Vegetarian diet could reduce heart attack risk
Posted on the 25th August 2023
A new study has found that consuming a vegetarian diet for six months improved measures of cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight among those at high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Researchers from the University of Sydney, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Australia, and Brescia University in Italy investigated how vegetarian diets affect major cardiometabolic risk factors among people with or at high risk for CVD.
The team analyzed 20 randomized controlled trials involving 1,878 participants with a mean age of 28–64 years who either had CVD or were at a high risk of CVD.
The studies lasted for an average of 6 months. While four targeted people with CVD, seven focused on diabetes, and nine included people with at least two CVD risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and diabetes. Participants ate different varieties of either vegan or vegetarian diets over the study periods.
Patient data included measures of blood glucose, systolic blood pressure — the pressure in the arteries when the heart pumps out blood — and LDL levels (19 studies included this measure, 1,661 participants). Body weight was included as a secondary measure.
Ultimately, the researchers found that consuming vegetarian diets for an average of 6 months was linked to small but significant decreases in LDL levels and measures of blood glucose.
They added that people with a high risk of CVD saw the greatest reductions in LDL, and that those with type 2 diabetes experienced the largest reductions in blood sugar levels.
They further noted that participants (1,395 in 16 studies) lost an average of 3.4 kilograms over the study period but that no major changes were noted in blood pressure readings (955 participants in 14 studies).
The researchers suggested that vegetarian diets may be used alongside drug-based therapies to prevent and treat various cardiometabolic conditions.
Studies show that CVD often develops due to lifestyle factors, such as diet, smoking and physical inactivity. Practical interventions such as a vegetarian diet that may improve cardiometabolic risk profiles are key to reducing CVD rates.
However, the news for vegetarian diet advocates isn’t all good.
A 2019 study by the University of Oxford found that, while vegetarians have a lower risk of coronary heart disease than meat-eaters, they also have a greater risk of having a stroke.
The health of participants was followed through medical records over ten years, during which time there were 2,820 cases of coronary heart disease and 1,072 cases of stroke.
The findings revealed that, over the period studied, there would be 10 fewer cases of coronary heart disease in vegetarians than in meat eaters per 1,000 people and three more cases of stroke.