s a step forward.″

Oh agreed with Lewis that before the health benefits of the fish oil- enriched eggs are established, Oh’s study of 12 people who ate the eggs must be repeated in a larger group of people whose diets are otherwise identical.

Oh and scientists Theresa Hsieh, Jehong Ryue and Dean Bell fed hens for eight weeks with wheat-soy chicken feed enriched with fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids. Previous studies suggest people who consume cold-water fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, enjoy a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

In Oh’s study, 12 healthy people with normal blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides - fatty substances which also contribute to heart disease - were divided into two groups. Each person ate four eggs daily for eight weeks.

The first group ate fish oil-enriched eggs for the first four weeks, which significantly reduced their blood pressure and kept blood cholesterol virtually unchanged. When they switched to regular eggs for the last four weeks, their cholesterol levels increased 5 percent to 10 percent, their blood pressure rose to normal and their triglyceride levels rose significantly.

The second group started on regular eggs, which boosted their blood cholesterol significantly. When they switched to fishy eggs, their cholesterol levels dropped to normal and their blood pressure and triglyceride levels fell significantly.

The fishy eggs contain only 10 percent less cholesterol than regular eggs. Oh said he believes the fishy eggs prevented higher blood cholesterol levels because omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil replaced 15 percent of other fatty acids in the eggs. Those fatty acids spur formation of cholesterol in the bloodstream, he said.

Peterson said Oh’s findings support the egg producers’ viewpoint that blood cholesterol levels are affected more by consumption of saturated fat than by cholesterol intake.

″Often blood cholesterol and dietary cholesterol are not differentiated,″ she said. ″There’s no doubt blood cholesterol is an important risk factor for heart disease. But the link from dietary cholesterol to blood cholesterol levels is not consistent. The body’s response to dietary cholesterol is very individual.″

Egg producers are sponsoring studies of whether altering henhouse lighting and heating can change egg cholesterol concentrations, Peterson said. Lewis said scientists also are developing meats with reduced levels of harmful saturated fats.

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