Study Suggests Vegetarians Have Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide February 06, 2013
  • Love your kale? Can't get enough squash? Craving carrots? Researchers continue to point to the power of a produce-based diet to help people lower health risks.


    A new study out of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom found that vegetarians are one third less likely than meat and fish eaters to go into the hospital or die from heart disease. In this study, the researchers followed 44,561 people who lived in England and Scotland. These study participants initially reported on their diet, lifestyle and general health in the 1990s as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford Study. At that time, 34 percent of the participants said they ate a vegetarian diet and did not eat meat or fish. Slightly less than half of the participants had their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly until 2009.


    The researchers followed the participants over the next 12 years and found that 1,235 were hospitalized for heart disease, including heart attacks. Of those, 169 died of cardiovascular disease.


    After statistically controlling their analysis for age, exercise habits and other health-related variables, the researchers found that vegetarians are 32 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease people who eat meat. The researchers also found that vegetarians had a lower body mass index (BMI), lower LDL cholesterol (which is the bad form of cholesterol), and lower systolic blood pressure than participants who were not vegetarians.


    There were some limitations in this study. For instance, the vegetarians were approximately a decade younger than participants who ate fish and meat. This difference could skew results of the study. In addition, Dr. Stephen Green, associate chairman of the department of cardiology at New York’s North Shore University Hospital cautioned there could be differences between the participants in the study and Americans. "These people are much thinner than Americans, smoke less and are more active," Dr. Green told HealthDay reporter Robert Preidt. "With respect to this study, the average BMI [body-mass index, a measure of weight vs. height] in this study is between 23 and 24, an increasingly rare number for Americans. For instance, this would be 6 foot tall, 173 pounds or 5 foot 3 inches and 132 pounds. These sort of weights are becoming increasingly uncommon in America."


    So is it good to go strictly vegetarian? I would suggest that that choice should come down to personal preference.  The challenge if you do decide to embrace a vegetarian diet becomes to make sure that you get the proper nutrients you need through what you eat. “Cutting out dairy, meat, fish, and poultry reduces your intake of vitamin B12 (important for nerve transmission and necessary for life), calcium (for strong bones, among other functions), iron (for blood), and zinc (for immunity and healing), just to name a few,” states Go Ask Alice!, a health question and answer Internet resource that’s produced by Alice! Health Promotion at Columbia University. This site also points out that protein has an important role in maintaining and repairing muscle tissue as well as manufacturing blood cells, antibodies, hormones and enzymes. However, some non-meat proteins such as tempeh, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, peanut butter, soymilk brown rice, whole wheat bread and broccoli, can be eaten to help fill this need. Finally, location may make being a vegetarian challenging since small town restaurants and grocery stores may not provide you with access to healthy meatless substitutions.


  • If you have reasons that you can’t just jump into a vegetarian diet, you can take baby steps. Learn more about eating a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet through information provided by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Fill your grocery cart with more vegetables and produce when you shop. Visit the farmer’s market. Slowly but surely, you can make small steps with your diet that can make a big difference.


    Primary Resources for This Sharepost:


    Crowe, F. L., et al. (2013). Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. American Society for Nutrition.


    Go Ask Alice! (2012). Pros and cons of vegetarianism. Columbia Health.


    Preidt, R. (2013). Vegetarianism may cut heart disease risk by third: study. MedlinePlus.com.

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