For people who struggle to keep their blood cholesterol down, it can be unnerving to hear about individuals who do so with ease no matter what they eat.
Those who struggle might want to stop reading now. For according to a report to be published today, there is an 88-year-old man in Denver who has eaten 25 eggs a day for the past 15 years, with no apparent ill effects.
This comes to 5,300 milligrams of cholesterol a day, 5,000 more than what is recommended for ordinary Americans. Yet the man's cholesterol level is a reasonable 200 milligrams (per 100 milliliters of blood serum), and he has no clinical evidence of serious atherosclerosis.
His blood level of the artery-damaging LDL cholesterol is normal (142 milligrams), and his level of the heart-protective HDL cholesterol is average (45 milligrams).
Dr. Fred Kern Jr., who described the man in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, said he suffered from a compulsion to eat eggs, apparently for complex psychological reasons.
The man, who was not identified by name, soft-boiled the eggs and ate them throughout the day, Dr. Kern wrote, adding, "Efforts to modify the behavior had been unsuccessful. The patient stated, 'Eating these eggs ruins my life, but I can't help it.' "
But Dr. Kern said the man, who lives in a retirement community, might have one of the most efficient
body mechanisms for regulating blood cholesterol yet studied. His body seems to handle cholesterol more as a true carnivore would than an omnivorous human.
Dr. Kern, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, explained in the article that only 18 percent of the cholesterol the man consumed seemed to be absorbed through his intestines.
Dr. Kern, who has been studying the intricacies of cholesterol metabolism in 11 healthy volunteers, said people normally absorbed about 55 percent of dietary cholesterol in a low-cholesterol diet (219 milligrams a day) and 46 percent in a very high-cholesterol diet (1,156 milligrams a day).
In addition, the egg-eating 88-year-old converted twice the usual amount of cholesterol into bile acids, which are excreted and have no ill effect on blood vessels. And his own body's production of cholesterol was significantly lower than normal.
The result of the man's highly unusual "physiologic adaptations" to ingested cholesterol, Dr. Kern said, would leave little if any dietary cholesterol to raise his blood cholesterol and clog his arteries.
Dr. Kern pointed out that individuals varied greatly in how their bodies handled dietary cholesterol. Some can eat cholesterol-rich foods without a significant rise in cholesterol levels. But he said that in 13 years of study involving more than 200 people, he had never seen anyone as immune to dietary cholesterol as this man.