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Podcast: Why Eggs Can Trigger Allergies and Autoimmune Disease

By The Paleo Diet Team
February 27, 2014
Podcast: Why Eggs Can Trigger Allergies and Autoimmune Disease image

Dr. Loren Cordain: I'm Loren Cordain, Founder of the Paleo movement.

Shelley Schlender: I'm Shelley Schlender. This is The Paleo Diet Podcast for June, 2013. Coming up we'll talk about eggs. They're a perfect food, but not for everyone, and not all of the time. Loren will explain why eggs can trigger allergies in some people and autoimmune disease in others. He'll start with the basic overview of why some foods can lead to a leaky gut, which can lead to autoimmune disease and allergies.

Dr. Loren Cordain: When we put food in our body that we have had very little exposure with on an evolutionary timescale, it tends to be problematic. When we look at the foods that we eat on a regular basis that are the high allergen type foods, are foods that hunter gatherers either rarely consumed or they only consumed seasonally.

Eggs and milk are major allergies. Hunter gatherers were opportunists. They would consume eggs whenever they were available, but they wouldn't consume them every day, day in and day out for the entire year. That's the pattern that we see; people get into these ruts with contemporary Paleo Diets, and they eat the same things every day.

My feeling is, is that if people end up with allergies or with autoimmunity, a good strategy is to rotate your diet. Rotate through these foods, try to identify them. Talking about eggs. Eggs are the reproductive material of birds. They're not making these things to feed predators. Okay? They're making them so that they can hatch and start the next generation.

Shelley Schlender: I've always thought of eggs as the perfect food because they can hatch a new generation, and if it's the perfect food for a bird, why isn't it the perfect food to eat?


Dr. Loren Cordain: Because what the bird is trying to do is ensure that the egg grows, the embryo grows, and that the egg itself isn't attacked by pathogens and bacteria. One of the evolutionary strategies with eggs is the egg white contains at least forty-seven different proteins. Okay? That's huge. Our muscles contain basically two. Actin and myosin. When you eat muscle meat there's only two proteins. When you eat egg white you're getting this enormous plethora of proteins, and there's 47 of them. Most of those egg white proteins have antibacterial or bacterial static properties.

Shelley Schlender: You mean that the proteins are going to help build the chick when it's born, but also they have a special power to fight off microbes?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Because the developing embryo has to break the shell, it's porous. If pathogens get through the shell, we need to have compounds that ward off so they don't infect the egg white.

Shelley Schlender: Well if the egg white has that, then why doesn't eating the egg white for me, keep me from getting microbes in me? Why doesn't that egg white help me fight off pathogens?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Most people, when you eat egg whites, you have enzymes. We have what are called proteases in our gut. There's trypsin and chymotrypsin, and so most people when you eat egg white, these proteases in the gut break the proteins and peptides into amino acids. I mentioned, we absorb amino acids, we typically don't absorb proteins, but egg white is a weird source of protein in that it contains as I mentioned, forty-seven different types of proteins.

One of the proteins that it contains is an enzyme called lysozyme. Lysozyme is an enzyme that we produce in our own bodies. When your eyes have tear in them, that's what keeps bacteria from infecting your eyes because you've got all this open tissue looking out. When you're washing it with tears, one of the enzymes that it contains is lysozyme. Lysozyme tends to breakdown the bilipid membrane of all cells. That's how it is antibacterial. It tends to breakdown bacterial membranes.


Shelley Schlender: It can basically chop up the membrane of any cell, and our bodies are made out of cells.

Dr. Loren Cordain: It doesn't really chop them up. It does it through a chemical means. It's got what's called a low isoelectric point. What a low isoelectric point does, is it facilitates transport among molecules through a membrane. Going back to egg whites, this is one of the reasons why so many people have allergic response to specific proteins in egg white.

Shelley Schlender: Well that's right. Eggs are a very common reason for IGE reactions. Which is the classic allergy reaction where somebody has to go to the hospital because they can't breathe.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yes, anaphylaxis. The sixty four thousand dollar questions is why is the immune system responding to a compound that should have been broken down by the proteases in the gut? What we think is going on is that because of lysozyme, which is one of the higher concentrations of the 47 proteins found in egg white; lysozyme tends to facilitate transport like a Trojan horse situation. In other words, lysozyme opens up the gut barrier and like a Trojan horse it allows access to these other peptides.

