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How vegetarianism affects health

Thursday September 5th, 2019

Vegetarians and pescatarians enjoy low coronary heart disease risk – but may face increased risk of stroke, according to the findings of a major study published today.

The research, published in The BMJ, identified a particular risk of haemorrhagic stroke, which the researchers say could be linked to low cholesterol or vitamin deficiencies.

The findings are published amid renewed interest in vegetarianism as a contribution to tackling climate change.

Researchers at Oxford University studied more than 48,000 people over 18 years. About half ate meat, 16,000 were vegetarians or vegans and 7,500 pescatarians.

Vegetarians had a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease than meat-eaters, equivalent to ten fewer cases among 1,000 people over ten years. Pescatarians had a 13% lower risk.

However vegetarians faced a 20% greater risk of stroke than meat-eaters, equivalent to three cases among 1,000 people over ten years.

Researcher Dr Tammy Tong said: “Additional studies in other large scale cohorts with a high proportion of non-meat eaters are needed to confirm the generalisability of these results and assess their relevance for clinical practice and public health.”

Writing in the journal, Professor Mark Lawrence, of Deakin University, Australia, said the risk of stroke was "based on results from just one study and the increase is modest relative to meat eaters."

He added: “Participants were all from the UK where dietary patterns and other lifestyle behaviours are likely very different from those prevalent in low and middle-income countries where most of the world’s vegetarians live.”

He writes: “Shifting towards plant based dietary patterns for reasons of personal or planetary health does not necessarily mean becoming a vegetarian. Indeed, populations in some low and middle income countries who consume very low amounts of animal source foods may benefit from being able to eat a little more of these foods to gain additional nutrients necessary to help combat all forms of malnutrition.”

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 5 September 2019

https://www.bmj.com/content/366/bmj.l4897

Tags: Diet & Food | Heart Health | UK News

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