12 January - 20 June 2016

A vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of heart disease

06 Feb 13

A prospective cohort study funded by Cancer Research UK and UK Medical Research Council and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has examined the association of a vegetarian diet with risk of heart disease. Researchers from the University of Oxford recruited 44561 men and women who were enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study, of whom 34% were vegetarian. The participants completed food frequency questionnaires at baseline, recording what they ate over the previous year and also at five years of follow-up.    Crowe et al. also collected data on the participants’ height and weight and other lifestyle factors including alcohol consumption, physical activity and socioeconomic status. Almost 20,000 participants also had their blood pressures and serum lipids measured. Over an average of 11.6 years, there were 1235 cases of ischemic heart disease (1066 of these were hospital admissions and 169 resulted in death).  Crowe et al report that vegetarians had a 32% lower risk of developing ischemic heart disease (IHD) during the follow up compared to the non-vegetarians.  They note that this was probably due to them having a lower mean BMI, lower non-HDL cholesterol concentration and lower systolic blood pressure compared to non-vegetarians.   Even after adjustments for BMI vegetarians were found to have a 28% lower risk of developing IHD compared to non-vegetarians.   Crowe et al. reiterate in their conclusion that consuming a vegetarian diet was associated with lower IHD risk due to differences in non-HDL cholesterol and systolic blood pressure.  However a limitation of the study is that only half of the participants involved in the study had their blood cholesterol levels measured at the start so further research using a more complete data set is needed to confirm these findings.

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