Vegetarians May Grow Healthier Hearts

Heart disease risk may be cut by a third for those following a vegetarian diet

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Eat your fruits and vegetables. You may have heard that advice since childhood, and research continues to show that the age-old tip may help your heart and overall health.

February is American Heart Month, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is offering tips for better heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Regular exercise and a healthy eating plan can help prevent heart disease. A recent extensive study showed that a vegetarian diet may be especially good for the heart.

"Eat fresh fruits and vegetables to help prevent heart disease."

Francesca Crowe, PhD, lead author of the study at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, and her colleagues reviewed data on 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland. Participants were enrolled in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Oxford study.

Just over a third of the survey respondents identified themselves as vegetarians. Heart disease was found in 1,235 cases—169 were deaths and 1,066 were hospital diagnoses.

After accounting for factors such as age, smoking, alcohol intake, physical activity, educational level and socioeconomic background, scientists calculated that eating a diet free of meat and fish cut the risk of being hospitalized or dying from heart disease by 32 percent.

This study echoed previous research linking the consumption of red meat to heart disease. A huge study of more than 121,000 men and women from Harvard published in spring of 2012 linked eating red meat and processed meat such as bacon with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease and dying.  

Volunteers, who signed up through the 1990s and were tracked until 2009, answered detailed questions on diet and exercise. They also elaborated on factors affecting their health, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. In addition, almost 20,000 participants had their blood pressures recorded and gave blood samples for cholesterol testing.

Compared to non-vegetarians, vegetarians had lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, lower body mass indexes and fewer cases of diabetes.

“Most of the difference in risk is probably caused by effects on cholesterol and blood pressure, and shows the important role of diet in the prevention of heart disease,” said Dr. Crowe.

John A Dieck, MD, President or Texas Heart & Vascular PLLC and dailyRx News Contributing Expert, added, “There is little doubt that we eat way too much protein—and its accompanying fat—in our society. This scientific study is very consistent with the findings of other less scientific studies and many anecdotal reports coming up with the same conclusion. We would all be healthier if we significantly increased our vegetable and fruit intake, and reduced our protein/fat intake.” 

The study was published in January in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 7, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013