April 9/Washington/Obesity, Fitness & Wellness Week and Reuters -- Choline, an essential nutrient found in foods such as eggs, is associated with a 24% reduced risk of breast cancer, according to a study supported by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), to be published in The FASEB Journal's print issue in June. This study adds to the growing body of evidence that links egg consumption to a decreased risk of breast cancer.

In this new case-control study of more than 3,000 adult women, the risk of developing breast cancer was 24% lower among women with the highest intake of choline compared to women with the lowest intake. Women with the highest intake of choline consumed a daily average of 455mg of choline or more, getting most of it from coffee, eggs and skim milk. Women with the lowest intake consumed a daily average of 196mg or less.

"Choline is needed for the normal functioning of cells, no matter your age or gender," says Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD, University of North Carolina, who is an author of the study and a leading choline researcher. "Increasing evidence shows that it may be particularly important for women, particularly those of child-bearing age."

Only 10% of Americans currently meet the recommended intake for choline, identifying a need to increase choline intake across the population. According to the Institute of Medicine, adequate choline intake is 550mg per day for men and breastfeeding women, 425mg per day for women, and 450mg per day for pregnant women. One egg contains 125.5mg of choline, or roughly a quarter the recommended daily supply, making eggs an excellent source of this essential nutrient. Choline is found exclusively in the egg's yolk. Other top food sources of choline include liver, wheat germ and cauliflower.

"While choline is an essential nutrient to the human diet, most people haven't even heard of it," says Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor in chief of The FASEB Journal and research professor of medicine and director of the Biotechnology Study Center at the New York University School of Medicine. "Given that in the U.S. there is a real need to understand how much choline we require in our diet, we hope that research, education and awareness about choline will increase as a result of this study published in The FASEB Journal."

However, in other news, middle-aged men who ate seven or more eggs a week had a higher risk of earlier death, U.S. researchers reported.

Men with diabetes who ate any eggs at all raised their risk of death during a 20-year period studied, according to the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study adds to an ever-growing body of evidence, much of it contradictory, about how safe eggs are to eat. It did not examine what about the eggs might affect the risk of death.

Men without diabetes could eat up to six eggs a week with no extra risk of death, Dr. Luc Djousse and Dr. J. Michael Gaziano of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found.

"Whereas egg consumption of up to six eggs a week was not associated with the risk of all-cause mortality, consumption of (seven or more) eggs a week was associated with a 23% greater risk of death," they wrote.

"However, among male physicians with diabetes, any egg consumption is associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality, and there was suggestive evidence for a greater risk of MI (heart attack) and stroke."

They urged more study in the general population.

Eggs are rich in cholesterol, which in high amounts can clog arteries and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

One expert on nutrition and heart disease said the study suggests middle-aged men, at least, should watch how many eggs they eat.

"More egg on our faces? It's really hard to say at this point, but it still seems, if you're a middle-aged male physician and enjoy eggs more than once a day, that having some of the egg left on your face may be better than having it go down your gullet," said Dr. Robert Eckel of the University of Colorado and a former president of the American Heart Association.

"But, remember: eggs are like all other foods -- they are neither 'good' nor 'bad,' and they can be part of an overall heart-healthy diet," Eckel wrote in a commentary.

The Harvard team studied 21,327 men taking part in the much larger Physicians' Health Study, which has been watching doctors since 1981 who have agreed to report regularly on their health and lifestyle habits.

Over 20 years, 1,550 of the men had heart attacks, 1,342 had strokes, and more than 5,000 died.

"Egg consumption was not associated with (heart attack) or stroke," the researchers wrote.

However, the men who ate seven eggs a week or more were 23% more likely to have died during the 20-year period.

Diabetic men who ate any eggs at all were twice as likely to die in the 20 years.

Men who ate the most eggs also were older, fatter, ate more vegetables but less breakfast cereal, and were more likely to drink alcohol, smoke and less likely to exercise -- all factors that can affect the risk of heart attack and death.

From the April 14, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash