Study Finds Eating Increased Egg Consumption May Offer Protection Against Osteoporosis

23 March 2024 1592
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Having scrambled eggs for breakfast may not only provide you with energy but can also build up your skeletal strength, according to recent reports.

A study conducted in the month of January found that consumption of whole eggs is linked to an increase in bone mineral density within the US population. This finding was published in the journal - Food and Function.

Traditionally, leafy greens and dairy products, being rich in calcium, have been spotlighted as healthiest for our bones. However, this new study might add eggs to the list of dietary options to prevent osteoporosis.

A study author, Dr. Weihong Chen, chief of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, stated that this is not the first study to associate egg consumption with bone health.

A preprint scoping review from last October suggested that eggs can help improve bone density and reduce the risk of fractures in the elderly. A 2021 study from the Journal of Midlife Health also showed a similar correlation between the intake of whole eggs and healthier bones, as indicated by Chen.

In Dr. Chen's opinion, her research may have a deeper impact than previous ones, given that it involves a larger number of participants.

Experts weigh in on the study and how eggs can potentially act as an armour against osteoporosis.

As part of their efforts to study the effects of a diet enriched with eggs on individuals' bone health, Chen and her team conducted a study on over 19,000 individuals who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study analyzed data collected during the years 2005–2010, 2013–2014, and 2017–2018.

The team had data about participants' bone mineral density as well as their responses about egg consumption. Their analysis showed that subjects who consumed at least two large eggs or 3.53 ounces of whole eggs daily had significantly higher bone mineral density in their femurs and spines.

Notably, bone mineral density reveals the level of calcium and other minerals present in bones. Having a low bone mineral density is indicative of osteoporosis, a condition where bones are less dense and more prone to fractures.

As people age, bone loss tends to exceed bone formation, hence increasing their osteoporosis risk. Post-menopausal women are particularly at a higher risk, given the drop in estrogen levels that help build and maintain healthy bones.

However, age and gender alone don't determine osteoporosis risk. Bad lifestyle habits like insufficient nutrition, lack of physical activity, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and prolonged use of some medications such as corticosteroids can also contribute to this condition.

While eggs' high-protein-low-calorie profile makes them an attractive breakfast choice, eggs may not be the first consideration for supporting bone health, given their low calcium content.

Nevertheless, the study in Food and Function journal suggests that eggs can increase the activity of a group of bodily enzymes known as alkaline phosphatase, which promotes bone strength.

Dr. Chen explained, “Alkaline phosphatase is present mainly in the liver, bones, kidneys and is a biomarker of bone metabolism. While this is not part of the egg, consuming whole eggs can impact the production of ALP, significantly affecting the bone mineral density of both the femur and the lumbar spine.”

The team found that about 72% of the effect of eggs on femur bone density and 83% on lumbar spine bone density could be attributed to ALP's role.

Chen suggested that the benefits of eggs on these bone areas are mostly due to their influence on ALP levels.

Aside from this, eggs also contain many nutrients that are beneficial for healthy bones.

Kathryn Piper, RDN, a registered dietician and the founder of The Age-Defying Dietitian, claimed that eggs are rich in vitamin D which aids in the absorption of calcium by the body. They also contain ample protein, zinc and other minerals, all of which are crucial for overall bone health.

Moreover, this protein content in eggs can be another factor responsible for their bone-building capabilities. Dr. Chen stated, “Eggs are an excellent source of protein. Previous studies have shown the critical role protein plays in metabolism of calcium and phosphorus, transportation of vitamins, and maintaining the balance in bone remodeling.”

Egg protein even contains amino acid sequences called bioactive peptides that may have extra benefits for bones, she noted.

For years, discussion around the healthfulness of eggs has been fraught with concerns about their leading to high cholesterol or cardiovascular disease. However, research suggests eggs can be part of a heart-healthy diet, and the American Heart Association even encourages Americans to eat eggs daily as a source of high-quality protein.

“Studies suggest that moderate egg consumption (around one to two whole eggs daily) doesn’t significantly impact cholesterol levels in healthy individuals,” Piper added.

People with pre-existing high cholesterol should discuss their egg intake with their doctor, said Piper, but in general, eating about two eggs daily seems to boost both heart and bone health.

When incorporating eggs into a healthy diet, just remember that the way you cook them matters.

“Boil, poach, or lightly scramble eggs with minimal oil,” Piper suggested. “These cooking methods maximize the nutritional benefits of eggs without adding unhealthy fats.”

Additionally, what you put with eggs can add to or detract from the healthfulness of a meal.

“For a more balanced approach, combine eggs with nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits,” she added. “Think veggie-filled omelets, avocado toast, salads, or whole-wheat sandwiches featuring eggs.”