Vegetarians, vegans more likely to have a stroke than meat eaters

Henrietta Brewer
September 6, 2019

The 18-year study of more than 48,000 people found that, compared with omnivorous eaters, vegans and vegetarians experienced 10 fewer cases of heart disease, yet three more stroke cases per 1,000 participants.

Non-meat-eaters were at a significantly higher risk for a particular kind of stroke - a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel ruptures and begins bleeding into the brain.

However, researchers found that vegetarians and vegans were a fifth more likely to suffer a stroke than meat eaters, which they suggest may be partly due to a lack of vitamins.

Among the participants were more than 24,000 meat eaters, about 7,500 pescatarians and more than 16,000 vegetarians and vegans.

People who avoided meat but ate fish, however, had a lower risk of heart disease without increasing their risk for stroke.

They found fish eaters benefitted from a 13% reduction in the risk of heart disease compared with meat eaters, while vegetarians and vegans had a 22% lower risk.

But the full extent of the potential health benefits and hazards of these diets is not well understood.

A study of nearly 50,000 people found those who ditched meat and fish were 22 per cent less likely to get coronary heart disease. Lower levels of several nutrients like essential vitamins were reported to be the cause of this link between high stroke risk and vegetarian diet.

Vegan and vegetarian diets could increase the risk of a stroke, according to new research.

"Relevance to vegetarians worldwide must also be considered", they said.

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".

The study had a large sample size and long-term monitoring, but further research is needed to replicate the results in other populations and it should include further measurements of nutritional factors, says lead author Dr Tammy Tong.

The researchers said: "We observed lower rates of ischaemic heart disease in fish eaters and vegetarians than in meat eaters, which appears to be at least partly due to lower body mass index and lower rates of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes associated with these diets".

The researchers warned that the study was observational, saying "the findings may not be widely applicable because they were mainly based on white Europeans", per the release.

"You can't go wrong cutting back on red and processed meats such as beef, pork and ham and adding lentils, chickpeas, tofu, broccoli, spinach or cauliflower to your meals", Heller advised.

Health officials say that the key to a healthy diet is a mix of vegetables and legumes, fruits, whole grains, dairy and meat - preferably of the lean variety.

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