Integrative Care
Research News

Take Heart and Eat Your Greens

30 July, 2013 by David Finer

A new study from Oxford shows that vegetarians reduce their risk of succumbing to ischemic cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 32 percent compared to non-vegetarians. The study comprised both vegetarians and non-vegetarians from the United Kingdom, in all almost 45 000 people.

Every second person living in Sweden gets CVD, the most common cause of death among both men and women. According to the Cause of Death Registry at the National Board of Health and Welfare, almost 11 000 people died from CVD in 2011.

Many cases could be prevented with the help of lifestyle changes related to exercise, food, smoking and stress. At the beginning of this year, Francesca Crowe and collaborators from Oxford University published a large study demonstrating that a vegetarian diet can protect against ischemic heart disease, a group of diagnoses characterized by a blockage of blood to the heart muscle.

5-year follow-up
The British study comprised 45 000 individuals, of whom 34 percent (some 10 000 people) ate a vegetarian diet. Study participants were recruited 1993-1999 and completed a validated questionnaire at the beginning of the study and five years later. They were asked to respond to questions about 130 different food items, as well as the last time they had eaten meat, fish, eggs and milk products.

Unique study
The study is unique by virtue of the large study population size and the long follow-up time, which allowed the researchers to explore the role of diet in the long run.

Two thirds of the participants had been vegetarians for five years of more and about 85 percent still maintained a vegetarian diet five years later.

1/3 lower heart risk
Among the study population, 1 235 cases of diagnosed ischemic heart disease (1 066 hospitalized patients and 169 deaths) were recorded. Those who had eaten a vegetarian diet were at 32 percent (about one third) lower risk of incurring ischemic heart disease compared to the meat- and/or fish eaters. The difference was controlled for in terms of other possible contributors like age, smoking, physical activity, educational and socioeconomic level.

Targets two risk factors
The researchers believe that the result is explained by the fact that a vegetarian diet primarily improves rates of two main risk factors for ischemic heart disease: high LDL cholesterol and hypertension (systolic blood pressure). The study underscores the significant impact of diet on the risk of developing heart disease.

Johanna Hök

Source: Crowe FL, Appleby PN, Travis RC, Key TJ. Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. Am J Clin Nutr March 2013 (97);3: 597-603.

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