Going vegetarian good for your heart, but may up stroke risk

Henrietta Brewer
September 6, 2019

Vegetarians and vegans are likely to be concerned by the results of a new study with a surprising finding: those following meat-free diets, which are typically associated with better cardiovascular health, may actually have a higher risk of stroke than those who eat meat.

"The higher relative risk of stroke among vegetarians is a new contribution to the body of evidence on the health effects of a vegetarian diet", Mark Lawrence and Sarah McNaughton, professors at Deakin University in Australia, wrote in an editorial addressing the findings.

In contrast, vegetarians and vegans had a 20% higher risk of stroke than meat eaters, equivalent to three more cases of stroke per 1000 people over 10 years, mainly due to a higher rate of hemorrhagic stroke.

Data from more than 48,000 adults with no history of heart disease or stroke, all of whom signed up to a wider study running from 1993 and 2001, were analysed.

The study concluded by saying, "Overall, the present study has shown that United Kingdom adults who were fish eaters or vegetarians had lower risks of ischaemic heart disease than meat eaters, but that vegetarians had higher risks of stroke".

Vegans and vegetarians need to be careful that they get enough of the nutrients typically gained from eating meat and fish, however this is not hard.

In recent years, the majority of people have been switching to vegetarian and vegan diets which is partly because of discerning health welfare and apprehension about the environment and animal welfare.

Fish-eaters had a 13 percent lower risk of heart disease compared with carnivores, while veg-heads had a considerable 22 percent lower risk - so they're certainly onto something.

"However, the lower risk in vegetarians and vegans remained marginally significant after adjustment for all of these factors", the study said.

Before you change your eating habits, you should know that meat eaters were more likely to develop a heart disease than vegetarians.

It analyses data from the EPIC-Oxford study, a major long-term research project looking at diet and health.

There were 2,820 cases of CHD and 1,072 cases of stroke during the study period, including 519 cases of ischaemic stroke (when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain) and 300 cases of hemorrhagic stroke.

Tong also said that only heart disease and stroke were studied, but other chronic conditions need to be looked at to show the total benefit of a vegetarian diet.

Smoking, medical history and physical activity were taken into account when the participants were asked about their diets on joining the study, and again in 2010. This was mostly due to higher reported cases of haemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by bleeding in or around the brain.

Experts recommend meat-eaters to reduce the consumption of red or processed meat to 90 grams per day. They also recognise plant based diets for their environmental sustainability as well as health benefits, he adds.

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