Vegetarians dodge heart disease

Photo courtesy of Iowa State University's Christine

Photo courtesy of Iowa State University’s Christine

Parents are often parroted as saying “Eat your vegetables kids. They’re good for you,” but how good are they really? Researchers of the University of Oxford conducted a study using data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) to show that vegetarians have a 32% lower risk of hospitalization or death due to ischemic heart disease (IHD) than non-vegetarians.

Ischemic heart disease is a condition usually caused by blockages of the arteries resulting in lower blood flow to the heart. This is the leading cause of death for men and women in most industrialized countries including the U.S.

In this study, 44,561 participants from England and Scotland were assessed. 34% of this population was vegetarian. After an 11.6 year followup (average), 1,235 IHD cases were seen of which 169 resulted in death. Profile analysis showed a 32% lower risk of developing IHD in vegetarians than non-vegetarians. The risk for vegetarians to risk for non-vegetarians (hazard ratio) was 0.68 with 95% confidence from 0.58 to 0.81.

After adjusting for BMI (since vegetarians on average have lower BMI) the risk of IHD for vegetarians was 28% lower than non-vegetarians. These conclusions extended from new vegetarians (less than 5 years) to old herbivores (greater than 5 years). The average reduced risk between both groups of vegetarians was 31%.

Researchers attributed the lower risk to the lower non-HDL cholesterol (HDL=”good cholesterol”) seen in vegetarians along with their lower systolic blood pressure. Just as a note, normal adult systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg while athletes (and babies) have pressures on the lower end of the scale more near 90 mmHg.

Overall those partaking in vegetarian diets, newly sprouted or long ingrained, had a 28-32% lower risk of developing ischemic heart disease. I guess my dad was right in telling me to eat my vegetables after all.

Francesca L. Crowe, Paul N. Appleby, Ruth C. Travis, Timothy J. Key. Risk of hospitalization or death from ischemic heart disease among British vegetarians and nonvegetarians: results from the EPIC-Oxford cohort study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013.​ajcn.112.044073


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