January 30, 2013
OXFORD, EnglandFollowing a vegetarian diet may significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, according to results of a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found vegetarians have a 32% lower risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease compared to people who eat meat and fish.
Researchers at the University of Oxfords Cancer Epidemiology Unit conducted the largest study ever in the United Kingdom comparing rates of heart disease between vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The analysis looked at almost 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study, of whom 34% were vegetarian. Such a significant representation of vegetarians is rare in studies of this type, and allowed researchers to make more precise estimates of the relative risks between the two groups.
Participants were recruited to the study throughout the 1990s, and completed questionnaires regarding their health and lifestyle when they joined. These included detailed questions on diet and exercise, as well as other factors affecting health, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Almost 20,000 participants also had their blood pressures recorded, and gave blood samples for cholesterol testing.
Participants were tracked until 2009, during which time researchers identified 1,235 cases of heart disease. This comprised 169 deaths and 1,066 hospital diagnoses, identified through linkage with hospital records and death certificates. Heart disease cases were validated using data from the Myocardial Ischaemia National Audit Project (MINAP).
They found vegetarians had lower blood pressures and cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians, which is thought to be the main reason behind their reduced risk of heart disease. Vegetarians typically had lower BMIs and fewer cases of diabetes as a result of their diets, although these were not found to significantly affect the results. If the results are adjusted to exclude the effects of BMI, vegetarians remain 28% less likely to develop heart disease.
The findings reinforce the idea that diet is central to prevention of heart disease, and build on previous work looking at the influence of vegetarian diets, the researchers said.
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