Vegetarians have 32% less risk of heart disease: A study
- Reported, February 04, 2013
are a third less likely to need hospital treatment for heart disease or die from
it, claim researchers. The largest study of its kind found vegetarians have
healthier hearts than those who eat meat or fish. It is thought the benefits
come from lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels through eating
low-fat diets based on vegetables, whole grains and fruit.
The study of almost 45,000 volunteers included a high proportion of vegetarians
– 34 per cent – and mostly women, which resulted in ‘clear findings’, said
Co-author Professor Tim Key, deputy director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at
the University of Oxford, said: ‘The results clearly show the risk of heart
disease in vegetarians is about a third lower than in non-vegetarians.’
An estimated three million Britons, around 5 per cent, are vegetarian and never
eat meat or fish. The study recruited English and Scottish volunteers who
completed questionnaires on health and lifestyle, diet, exercise, smoking habits
and alcohol consumption.
Almost 20,000 also had their blood pressures recorded and gave blood samples for
cholesterol testing. Over an average follow-up period of 11.6 years, scientists
recorded 1,066 hospital admissions due to heart disease, and 169 deaths.
Being vegetarian reduced the risk of death or hospital admission from heart
disease by 32 per cent, after adjusting for factors such as age, sex, physical
activity, smoking, alcohol consumption, education and social background.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The main
reason for the difference is thought to be the effect of a low-fat vegetarian
diet on cholesterol and blood pressure.
Vegetarians had lower levels of harmful cholesterol in their blood and reduced
systolic, or maximum, blood pressure. In addition they tended to be slimmer,
with a lower body mass index, and they were less likely to be affected by
Dr Francesca Crowe, author of the study at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the
University of Oxford, said: ‘Most of the difference in risk is probably caused
by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of
diet in the prevention of heart disease.’
Red meat, especially processed meat, contains ingredients that have been linked
to increased risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and
These include heme iron, saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and certain carcinogens
that are formed during cooking.
Eating more vegetables and fruit may also help through their antioxidant
effects, combating harmful naturally occurring chemicals in the body.
Official advice from the Department of Health in 2010 said cutting down on red
meat could reduce the risk of bowel cancer.
A study of 120,000 Americans last year made similar findings. It showed a
greater risk of premature death, including heart disease, from diets high in red
meat which could be cut by substituting other forms of healthy protein. British
Heart Foundation dietitian Tracy Parker said: ‘This reminds us that we should
try to eat a balanced and varied diet – whether this includes meat or not.’