A vegetarian diet is tied to a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease, but not a significantly lower overall death risk or lower risk of death from other forms of heart disease, according to a new analysis published in the American Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
Researchers set out to examine the effect of a vegetarian diet — compared with a non-vegetarian diet — on death from two different forms of heart disease, as well as the overall risk of death. Ischemic heart disease refers to conditions that reduce blood flow to the heart, which can be the result of coronary artery disease (CAD) — the narrowing of the arteries leading to the heart due to the buildup of a fatty substance called plaque. Cerebrovascular disease refers to conditions that affect blood flow to the brain.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
The researchers included eight different studies with relevant data in their analysis, which included a total of 131,869 participants. All of the studies were observational, meaning that they looked at outcomes in people who were already following a vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet — rather than assigning certain participants to follow one diet or another. Assigning people to follow diets for long periods of time isn’t considered practical, since most people will revert to eating the way they did before. The downside of observational studies, though, is that in this case, people who follow a vegetarian diet may be different in many ways from those who don’t — and not all of these differences may be easy or even possible to measure.
Vegetarian diet linked to lower heart disease death risk
Over an average follow-up period of nearly 11 years, the researchers found that participants who followed a vegetarian diet were 16% less likely to die of all causes, as well as 16% less likely to die of cerebrovascular disease — differences that weren’t considered large enough to be convincing that they were likely due to a vegetarian diet. But the lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease — 30% lower — was considered significant, and suggests that following a vegetarian diet may have a beneficial effect on certain processes involved in developing heart disease.
The researchers concluded that a vegetarian diet may be worth considering for some people. “Despite recent studies supporting no restriction on animal protein intake gaining wide media attention,” they wrote, “vegetarianism amongst those with risk factors for coronary artery disease should be contemplated.”
As noted in a Healio article on the study, various medical societies — including the American Heart Association — have given their stamp of approval to a vegetarian diet as a way to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, along with more traditional measures like getting enough physical activity and keeping blood pressure and blood glucose under control.
Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”
Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!