Shelley Schlender: Oh, so lysozyme doesn't necessarily setup the autoimmune reaction in the blood, but it makes the hole big enough that the other stuff that does bother the immune system, has a much easier time getting through?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah, that's what the thinking is. What we really need to do are radio isotopically labeled studies to show this effect. We do know at least one radio labeled study in humans showing that if you eat egg white lysozyme, egg white lysozyme is found in plasma within a half hour after eating; even in healthy normals. It tells us that egg whites are an unusual protein as opposed to meat.


Shelley Schlender: That's the reason why eating a whole bunch of eggs, even though they're a perfect food, may not be the prefect idea.

Dr. Loren Cordain: We used to be advised not to eat eggs because they're high cholesterol content, and that really doesn't seem to matter anymore now. We know that dietary cholesterol has a very minimal effect on blood cholesterol. Most clinical trials in which people are fed eggs or not fed eggs, shows that blood cholesterol levels really don't change much, and they actually seem to improve the lipid profile because HDL cholesterol goes up when you eat eggs and the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL goes down. Meaning that we have a beneficial lipid effect from eating eggs.

Shelley Schlender: From a nutrition standpoint they may be a great food, but if someone starts to get a runny nose after they've eaten eggs or they're just feeling a little bit off, then it might be good to consider not eating quite so many of them?

Dr. Loren Cordain: I think the percentage of the population has egg allergies less than 2%. Most people really shouldn't have problems with eggs, and eggs per se are a very healthy food. Particularly if you're eating Paleo. When you eat Paleo you tend to have a gut biome and intestinal permeability that are favorable so that you don't end up with a leaky gut because if you eliminate legumes and whole grains and certain dairy products, you won't have that problem.

One factor that I mentioned in my books is that capsaicin containing peppers or hot chili peppers that you get in cayenne pepper or habanero peppers, chili sauce and so forth, cause an acute leaky gut. People with allergy or people with autoimmune disease need to be cautious about those kinds of foods and spices.

Shelley Schlender: Because if you eat them, whatever you're eating with them might leak into your gut as undigested proteins, and that could wake up and bother your immune system?


Dr. Loren Cordain: That's absolutely right. This is work that came from our laboratory almost a decade ago. We published this paper in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2002, and it's been gratifying for me to see a major celiac scientist Alessio Fasano with the University of Maryland, to see his group making similar statements nearly a decade later. That a leaky gut seems to be one of the environmental triggers for autoimmunity. Their model of course is celiac disease, but they've been focusing in on Type I Diabetes as well and other autoimmune disease.

We’re starting to see this pattern appear again and again and again; including in multiple sclerosis patients, and rheumatoid arthritis patients, and others with common autoimmune diseases. That begs the question jeeze, if we can fix the leaky gut like we do when we get gliadin out of the diet, and we know that getting gliadin out of the diet tends to alleviate symptoms in most celiacs. Is there a potential effect for other autoimmune diseases?

This is where the Internet is running ahead of the envelope, is that people are already doing this with autoimmune disease by eliminating those foods that cause a leaky gut, and there's blogs and websites where people report some amazing recovery stories from diseases that were originally thought to be black box diseases.]

Shelley Schlender: Loren Cordain, we've been talking about the problems of eggs and the potential for them to cause immune problems in a body where the gut is leaky. Do you eat eggs?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Absolutely. When I was a teenager when springtime rolled around, I had hay fever really, really, bad when I was in my early teens. I don't have it anymore now, but in those days I was eating wheat. I noticed that when I stopped eating wheat and cereal grains my seasonal hay fever in the springtime completely went away. I really don't have any allergies and I enjoy eggs and eat them regularly.


We get the free ranging ones, and if you've never had a free ranging egg it's completely different than a store bought normal egg. The yolk is almost bright orange and it's just very flavorful. Eggs are a great contemporary Paleo diet food, and if you don't have allergies or autoimmune diseases then don't even give it a second thought. Eat as many eggs as you want because the cholesterol issue is a non-issue.

Shelley Schlender: If you do have allergies or sensitivities just check it out and see if it's one of them where you eat it less often.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Exactly. That's all for this edition of The Paleo Diet Podcast. Visit my website for past episodes and for hotlinks to the experts and studies that we talked about today.

Shelley Schlender: Our theme music was written and produced by Chapman Stick soloist Bob Culbertson.

Dr. Loren Cordain: If you want to send me questions or comments the place to go is

Shelley Schlender: For The Paleo Diet Podcast, I'm Shelley Schlender.

Dr. Loren Cordain: I'm Loren Cordain.

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