Vegetarians, pescetarians have lower risk of coronary heart disease — study
New research has found that those who follow a vegetarian or pescetarian diet may benefit from a lower risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) than those who follow a diet which includes meat.
Carried out by researchers from the Nuffield Department of Population Health in Oxford University, United Kingdom, the new study looked at data on 48,188 people with an average age of 45 years who had no history of CHD or stroke to investigate the risks of the two health conditions in meat eaters, pescetarians (those who eat some fish but not meat) and vegetarians.
The participants were classified according to the diet they followed, with the group including 24,428 meat eaters, 7,506 pescetarians and 16,254 vegetarians. Participants were then followed over an 18-year period.
The findings, published in The British Medical Journal, showed that after taking into account potentially influential factors, such as medical history, smoking, use of dietary supplements and physical activity, pescetarians and vegetarians had a 13% and 22% lower risk of CHD than meat-eaters, respectively.
The researchers say that the difference in risk may be partly due to vegetarians and pescetarians tending to have a lower body mass index and lower rates of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.
However, perhaps surprisingly, vegetarians had a 20% higher risk of stroke than meat-eaters, particularly hemorrhagic stroke, which is when blood from an artery starts bleeding into the brain.
As the vegetarians also had lower levels of cholesterol and several nutrients than meat-eaters, for example vitamin B12, the researchers note that this could explain the higher stroke risk.
More and more people have switched to vegetarian diets in recent years, partly due to health and environmental concerns about consuming too much meat. But the potential health benefits and hazards of these diets are still not completely understood.
The new findings back up previous studies which have also suggested that vegetarians have a lower risk of CHD than meat-eaters, however, there is little data from large studies and few have looked into the risk of stroke.
As an observational study, the researchers cannot determine cause and effect from the new findings, and they point out that the findings may not be applicable to other populations as the majority of participants were white Europeans.
Nonetheless, the study had a large sample size and a long follow-up period, although the researchers say that further research is still needed to replicate the findings. RGA/JB