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Can vegetarianism prevent a heart attack?

A recent study reveals whether vegetarians and fish eaters are protected from stroke and ischemic disease and whether meat-eaters are not.

Being vegan or vegetarian is a widespread lifestyle. The foods that vegans and vegetarians eat vary, for example, some eat fish, while others may avoid fish and eat eggs or dairy products. Regardless, of the exact nutritional details, meat is avoided by both vegetarians and vegans. These diets are perceived as being healthier, in addition to being compassionate towards farm animals.

Previous studies report some correlation between vegetarianism and lower risks of ischemic heart disease and stroke. However, low number of study participants, among other reasons, leave some question marks on the conclusiveness of these results. In a new study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers from the United Kingdom examined in detail how different meat-less diets affect ischemic disease and stroke incidence.

The study prospectively analyzed information collected from almost 48,188 individuals.  All participants were healthy adults with no evidence of heart disorders. They were categorized based on their dietary lifestyle: meat-eaters (50%), fish eaters (16%), and vegetarian (including vegans, 34%).  The study followed up on these individuals after 18 years, recording the number of different types of ischemic heart disorders and stroke. The researchers used complex statistical methods to analyze the results.

The study found that fish eaters and vegetarians have a lower incidence of ischaemic heart disease than meat-eaters. A few of the underlying reasons are lower weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes morbidity, which are all linked to meat-excluding diets. Interestingly, the study found that vegetarians suffer more from stroke and dangerous haemorrhages. The explanation for that observation is that their diet lacks animal-based factors, which may be critical for blood clotting.

Although the study has some limitations, with self-reporting information being one example, the reported results are of high significance. The results of this study offer new insight into whether and how vegetarian or meat-exclusive diets offer protection against heart-related disorders. The data is groundbreaking as it provides scientific quantification to what until know used to be just a popular belief.

Written by Marina Chemerovski-Glikman, PhD


Tong, T. YN., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., Key, T. J. Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ, 2019.



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